Hornets president of basketball operations Mitch Kupchak tells Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer that the team was somewhat blindsided by Kemba Walker earning All-NBA honors and becoming eligible for a super-max contract earlier this year. Although Walker wasn’t demanding the full super-max (approximately $221MM over five years), the gap between what he sought and what Charlotte was willing to offer was too significant to bridge the gap.
“We had great years with him, and we didn’t get into the playoffs,” Kupchak said of the All-Star point guard. “What makes us think that next year (would) be different? I’ve got to step back and look at where we’ve been and where we’re going. Chart out a course that gives us the best chance to build something that is sustainable for more than a year or two.”
The Hornets have faced criticism for not getting what they could for Walker in a pre-deadline trade in February, but Kupchak tells Bonnell that the club was confident in its chances of re-signing Kemba at that point and wasn’t impressed with the offers it received on the trade market.
“Almost every offer revolved around draft picks. It was always lottery-protected,” Kupchak said. “When you do something like that, you’re saying you’re going to draft a player in the teens, we don’t know how good he’s going to be, and it’s going to take three or four years (to realize value). We wanted to keep Kemba — under the right conditions.”
We don’t know the specifics on what the Hornets were offered for Walker, so we’ll take Kupchak at his word that those offers didn’t provide enough value to be worthwhile.
Still, it’s fair to take the front office to task for the assertion that it didn’t see Walker’s All-NBA nod and super-max eligibility coming. The former UConn standout scored 41 points on opening night last fall and played at an elite level all season, singlehandedly keeping Charlotte in the playoff hunt. To claim the team was blindsided by Kemba’s super-max eligibility is either disingenuous or signals a worrisome lack of foresight.
Here’s more from Bonnell on the Hornets:
- Head coach James Borrego is under no obligation to give significant minutes to Nicolas Batum, Bismack Biyombo, Marvin Williams, Cody Zeller, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who will earn a combined $85MM in 2019/20. “I’m not going to coach a team based on contracts, what you’re making, where you were drafted, if you were drafted,” Borrego said. “To me, that’s not my job. My job is to get the most out of them, whether they were drafted or not drafted.”
- While those veterans will get a chance to compete for roles, Borrego wants to make sure the team’s young prospects play consistent minutes, either in Charlotte or in the G League. “We’re not going to have draft picks on our bench who are just sitting there,” the head coach told Bonnell. “If they’re not playing meaningful minutes for us in Charlotte, I promise you they will be playing minutes in Greensboro.”
- The Hornets “didn’t even contemplate” using their mid-level exception this offseason, according to Kupchak, who explained to Bonnell that no one in that price range would have “changed the course of this organization.”
- The Hornets also won’t rely on free agency going forward to reshape their roster, preferring instead to use any future cap flexibility to re-sign young players or to accommodate trades. “Free agent signings, for us, are not something we need to concentrate on going forward. We’re not going to get the ‘Big Fish,'” Kupchak said. “We have to create a culture where those kinds of players would want to come here. And, quite frankly, we’re not there yet. For us to hoard cap room (for that purpose) is not in the best interest of the organization.”
- In a tweet, Bonnell adds a couple more Hornets-related items, reporting that there’s no indication the club is involved in ongoing trade talks that would jettison a veteran contract. Additionally, Charlotte would like to get unsigned second-rounder Jalen McDaniels locked up in a developmental role, per Bonnell. It sounds like the team’s preference may be for McDaniels to sign a G League contract.