- Emeka Okafor ($13,640,000)
- Trevor Ariza ($7,258,960)
- Jarrett Jack ($5,400,000)
- Al-Farouq Aminu ($2,947,800)
- Jason Smith ($2,500,000)
- Xavier Henry ($2,323,200)
- Greivis Vasquez ($1,191,240)
Free Agents (Cap Holds)
- Chris Kaman ($16,324,500)
- Carl Landry ($12,750,000)
- Eric Gordon ($9,577,960)
- Marco Belinelli ($6,417,448)
- Lance Thomas ($937,195 – QO)
- Jerome Dyson ($937,195 – QO)
- (Marcus Banks – $9,210,413)
- (D.J. Mbenga – $854,389)
- 1st Round (Pending lottery; 13.7% chance at first overall pick)
- 1st Round (Pending lottery; 1.1% chance at first overall pick)
- Guaranteed Salary (including likely options): $35,261,200
- Non-Guaranteed Salary, Cap Holds: $59,363,489
- Total (not including draft picks): $94,624,689
The best news for Hornets fans this year came in the form of an April announcement that New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson would be purchasing the city's NBA franchise. As the team heads into the offseason, GM Dell Demps and his staff can make draft preparations, talk trades, and pursue free agents without worrying that NBA commissioner David Stern might decide a move isn't in the organization's best interest. With Benson in place as the owner, making the club look attractive to potential bidders is no longer a concern.
Of course, making the club look attractive to fans is still the long-term goal — Demps and Benson will be looking to build a perennial contender worthy of the new owner's investment, and this offseason represents a important step in that process. The three crucial decisions for the Hornets this summer figure to revolve around the draft, Eric Gordon, and Emeka Okafor.
With two lottery picks in a deep draft, the Hornets are well-positioned to land a pair of talented young players next month. Jumping into the top three would be a bonus, but even at #4 and #10, they could end up doing very well. ESPN.com's David Thorpe recently identified Andre Drummond and John Henson as the two perfect fits for the Hornets' respective picks, and I can't argue with him, especially on Drummond. More than any other team in the lottery, New Orleans is in a good spot to roll the dice on the UConn big man, who's a high-risk choice. The Hornets aren't close to contending, so it makes sense to go for a player with star upside rather than merely a solid contributor, particularly with a second lottery pick to fall back on.
The Hornets will also face a number of free agent decisions, as Gordon, Chris Kaman, Carl Landry, and Marco Belinelli all represent sizable cap holds. Of those players, Gordon is the top priority by far, as the centerpiece of the deal that sent Chris Paul to Los Angeles. Even with questions surrounding Gordon's health and uncertainty about how new ownership values him, I can't imagine the Hornets letting the restricted free agent sign elsewhere. I expect the 23-year-old to sign a long-term deal to remain in New Orleans, even if the club has to slightly overpay to do it.
Assuming they sign Gordon, bring back Ayon, and add a pair of first-round picks, the Hornets won't have much cap room left to pursue free agents. That might not be an issue for a team that isn't exactly a veteran or two from contention and may not feel any pressure to be aggressive on the free agent market. There's a good chance a few small signings using the mid-level or minimum-salary exceptions will be the extent of the Hornets' free agent activity.
If the Hornets do want to clear cap space this summer, there's one obvious way to do it: amnesty Emeka Okafor. Okafor is owed $28MM+ over two more years, and had a disappointing 2011/12 campaign, missing over half the season with injuries while his PPG and RPG averages declined. Still, I'm not sure amnestying him is necessary. With no pressing need for the cap space and a chance to still trade Okafor for something of use, the Hornets would be better off pocketing their amnesty clause for another year, perhaps using it on the center next summer if they have to.
Unlike two of the teams ahead of them in the lottery, the Hornets don't have a John Wall or Kyrie Irving-type star to anchor their roster, but there's some reason to believe they have an outside chance at landing that player in the draft, or, in the case of Gordon, locking him up via free agency. It's unlikely that the Hornets can make the necessary moves to become a playoff contender next season, but drafting well and re-signing Gordon would at least give the team a solid nucleus to build around for the next four or five years.