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.




Waiver Claims

  • None

Draft Picks

Camp Invitees

Departing Players

Rookie Contract Option Decisions

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images

Courtesy of USA Today Sports Images

The Hornets slipped back into the draft lottery with a disappointing 33 wins last season after earning a surprising playoff berth during the 2013/14 campaign. The signing of Lance Stephenson, who was purported to be the missing piece for the team, was a failure on every level, though all the blame for the team’s woes cannot be placed upon one player. Injuries and reality also took their toll, leaving the franchise at a crossroads once again, caught between trying to contend or hitting the reset button and undertaking yet another rebuilding effort.

One of the first orders of business that GM Rich Cho and owner Michael Jordan undertook this summer was to cut their losses on Stephenson and find a trade partner for the swingman’s services. Despite Stephenson’s subpar 2013/14, as well as his reputation of being unpredictable and difficult, the Hornets were able to extract some value from the trade that sent him to the Clippers, and they didn’t just dump his contract. Though Spencer Hawes didn’t produce as hoped for the Clippers during his lone season with the team, it can be argued that he was a poor fit in Los Angeles from the start. But he does fill a need in Charlotte, with the team having missed the production of Josh McRoberts, who departed to the Heat as a free agent in 2014. While I like the addition of Hawes and consider it a low-risk proposition given his reasonable salary of $6.11MM for 2015/16, it makes Charlotte’s 2015 NBA draft even more puzzling and disappointing that it otherwise would have been.

The Celtics reportedly offered the Hornets a package that included four first-round picks in an effort to entice Charlotte to give up the No. 9 overall pick, but Jordan apparently preferred to draft Frank Kaminsky, more of a known commodity, over stocking up on future picks, a decision I disagree with on almost every front. With Charlotte not likely to contend this season, stockpiling future assets would have been a wise move for the team, but I can also see the value in selecting a player who may be able to contribute immediately. But I don’t think Kaminsky is that player, and still find it a mild shock that Jordan turned down the bundle of picks to instead select someone with limited athleticism and upside, not to mention his decision to pass over Duke swingman Justise Winslow, who ranked more highly than Kaminsky on virtually every mock draft published for 2015. Kaminsky and Hawes also have very similar skillsets, and adding both seems a bit redundant to me, especially given the team’s other options.

The trade of Stephenson left Charlotte with a hole at the wing position, and the team still in need of a shooter who could stretch defenses from the perimeter. The Hornets addressed this rather well with the acquisition of Nicolas Batum from the Trail Blazers in exchange for 2014 lottery pick Noah Vonleh and Gerald Henderson. While I applaud the addition of Batum, who could shine in his new environment, it’s a bit alarming that the team essentially gave up on a promising young player in Vonleh after a sample size of just 25 regular season contests. There’s no guarantee that Vonleh will develop into a star at any point, but it does paint a picture of a front office without a rock solid idea of where the team is heading. Batum is certain to be a more valuable piece than Vonleh would have been this season, but he’s also eligible to become an unrestricted free agent in July, and the Hornets could be left with nothing to show for their trouble if he were to depart.

The last major addition via trade that the Hornets made may turn out to be their best move of the offseason. That was the deal that sent Luke Ridnour, who was swapped four times in one week this summer, and a protected 2016 second-rounder to the Thunder for shooting guard Jeremy Lamb. Lamb, a former No. 12 overall pick, didn’t see much court time while a member of the Thunder thanks to that squad’s depth. However, since arriving in Charlotte, Lamb has been a bit of a revelation, and his play as a reserve is providing strong early returns for the Hornets. Lamb apparently made a solid early impression on the team’s front office, seeing as they inked him to a three-year contract extension worth approximately $21MM earlier this month. That was a wise gamble for Charlotte, given his youth and upside.

Charlotte locked down another player for the future over the summer, inking defensive ace Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to a four-year, $52MM contract extension. This deal, which includes a fourth-year player option, allows Kidd-Gilchrist to hit unrestricted free agency when he’s only 25 years old, and when the salary cap will be a projected $102MM. Cho cited Kidd-Gilchrist’s age and upside as part of the reason for tying him up for at least three more seasons after this one. Of course, with Kidd-Gilchrist’s injury history, including the torn labrum in his right shoulder he suffered during the preseason this year that is expected to knock him out for the season, this deal doesn’t come without its risks for the team.

Cho told Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer that the contract extensions the team has handed out to Kidd-Gilchrist, Lamb, and Kemba Walker were partially about avoiding the free agent market that could become overheated during the next two summers thanks to the expected rise in the salary cap. That’s a wise strategy for a team not viewed as an attractive free agent destination around the league. Hornets vice chairman Curtis Polk told Bonnell this past spring that the surge in the cap would create a more competitive marketplace, perhaps hinting at the reasoning behind the organization’s philosophical shift from years past, when it allowed Emeka Okafor, Gerald Wallace and Gerald Henderson to hit restricted free agency rather than signing them to extensions. This change also coincided with the departure of former president of basketball operations Rod Higgins, as the Observer scribe noted.

The franchise also had decisions to make regarding the rookie scale options for Cody Zeller and P.J. Hairston. The Hornets were reportedly shopping Zeller prior to this year’s draft in an effort to improve the team’s offense, but the addition of Batum and Lamb likely satisfied that need, which in turn led to the team exercising Zeller’s fourth-year option. However, the team doesn’t appear to be that enamored with Hairston after declining his third-year option and setting him up for unrestricted free agency next summer. Cho told Bonnell that the decision to turn down Hairston’s option was related to the player’s lack of consistency and focus. “I spoke with P.J. and his agent [Jonathan Stahler]. We just feel like P.J. has got to get more consistent and focused on and off the court,” Cho said. “He knows what he has to do. P.J. has still got a bright future if he continues to work hard.

The Hornets added Jeremy Lin, Aaron Harrison and Tyler Hansbrough on team-friendly deals via free agency, though only Lin, who has a player option for 2016/17 worth $2.235MM, is likely to remain with the team past this season. Charlotte should receive good value on these additions, since each player has something to prove if he hopes to remain in the NBA.

Charlotte also jumped on the D-League bandwagon, and announced plans to add a one-to-one affiliate in Greensboro, North Carolina, in time for the 2016/17 season. Though the Hornets used the D-League sparingly in 2014/15, making only two assignments, this is a wise move for the franchise that will allow them to perhaps be more patient with players like Hairston and Vonleh in the future, though that is merely my speculation.

This will be a challenging season for Charlotte as the team integrates a number of new players in key roles, and that will happen without the services of Kidd-Gilchrist. There will be a number of important storylines to watch, including coach Steve Clifford‘s long-term status with the team, as he is in the final year of his contract, as well the future of center Al Jefferson, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent next offseason. At 30 years of age, Jefferson may look to take the David West route and ink a team-friendly deal with a contender in an effort to chase a title prior to the end of his career. Regardless of whether or not Jefferson departs, Charlotte is a franchise in need of a new direction, and unfortunately, the team’s moves this offseason aren’t likely to show the way to that brighter path.

The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post.

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