How do the Hornets Re-Tool?
By: Devin Zanskas
Kemba Walker has maybe as strong of a case as any previous Charlotte player to be the best Hornet of all time, but it’s worked out for them to have moved on from him, and draft LaMelo Ball. He’s discussed in the same breath as Luka Doncic and Cade Cunningham, as a forward-sized guard that is capable of running a top tier offense, and raising the overall offensive value of his teammates. From 2020 to 2022, the Hornets offensive rating improved from 28 th in the association, to 23rd , to 8th. It also took LaMelo only two years to make his first Allstar game. With each passing season though, the hype train, around young players especially, slows down. Even though the Hornets won ten more games in 2022 compared to 2021, they ended the season with the same result as the prior year, losing by at least 27 points as the tenth seed in the play-in tourney. Last season, the Raptors, Bulls, and Cavaliers surpassed the Hornets in the standings. Those three teams had huge additions in the previous offseason. The Raptors and Bulls added the guys with the first- and second-most votes in the Rookie of the Year race, and the Bulls had an enormous offseason, adding Demar Derozan, Lonzo Ball, and Alex Caruso. Meanwhile, the only significant move that the Hornets made was replacing Cody Zeller with Mason Plumlee. There’s been a lot of chatter in recent history about the eastern conference closing the gap between them and the western conference in terms of the number of competitive squads. Therefore, it might not be the wisest approach for the Hornets to rely solely on internal development to bring them to a level above where they were before. Since the Hornets became everyone’s League Pass team, analysts have been eager to see them make a move for a more promising center, but now they have more serious issues to address. The unfortunate elephant in the room is that Miles Bridges had to plea no contest to a domestic violence charge on Thursday, November 3rd . The accusation against him was that he had assaulted his girlfriend, who’s also the mother of his two children. ESPN’s Baxter Holmes reported that the Hornets would “continue to gather information before determining any potential next steps.” Although, Holmes
also indicated that if a team were to agree to sign Bridges, that the NBA would have the right to fine, suspend, or disqualify Bridges from representing the league because of his no contest plea. It’s abundantly clear why fans would not like to see Bridges touch a NBA court again. Per Larry Coon’s Salary Cap FAQ, qualifying offers automatically expire on October 1 st , except in rare circumstances where the offer is extended. According to Sports Illustrated, the Hornets and Bridges have let his $7.9 million qualifying offer expire. On the contrary, someone that Charlotte should want to stick around is PJ Washington, who’s in a contract year. In the early goings of the season, Washington is averaging a career-high 15.9 points per game, but he’s doing so while shooting 44.1% from the field and 33.9% from beyond the arc. None of that is too surprising though given the hole that was left following the loss of the Hornets’ leading scorer from last year. That’s why this situation was primed to be a season for Washington to bet on himself, and test the market in restricted free agency. Therefore, now more than
ever, the Hornets can’t afford to lose Washington, but The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie stated that Washington looked uninspired despite the opportunity at his disposal. A simple way to predict Washington’s free agency market is to compare his game to other 2019 draftees’ that received new contracts such as De’Andre Hunter, Brandon Clarke, and Keldon Johnson. Over the next four years, each of those three will earn an average annual salary of $22.5 million, $12.5 million, and $18.5 million, respectively. One could argue that Clarke doesn’t belong in this conversation because he’s more limited on offense, but he plays maybe the closest role, at least on defense, when comparing him to Washington. Maybe the closest facsimile to Washington among 2019 draftees that didn’t sign an extension, Grant Williams, is seeking $13-17 million per year, according to Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe. Therefore, whatever deal PJ signs is going to be in the ballpark of his $17,425,305 cap hold, which means that their cap space for next year is likely to be close to what the Hornets projected. The Hornets actual cap space for next year is already slotted in for -$14.3 million. Although, $33.6 million of that total comes from the cap holds for Kelly Oubre and Mason Plumlee, both of whom are expendable to varying degrees. Renouncing those cap holds alone would give the Hornets $19.3 million in cap room. With the center position being the most glaring improvement area in the starting lineup, they could pursue upcoming free agents like Nikola Vucevic, Myles Turner, and Jakob Poeltl. Vucevic, even though he’s a very talented center, might slow down the Hornets’ offense the most out of these three. Turner has been the prototypical 3-and-D center that every squad has wanted for years, but no one has anted up to the Pacers’ asking price. Especially considering the career season that Turner is having so far, he also has the best chance to earn a starting salary greater than the $19.3 million that’s been carved out for them in this hypothetical. Poeltl fits in quite seamlessly for the Hornets. He could serve as their defensive anchor, they don’t need a stretch big given the rest of the Hornets’ shooters, and his offensive limitations make it reasonable for him to slot into their cap space. In conclusion, the Hornets have had a setback in their organization’s rebuild, but they still can re-tool.