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Offseason Outlook: Charlotte Hornets

Guaranteed Contracts

Non-Guaranteed Contracts

  • None


Restricted Free Agents/Cap Holds

Unrestricted Free Agents/Cap Holds

Draft Picks

  • 1st Round (9th overall)
  • 2nd Round (39th overall)

Cap Outlook

  • Guaranteed Salary: $46,176,980
  • Non-Guaranteed Salary: $0
  • Options: $19,500,000
  • Cap Holds: $18,747,308
  • Total: $84,424,288

The Hornets could blame their lack of progress during the past season on injuries that ravaged their starting lineup. They appeared to be on the upswing after making the 2013/14 playoffs with a mostly young core but couldn’t build off of that momentum. Kemba Walker sat out 20 games in midseason because of knee surgery and their entire starting frontcourt — Al Jefferson, Cody Zeller and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist — missed significant chunks of time during the stretch run with a variety of ailments.

Courtesy USA Today Sports Images

Courtesy USA Today Sports Images

They head into this offseason mostly hoping that better health and improved performances from current players will get them back in the playoff hunt. That’s because the Hornets do not have the salary cap space or movable pieces to cure their ailments, literally and figuratively.

Charlotte’s offseason plan will be shaped by the decisions of starters Jefferson and Gerald Henderson, who hold player options on the final year of their contracts. Jefferson has a $13.5MM option and Henderson can make $6MM by sticking around. They both indicated right after the Hornets’ disappointing season ended that they’d probably take the guaranteed money, rather than enter the free agent market. If that’s the case, the Hornets will have rely on their exceptions to bring in a veteran without making a trade.

They would have the mid-level ($5.464MM) and bi-annual (approximately $2.1MM) exceptions at their disposal but that obviously would not be enough to chase a top-level free agent. If Jefferson decided to hit the free agent market this summer, that would free up enough money to go after a major free agent. The flip side is that would create a giant hole in the middle, leaving them without their main post threat and top rebounder.

Another order of business is what to do with Jefferson’s backup, Bismack Biyombo. The No. 7 overall pick in the 2011 draft hasn’t come close to developing into the impact player the Hornets were expecting. That’s why the Hornets are not expected to extend the qualifying offer of just over $4MM to make him a restricted free agent. If that’s the case, Biyombo will be free to test the free agent waters and end his uninspiring four-year run with the franchise.

The other major free agent decision from within is whether to pursue a contract with veteran guard Mo Williams, who helped them survive the 20-game stretch when Walker was sidelined. Williams averaged 17.2 points and 6.0 assists in 27 games after the Hornets acquired him from the Timberwolves. The 32-year-old unrestricted free agent is probably looking at his last chance to land a multi-year contract. Whether Williams would be content to back up Walker, who is locked up long-term at $12MM annually, is uncertain.

What is painfully obvious is the Hornets’ desperate need for shooting. They were one of the league’s worst in that area last season. Their shooting percentages dropped off dramatically, from 44.8% overall and 36.5% on 3-point tries in 2013/14 to 42.0% and 31.8%, respectively, in 2014/15. Part of that can be attributed to the ill-advised signing of Lance Stephenson, who was a bust in his first year with the club. Stephenson shot 37.6% from the field and 17.1% from long range while eventually falling out of the rotation. Stephenson will make $9MM next season, leaving the franchise with little choice but to hope he can regain his confidence and become the productive player he was in Indiana. For his part, Stephenson vowed to spend the offseason working with the Hornets coaches on his shooting stroke.

Another player on the current roster that needs to give the Hornets more next season is forward Noah Vonleh. The Hornets used the 2014 lottery pick they received from the Pistons as part of the 2012 Ben Gordon deal on the 6’10” Vonleh, who mostly rode the bench until the frontcourt injuries forced coach Steve Clifford to give him some playing time in the final month. The No. 9 overall pick showed some flashes — he had a 16-point, 12-rebound game against the Pistons — and the Hornets need him to emerge as a rotation player, especially with the expected loss of Biyombo.

One place where the Hornets could find more shooting is the draft. They once again hold the No. 9 pick and should be able to find a wing player to suit their needs. ESPN Insider Chad Ford projects the Hornets to select Kentucky shooting guard Devin Booker in his latest mock draft, while DraftExpress’ Jonathan Givony currently projects them selecting Arizona small forward Stanley Johnson. Booker would appear to be an ideal fit, given that the Hornets are committed to giving the bulk of their small forward minutes to defensive stalwart Kidd-Gilchrist. He’s considered the best pure shooter in the draft and the Hornets are “big fans” of the 6’6” Booker, according to Ford, though Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel hears that Booker isn’t what Charlotte is looking for with its pick.

Regardless, Charlotte needs to find a solid piece in this draft because it’s a leap of faith to believe it can upgrade its talent with a trade. The Hornets could have a number of significant expiring contracts to dangle, especially if Jefferson and Henderson opt in. Stephenson’s contract could eventually hold some value — there’s a team option of about $9.4MM for the 2016/17 season that will unlikely be exercised. Marvin Williams is also entering the final year of his deal, which will pay him $7MM next season. But with the major salary cap increase coming next summer, expiring contracts are not as valuable as they used to be when teams were desperate to free up space.

Thus, the Hornets will probably have to make do with what they have, draft wisely and find help with their mid-level exception to overcome last season’s sour ending.

Cap Footnotes

1 — The cap hold for Taylor would be $947,276 if the Hornets elect not to tender a qualifying offer.

The Basketball Insiders Salary Pages were used in the creation of this post.

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