Offseason Outlook: Charlotte Hornets

Hoops Rumors is looking ahead to offseason moves for all 30 teams. We’ll examine free agency, the draft, trades and other key storylines for each franchise as the summer approaches.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images

Jeremy Brevard / USA TODAY Sports Images

Nicolas Batum‘s Free Agency

GM Rich Cho says re-signing Batum is his top priority, and the Bouna Ndiaye client has pledged to make the Hornets the first team he speaks with when he becomes a free agent July 1st. The question appears to be a financial one, as Cho and company must ponder whether it’s wise to offer a max contract starting at an estimated $26MM to a swingman who fell shy of averaging 15 points and 35% 3-point shooting in his career year this season. The market will probably dictate that the Hornets go to the max to keep him, given the dearth of other attractive free agent options amid a surging salary cap. Zach Lowe of wrote in January that Batum was likely to draw max offers, and while his scoring and outside shooting percentage dipped somewhat after that report, the market probably hasn’t changed.

Other Incumbent Free Agents

The Hornets have to fight battles on multiple fronts with five members of their rotation poised to hit free agency, assuming Jeremy Lin turns down his player option. Cho said he wants to re-sign as many as possible, but coming to terms with all of them will be a tall order. The most pivotal question surrounds Al Jefferson, who’s just two years removed from having been Third Team All-NBA. Injury and a marijuana suspension marred his season this year and turned him into a reserve, though he popped back into the starting lineup midway through the first-round series loss to the Heat. He was still a shadow of what he was two years ago in five postseason starts, averaging just 11.0 points and 6.2 rebounds. Just 31 years old, he’s not ancient by any standard, but he’s old enough that the Hornets will likely shy away from a long-term deal, and he’ll probably have to take a pay cut to remain in Charlotte, too.

Marvin Williams is another fascinating case. He’s become a quintessential stretch four, hitting a career-best 40.2% of his 3-pointers this past season, so he’ll be in high demand. Still, he turns 30 this year, and it’s fair to wonder whether he and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who was injured for most of the season, can successfully share the floor. Most problematic is that the Hornets only have Early Bird rights on him, and with Cho’s plan to keep the team intact, Charlotte probably won’t have the cap space necessary to offer him more than $12.5MM for next season, which might not be enough.

It would be difficult to envision both Williams and Courtney Lee re-signing as long as Batum comes back, since there wouldn’t be room in the same starting lineup for the two of them with Batum and Kidd-Gilchrist around. Lee saw fewer shot opportunities than he did before the trade that brought him from Memphis, and while he and Williams would provide much-needed floor spacing alongside Kidd-Gilchrist, Lee will probably seek a larger role elsewhere.

The Hornets will be even more fenced in with Lin if he opts out than they are with Williams, since they’d have only Non-Bird rights on Lin. That would provide for a salary of $2,566,800, not enough for someone who was one of the best backup point guards in the league this year. Charlotte would likely have to turn to the $5.628MM mid-level exception to keep him. Still, he said he enjoyed his year with the Hornets so much, he’d be willing to give the team a discount on his next deal, so it remains to be seen how generous he’ll be.

Outside Free Agent Targets

The Hornets are apparently one of four favorites to sign Dwight Howard this summer, and they reportedly had exploratory trade talks about him with the Rockets before the February deadline. Coach Steve Clifford was an assistant for the Magic and Lakers when Howard was with those teams, but despite all that, the idea of Howard in Charlotte still seems far-fetched. The Hornets would have to renounce the rights to every one of their significant free agents aside from Batum and Lin to open enough cap space to even approach the roughly $30MM max Howard would be eligible for, barring major salary-clearing trades. The same goes for any chance the team might have at Charlotte-area native Hassan Whiteside. The salary-cap math just makes it prohibitive. More realistic free agent additions will likely come via whatever portion of the mid-level Lin doesn’t take, so don’t expect the team to make a major signing.

Cody Zeller‘s Extension Candidacy

Assuming the team doesn’t make a game-changing swap, Zeller represents the future of the center position in Charlotte. The madness of the heightened cap will have had its effect on the market by the time rookie scale extension talks begin in earnest in the fall, and while there might be wisdom in tying up Zeller before the cap leaps from this year’s projected $92MM to next year’s projection of $107MM, the Hornets will probably wait to see what Zeller does over a full season as a starter before committing to him. That said, Charlotte struck a rookie scale extension with Jeremy Lamb last fall less than a week after his first official game with the team.

Potential Trades

Lamb and Spencer Hawes appear to have the most tradeable contracts on the Hornets, though Lamb’s disappearance from the rotation at the end of the season won’t help his appeal to other teams. Still, he had his most productive year, even though he didn’t shoot well. Hawes showed signs of life after a miserable season with the Clippers, and he’s still just 28. A 3-point shooting big man has value on the market if Charlotte wants to test it.

Draft Outlook

  • First-round picks: 22nd
  • Second-round picks: None

It’ll be the first year in a while the Hornets won’t have a lottery pick, so they can only expect so much here. They could go for shooting with Florida State two-guard Malik Beasley, but this part of the first round is heavy on size. Don’t be surprised if they go the international route with centers Ivica Zubac or Ante Zizic.

Other Decisions

The opening of Charlotte’s new D-League affiliate bodes well for Aaron Harrison, who has a non-guaranteed salary, since the Hornets will have the opportunity to closely monitor the development of the once-highly touted prospect on that squad. The team may well have interest in keeping soon-to-be restricted free agent Troy Daniels, given his 3-point shooting ability, but fellow impending free agents Jorge Gutierrez and Tyler Hansbrough were insurance policies the Hornets never found much use for.

Final Take

Charlotte overcame plenty of adversity this season to not only make the playoffs but come within a game of the second round, and with Kidd-Gilchrist poised to come back from his shoulder injury, plenty of reason for optimism exists. The trick this summer is to keep the team together, and Cho seems willing to embrace the challenge.

Guaranteed Salary

Player Options

Team Options

  • None

Non-Guaranteed Salary

Restricted Free Agents (Qualifying Offers/Cap Holds)

Unrestricted Free Agents (Cap Holds)

Other Cap Holds

Projected Salary Cap: $92,000,000

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

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4 thoughts on “Offseason Outlook: Charlotte Hornets

  1. Albert

    I will fix the Hornets… its easy really?

    Charlotte gets: #6, Michael Carter-Williams, Greg Monroe, Tyreke Evans
    they send out MIchael Kidd-Gilchrist,Jeremy Lamb, Cody Zeller, Spencer Hawes, #22, Kemba Walker

    a bunch of players get move in one my five way to eight way deals. you want details I will provide

    They drafted Murray or Dunn or Hield at #6, perhaps Bender

    you resign Batum to 2 years deals 28 million
    and you decide you want Al Horford or Al Jefferson or Dwight Howard

    than you begin negotiations with Courntey Lee and Marvin Williams

    PG MCW #6
    SG Evans Harrison
    SF Batum
    PF Monroe, Kaminsky
    C free agent,

    not a bad 8 man rotations, plus you exceptions to bring back Williams, Lee and I guess LIn. you have approximaaly 65 million tie up in starters but the cap is going up to 89 million

    • Compton

      Smoke weed everyday…that is a horrible absolutely horrible team. Lol

    • ozzie

      That’s just what the Atlanta Brave’s did. This is basketball, not baseball. Build a winner, not a loser like the Braves .

      • Cody The Baller

        Your delusional if you think they’ll give up walker for Carter Williams


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