Hornets Rumors

Hornets Notes: Clifford, Team Salary, Walker

Speaking to Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer, Hornets vice chairman Curtis Polk said he doesn’t expect to discuss the team’s coaching staff until a new general manager is hired. However, asked if he expects Steve Clifford to return for the 2018/19 season, Polk replied, “I would today.”

Polk also addressed a few other topics in his conversation with Bonnell, including the Hornets’ salary cap situation. With approximately $118MM in guaranteed salary on the books already for 2018/19, it will be very difficult for Charlotte to upgrade its roster this offseason. However, Polk told Bonnell that the team’s next GM will be tasked with keeping team salary below the tax line while improving the roster’s depth.

  • Whoever becomes the next Hornets general manager may have a ticking time bomb on their hands in the form of Kemba Walker‘s 2019 free agency, says Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer. As Bonnell observes, it will be virtually impossible for Charlotte to extend Walker before his contract expires, so the standout point guard willcha almost certainly reach the open market.

Clifford Discusses Season, Rookies, More

Latest On Hornets’ Front Office Changes

The Hornets issued a press release today confirming that general manager Rich Cho won’t have his contract extended beyond this season. The club will begin its search for a new GM immediately, according to that announcement.

Speaking to Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer, Hornets vice chairman Curtis Polk said that Cho asked the team over the weekend if he could expect an extension on his current contract. Once Polk and controlling owner Michael Jordan decided that wouldn’t happen, the club “made a clean break” from Cho.

That means, as Bonnell writes, that assistant GM Buzz Peterson will run Charlotte’s front office on an interim basis. However, Polk indicated that Peterson likely won’t be considered for the permanent GM job, as he expects that person to come from outside the organization.

Here’s more from Bonnell and Polk:

  • According to Polk, the Hornets’ goal is to have a new GM in place by the end of the season. He expects about four to six candidates to receive interviews, though he acknowledged that some potential targets may not be available until their teams finish their respective seasons. “We’d like it to be as soon as possible, but we don’t want to handicap our choices,” Polk said.
  • Asked specifically about Mitch Kupchak, who is rumored to be Charlotte’s top target, Polk said that the former Lakers GM is “a good name,” but cautioned that he’s not sure what Kupchak’s level of interest in the position would be.
  • Polk said that networking skills and an ability to adapt to the changing times are two important traits for the next Hornets GM. “We need a strong leader who is well respected in the organization and within the industry,” Polk said. “Someone who can build on the tools Rich (provided): Analytics and also be a great evaluator (of talent). … The way basketball has evolved, we have to be careful about (someone who is) too set in their ways. We need to experiment in some regards, (not be saddled with) how basketball was eight years ago or 10 years ago.”

Hornets Won’t Retain Rich Cho, Begin Search For New GM

10:44am: The Hornets have officially confirmed they won’t extend Cho’s contract, announcing in a press release that they’ll begin searching for a new GM immediately.

“I want to thank Rich for all of his hard work with the Charlotte Hornets organization through the years and wish him and his family the best in the future,” controlling owner Michael Jordan said in a statement. “Rich worked tirelessly on behalf of our team and instituted a number of management tools that have benefited our organization. We are deeply committed to our fans and to the city of Charlotte to provide a consistent winner on the court. The search will now begin for our next head of basketball operations who will help us achieve that goal.”

9:57am: The Hornets are expected to shake up their front office after the 2017/18 season, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, who reports that general manager Rich Cho is unlikely to receive a new contract from the team.

Per Wojnarowski, former Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak is expected to be the top target for Charlotte. The Hornets figure to pursue Kupchak in the hopes of partnering him in their front office with assistant general manager Buzz Peterson.

Cho, formerly the general manager of the Trail Blazers, was hired by the Hornets in June 2011. His tenure in Charlotte got off to a good start, as he made Kemba Walker his first draft pick with his new team later that month. However, the Hornets’ draft results since then have been mixed, at best, and the club has failed to become a contender.

In Cho’s seven seasons, the Hornets have an overall regular season record of 212-321 (.398). The team has made the postseason twice during that stretch, but was eliminated in the first round each time. Currently, Charlotte’s cap is overrun with expensive role players — Dwight Howard, Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Cody Zeller are earning nearly $85MM combined this season, and all have guaranteed salaries beyond this year. The Hornets reportedly considered moving Walker this season as a means of clearing one or two of those contracts from their books.

With Cho’s tenure as Hornets GM potentially nearing an end, Kupchak’s name has come up more than once as a potential replacement. Gery Woelfel of The Racine Journal Times wrote several weeks ago that the ex-Lakers GM is likely to be hired by an Eastern Conference team this summer, and Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports later linked Kupchak specifically to the Hornets.

Kupchak, who headed up for the Lakers’ basketball operations department for the better part of two decades, saw his tenure come to an end last year when the franchise replaced him and Jim Buss with Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka. Although the Lakers won multiple titles under Kupchak, his personnel decisions drew heavy criticism in recent years — the massive contracts handed out to Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov in 2016 were among his most significant missteps.

NBA Teams With Open Roster Spots

Now that the dust has settled on last Thursday’s trade-deadline deals and the first round of veteran buyouts and cuts has been completed, it’s worth taking stock of which NBA teams have the flexibility to add a player or two without waivers anyone else.

With the help of our roster counts page, which we update all season, here are the NBA teams with open spots on their 15-man rosters. Open two-way contract slots aren’t included here, since teams are ineligible to sign new two-way contracts at this point in the season.

Teams with a player on a 10-day contract filling their open spot:

  • Phoenix Suns
  • Utah Jazz

Both the Suns and Jazz have 14 players on fully guaranteed NBA contracts, leaving one potential opening. For now, Josh Gray is filling that 15th spot in Phoenix and Naz Mitrou-Long is doing the same in Utah. However, they’re only on 10-day contracts, so both of these teams could soon create an open spot if necessary.

Teams with one open spot:

  • Charlotte Hornets
  • Chicago Bulls
  • Dallas Mavericks
  • Indiana Pacers
  • Los Angeles Clippers
  • Los Angeles Lakers
  • Memphis Grizzlies
  • Minnesota Timberwolves
  • New Orleans Pelicans
  • New York Knicks
  • Oklahoma City Thunder
  • Orlando Magic
  • Sacramento Kings
  • Toronto Raptors

The teams listed above represent a mix of playoff-bound squads and rebuilding non-contenders. Teams like the Bulls, Mavericks, and Knicks could use their open roster spots to take fliers on young players via 10-day contracts, while clubs like the Timberwolves, Thunder, and Raptors may be eyeing the buyout market for veterans who could fortify their respective benches.

Teams with two open spots:

  • Atlanta Hawks
  • Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Portland Trail Blazers
  • Washington Wizards

NBA rules generally prohibit teams from carrying fewer than 14 players on their 15-man squads. However, clubs are permitted to dip to 13 – or even 12 – in special circumstances, as long as they get back up to 14 within two weeks. Roster moves made last week by the Hawks, Cavaliers, Trail Blazers, and Wizards left them below the limit, so they’ll each have to add at least one player by the end of the All-Star break.

Note: Roster info current as of Tuesday, February 13 at 2:00pm CT.

The Reason Hernangomez Make Sense For Hornets

Willy Hernangomez made it clear that he wanted to play — whether it was in New York or elsewhere — and the Hornets acquired him prior to the trade deadline. The fit seemed odd, given Charlotte’s depth at center. However, the 24-year-old Spaniard can still blossom into an asset, Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer writes.

Hernangomez is still an effective scorer in the post and has some passing skills, which fit into head coach Steve Clifford’s system. Also, Hernangomez’s salary is team-friendly at $1.5MM next season and slightly higher the following year. That allows the Hornets to audition Hernangomez for an extended period; he can either develop into a rotational player or as a future trade chip.

  • After Sunday’s loss, the Hornets are 10 games below .500 at 23-33 and their playoff hopes are fading. Bonnell writes in a separate story that it is time for Clifford to reexamine the team and figure out an effective rotation.

Kemba Walker Replaces Kristaps Porzingis On All-Star Team

Hornets point guard Kemba Walker has been named as a reserve from the Eastern Conference for the 2018 NBA All-Star game, the team announced in a press release. Walker joins Team LeBron, replacing Knicks star Kristaps Porzingis, who suffered a season-ending torn ACL on Tuesday.

Walker, 27, is in his seventh NBA season and will appear in his second consecutive All-Star game. In 51 games this season, Walker has averaged 22.6 PPG, 5.8 APG, 3.4 RPG for Charlotte. Walker’s name circulated in trade rumors leading up to Thursday’s trade deadline but he ultimately stayed put with the Hornets.

Injuries have hit Team LeBron hard as Walker is now the fourth replacement to join the squad. Kevin Love (broken left hand) was replaced by Heat guard Goran DragicDeMarcus Cousins (torn Achilles) was replaced by Thunder forward Paul George; and John Wall (knee surgery) was replaced by Pistons center Andre Drummond.

Trade Deadline Rumors: Carroll, Kings, Lakers, C’s

The Nets and Pacers have considered a deal that would send DeMarre Carroll to Indiana in exchange for Al Jefferson, tweets Sam Amick of USA Today. The deal would be a way for Brooklyn to clear money for next season, as Carroll is owed $15.4MM, while Jefferson has a $10MM salary that’s only partially guaranteed.

Carroll, who was traded to the Nets over the summer, is averaging career highs in scoring (13.2), rebounds (6.4) and assists (1.9). Jefferson has settled into a reserve role since coming to Indiana two years ago and is averaging 6.7 points and 3.9 assists in 26 games.

There’s more to report as the trade deadline draws closer:

  • The Kings are willing to move second-year center Georgios Papagiannis if they need to open a roster spot to complete a larger trade, according to Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer (Twitter link). However, Sacramento has since agreed to trade Malachi Richardson in a deal that seems designed to open up a roster spot.
  • With Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis both battling injuries, the Suns may be interested in a minor deal for point guard help, tweets Scott Bordow of The Arizona Republic. Josh Gray is the only healthy option currently on the roster.
  • The Lakers appear to be done with major deals after acquiring Isaiah Thomas and Channing Frye from the Cavaliers, relays Bill Oram of the SoCalNewsGroup (Twitter link). Oram adds that a minor trade could still be in the works.
  • The Celtics remain engaged on several trade fronts, but continue to be reluctant to include a first-round pick in a deal, sources tell Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports (Twitter link).
  • The Cavaliers weren’t able to gain any traction with the Hornets on a Kemba Walker trade before pulling the trigger on a series of separate deals, tweets Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. Hornets Michael Jordan places a high value on Walker and won’t move him cheaply, Woj adds. Jordan said in a recent interview that he wouldn’t part with Walker “for anything but an All-Star player.”

Luke Adams contributed to this post.

Hornets Notes: Walker, Graham, Cho, Hernangomez

The Hornets haven’t changed their public stance about trading Kemba Walker, according to Rick Bonnell and Brendan Marks of The Charlotte Observer. In a conference call earlier today, GM Rich Cho emphasized that the team is open to offers but isn’t actively trying to deal its leading scorer.

“We’re not shopping Kemba, but it’s our job to listen,” Cho said. “It would take something really great to move him. We love Kemba. He’s a great player, All-Star caliber. It wouldn’t surprise me if we did do something, and it wouldn’t surprise me if we didn’t do something.”

The Hornets are frequent dealers near the deadline, acquiring Courtney Lee, Josh McRoberts and Mo Williams in recent years. Team owner Michael Jordan recently said he “would not trade (Walker) for anything but an All-Star player,” but financial considerations may affect that stance. Walker has one more season left at the bargain price of $12MM and will likely be seeking a max deal in the summer of 2019.

There’s more news today out of Charlotte:

  • Second-year forward Treveon Graham has been a pleasant surprise this season, but cap concerns may prevent the Hornets from keeping him in free agency, Bonnell writes in a separate story. Graham is making a little more than $1.3MM this year, but Charlotte has to be careful about any spending with more than $116MM in guaranteed money already committed for next season. “If I were a coach, Treveon Graham would be on my team every single time,” said teammate Marvin Williams. “I know [coach Steve Clifford] has a certain level of comfort with him, and we do, too, as players.”
  • Cho may have concerns about his future in Charlotte if the Hornets don’t make the playoffs, Bonnell adds in a mailbag column. Former Lakers GM and North Carolina alum Mitch Kupchak has been floated as a possible replacement, and Bonnell suggests ex-Cavaliers and Hawks GM Danny Ferry and Pistons GM Jeff Bower as well.
  • The Hornets are happy to take a chance on second-year center Willy Hernangomez, who was acquired today in a trade with the Knicks, according to a story on the team’s website. Hernangomez has found playing time hard to come by this season, but Charlotte is encouraged by the numbers he put up as a rookie. “We’re excited to add a player of Willy’s caliber to our team,” Cho said. “He showed last season that he can contribute when given the opportunity and we believe that the added depth he provides will benefit our frontcourt rotation.”

Knicks Trade Willy Hernangomez To Hornets

1:29pm: The Knicks and Hornets have both confirmed the trade, issuing press releases to announce the deal.GETTY Willy Hernangomez vertical

“We’re excited to add a player of Willy’s caliber to our team,” Hornets GM Rich Cho said in a statement. “He showed last season that he can contribute when given the opportunity and we believe that the added depth he provides will benefit our frontcourt rotation.”

In his own statement, Knicks GM Scott Perry said the deal gives the Knicks “valuable” draft picks and better positions the club as it builds for the future.

10:22am: The Knicks are in the process of finalizing a trade with the Hornets that will send center Willy Hernangomez to Charlotte, reports Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports. According to Charania, the Knicks will receive Johnny O’Bryant and a pair of second-round picks in the deal.

Those second-rounders headed to New York will be Charlotte’s own picks in 2020 and 2021, tweets Charania. Michael Scotto of The Athletic adds (via Twitter) that they’ll be unprotected.

A second-round pick himself in 2015, Hernangomez signed his first NBA contract with the Knicks in the summer of 2016 and played 72 games (22 starts) during the 2016/17 campaign. He averaged a respectable 8.2 PPG and 7.0 RPG for New York in just 18.4 minutes per contest in his rookie year, and appeared to be one of the promising young building blocks for the franchise.

This season, however, the arrival of Enes Kanter and the strong play of Kyle O’Quinn have resulted in a significantly reduced role for Hernangomez, who has averaged just 9.0 MPG in 26 contests. Even with Joakim Noah not really in the mix at center for the Knicks this season, there has been little room in the rotation for Hernangomez, prompting the young big man to repeatedly express a desire to play more. We heard earlier this week that the 23-year-old’s reps had requested a trade.

For the Knicks, the move comes on the heels of Kristaps Porzingisseason-ending ACL injury. Entering the season, the team had identified Porzingis and Hernangomez as two core pieces for its rebuild, along with Frank Ntilikina and Tim Hardaway Jr. Now, in the span of two days, Porzingis has potentially been lost until the 2019 calendar year, while Hernangomez is headed to Charlotte.

As for the Hornets, they’ll pick up an intriguing prospect who still has two more years left on his contract after the 2017/18 season. That contract is extremely team-friendly, with Hernangomez set to earn $1.54MM in 2018/19 and $1.68MM in 2019/20. Those modest salaries are especially appealing for the Hornets, whose cap sheet is currently overloaded with eight-figure salaries.

While Hernangomez is a nice pickup for the Hornets, the team runs the risk of creating the same sort of frontcourt logjam that plagued the Knicks. Dwight Howard is the starting center in Charlotte, with Cody Zeller and Frank Kaminsky also earning minutes at the five. It will be interesting to see if the Hornets plan to hang onto all those players through Thursday’s trade deadline.

Since they can take on O’Bryant’s salary using the minimum salary exception, the Knicks will create a very minor trade exception in the swap — it’ll be worth $1,435,750, the amount of Hernangomez’s salary for 2017/18.

Meanwhile, the two draft picks acquired by New York in the deal will essentially replace the Knicks’ own 2020 and 2021 second-rounders, which the team traded to Philadelphia back on draft day in 2015. The Knicks’ return in that trade with the Sixers was the No. 35 overall pick in the 2015 draft — the selection used to nab Hernangomez.

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