Offseason In Review: Charlotte Hornets

Hoops Rumors is in the process of looking back at each team’s offseason, from the end of the playoffs in June right up until opening night. Trades, free agent signings, draft picks, contract extensions, option decisions, camp invitees, and more will be covered, as we examine the moves each franchise made over the last several months.

Signings

Extensions

Trades

  • Acquired 2014 pick No. 26, 2014 pick No. 55, Miami’s 2019 second-round pick and cash from the Heat in exchange for 2014 pick No. 24.
  • Acquired cash from the Thunder in exchange for 2014 pick No. 55.
  • Acquired Scotty Hopson and cash from the Cavaliers in exchange for Brendan Haywood and the rights to Dwight Powell.
  • Acquired cash from the Pelicans in exchange for Scotty Hopson.

Waiver Claims

  • None

Draft Picks

  • Noah Vonleh (Round 1, 9th overall). Signed via rookie exception to rookie scale contract.
  • P.J. Hairston (Round 1, 26th overall). Signed via rookie exception to rookie scale contract.
  • Dwight Powell (Round 2, 45th overall). Subsequently traded.

Camp Invitees

  • Justin Cobbs
  • Dallas Lauderdale
  • Brian Qvale

Departing Players

Rookie Contract Option Decisions

The Sixers made the 1977 Finals four years after they set the record for the league’s worst winning percentage in the 1972/73 season. The Hornets would have to reach the Finals in 2016 if they were to duplicate Philly’s feat after finishing with a winning percentage that was even worse in the lockout-shortened 2011/12 season. Such a turnaround will be difficult for Charlotte to pull off, but the Hornets made significant progress toward that end this past offseason.

NBA: Preseason-Orlando Magic at Charlotte HornetsIt was the first for GM Rich Cho as the sole head of the front office after Rod Higgins resigned from his job as president of basketball operations in mid-June. Owner Michael Jordan had envisioned transferring some of Higgins’ responsibilities to Cho, but it’s clear that Jordan exerts his power in the recruiting department when necessary. The presence of His Airness in a pitch meeting with Lance Stephenson was key in convincing the volatile shooting guard to come to the Queen City. The Pacers turned off the Alberto Ebanks client with their hard-line negotiations, and the Mavs surprisingly watched the Rockets fail to match their offer sheet to Chandler Parsons, derailing the handshake agreement Dallas had with Stephenson. The Pistons, Bucks, Lakers and Bulls all reportedly spoke with the Stephenson camp, but the Hornets, with their MVP-turned-owner in tow, swooped in and closed on a deal in fairly short order.

It’s demonstrative of the sort of sway that Jordan still holds over the players who followed him into the NBA, as well as just how important the 2013 Al Jefferson signing was for the franchise. Jefferson’s three-year, $40.5MM deal seemed somewhat of an overpay last summer, but he lived up to his salary last season, and his presence, together with the team’s up-and-coming talent, is helping make the roster attractive to free agents. The Hornets also appeared to overpay for Gordon Hayward when they signed him to a maximum-salary offer sheet this summer, and though the Jazz matched, it still represented a coup of sorts for a team that was the laughingstock of the league such a short time ago. Jordan helped influence Hayward, too, and it seems that Jordan is finally learning how to leverage his accomplishments as a player to help the team that he owns.

Part of Jordan’s formula for ownership success involves the team’s former lottery picks, and none of them is more important to the Hornets than Kemba Walker. The team made that clear with its four-year, $48MM rookie scale extension for the point guard that keeps him from restricted free agency next summer, when a team could have inflated Walker’s price point the way the Hornets maximized Hayward’s. Hoops Rumors readers dubbed it the second most team-friendly among the nine rookie scale extensions signed around the league this summer, but $12MM is still a lot to pay for a point guard with a suspect shot who’s never won a playoff game. Still, Walker is improving as a ball-distributor, and his three-point accuracy has gone up each of his years in the league, including an increase to 39.3% so far in the small sample size of this season. In an NBA with few certainties about its salary structure in the years to come, with $24 billion of TV revenue poised to flood the league’s coffers, the Hornets achieved cost certainty with a promising 24-year-old, which is no insignificant accomplishment.

Charlotte also added to its stable of lottery picks with Noah Vonleh at No. 9 in this year’s draft, a pick the Hornets lucked into thanks to the Pistons’ misfortune following the 2012 Ben GordonCorey Maggette trade. Vonleh is raw, having just turned 19 over the summer, and he’s injured to start the season, but he was seemingly in contention to have been the first big man to come off the draft board this past June before slipping to Charlotte. He and Cody Zeller are around seemingly to help the Hornets move on from Jefferson, who can leave as soon as this summer if he opts out. Charlotte surely hopes Jefferson will stay a bit longer, but Cho and company are already planning ahead.

The Hayward offer sheet appeared to indirectly help the Hornets secure a power forward to pair with Jefferson for the time being. It may never be clear whether the Jazz would have pushed harder to re-sign Marvin Williams if they hadn’t needed to pay the max to match the Hayward offer sheet, but giving Utah a complication certainly didn’t hurt Charlotte’s efforts. The two-year length of Williams’ deal seems like a hint that it’s geared toward having Zeller or Vonleh eventually inherit his starting role, and it also allows Williams the chance to hit free agency again precisely when the new TV money is scheduled to start coming in.

Time will tell if Williams proves better at the four than Josh McRoberts, who enjoyed a career year last season, but McRoberts feels the organization didn’t fully embrace him in free agency this summer. Charlotte will surely miss his passing, and Jordan seemed to consider McRoberts a favorite, but continued improvement from Walker and the injection of Stephenson, another ball-handler, into the starting lineup could offset the loss.

Finding the right backup to Walker appeared to be another priority for the team, which signed Brian Roberts and re-signed Jannero Pargo, letting Ramon Sessions walk. The Hornets gave Roberts better money than Sessions wound up with from Sacramento much later in the summer, indicating that Charlotte’s choice was clear. Roberts doesn’t appear to possess the same ability to score that Sessions has shown, but he’s a better outside shooter, which fills a need for the Hornets. Pargo returns as a third point guard and stabilizing force.

The success of the offseason for the Hornets will in many ways come down to the way Stephenson performs, but even if he struggles and the Hornets fail to improve in the standings, the team demonstrated its presence as a legitimate destination for top-tier free agents. That doesn’t guarantee championships or even marquee signings, but it does indicate that the Hornets chapter of the franchise’s story will be much different from the Bobcats one.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images. The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post.

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