Hornets Early Offseason Primer: What To Do With All This “Currency”

Mitch Kupchak, Charlotte Hornets (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)
Mitch Kupchak, Charlotte Hornets (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images) /

Hello, “late-lottery draft scouting season,” my old friend. I thought we had seen the last of you for a while when the Hornets appeared well on their way to a playoff berth for the first time in six years, but alas, our pal Mark Tatum called out the Charlotte Hornets once again in Wednesday’s Draft Lottery, awarding them the 13th overall pick. And that’s fine! Because while the Hornets season ended a bit more abruptly than many fans had hoped, Mitch Kupchak and Co. have armed the Hornets with a treasure trove of assets–or as he described in a press conference last Thursday, “currency,” which lends much hope to success in future seasons, as long as the Hornets actually utilize that “currency” in an efficient way.

Last July, Mitch Kupchack swung a deal in the first round of the NBA Draft to acquire Texas Center Kai Jones. Just a few days later, at the onset of free agency, the Hornets GM dealt Devonte’ Graham to New Orleans in a sign-and-trade that ended up netting Charlotte an additional first round pick in this year’s draft. Shortly after that, the Hornets signed Kelly Oubre to a two-year, $26-million dollar deal. During the season, the Hornets traded for Montrezl Harrell at the deadline. Expressly, the Hornets front office has not been afraid of making trades or spending money on free agents recently.

With that being said, those moves can all be categorized as “low-risk” decisions that just marginally affected the future of the team. That’s completely fine, because the 2021-22 season was, by all accounts, still a “rebuilding” season in Charlotte. But now, after the firing of James Borrego and the ascension of LaMelo Ball and Miles Bridges into All-Star caliber players, Charlotte clearly wants to see sustained success (postseason success, more specifically) sooner rather than later. Like, “next season” soon. Thus, they have decisions to make regarding their 2022 draft picks and the current roster. Oh, and speaking of James Borrego, the Hornets have a coach to hire now, too.

With two cornerstone pieces to build around, two top-15 picks, a couple of talented but undeveloped young players, and a few more experienced, yet expensive veterans, the Hornets have seemingly endless options heading into the offseason. I’m not sure which road they take in regards to the draft, free agency, trades, and a coaching hire, but I’ll give some options for each route, and share what, ideally, the team should look like heading into next season. Let’s boogie!

Hornets Keep Both Draft Picks 

Let’s start with the draft, where Charlotte has lots of flexibility, as they enter the night with two first-round picks. For the record, I think the chances they keep both picks is a long shot. Like I said, the Hornets are clearly interested in winning soon, thus picking two young players who will, in all likelihood, not be real contributors until at least the 2023-24 season, might not be the most likely option. But I also sometimes think I’m the only real person and everyone else is an NPC, so maybe an NBA team keeping both of their picks isn’t really that crazy.

If the Hornets do decide to keep their picks, they can go in pretty much any direction imaginable. They can draft two upside players, one upside player and one potential “plug & play” guy, or two potential “plug & play” guys. My gut feeling tells me that one “upside” guy and one player who Charlotte sees as someone who can make an immediate impact would be the direction Charlotte takes here, should they decide to make two picks for themselves.

So, who are the players that fit each category?

Let’s start with the “project” guys. I know this, in theory, clashes with the idea that the Hornets want to win now, but with two first-round picks, the Hornets can afford to take a risk with one. Plus, look at a team like Golden State; they’ve developed Jordan Poole, an “upside” pick that they selected while they were already one of the NBA’s elite teams. Now, Poole looks like a future star, even if his timeline doesn’t perfectly match up with the timelines of their other stars. Patience, regardless of how good a team is in the moment, is a virtue. Drafting for “fit” has its place, but acquiring as much talent as possible is never a bad decision to make, regardless of the rest of the team’s “timeline.”

“High-Upside” Players

Ben Mathurin-Guard, Arizona

I would be lying to you if I said the thought of a gargantuan backcourt of LaMelo Ball and Ben Mathurin doesn’t excite me. Because it does! Mathurin doesn’t immediately fill a need for Charlotte, but if he’s available at pick 13, he is talented enough to justify taking a swing on. The 6-7 Freshman from Arizona has shown the ability to be a very high-level shooter and finisher, and could complement Ball and Bridges in a very funky and fun way.

Ousamane Dieng- Forward, France

This pick would be about the biggest “swing” Charlotte could take. The long, versatile, skilled forward is an important archetype in the modern NBA, and Dieng, eventually, could provide the versatile, high-level defense that Charlotte has needed for years. If the Hornets do decide to take Dieng, my bet is that their other pick is spent on a guy they believe can contribute in his rookie season.

“Plug & Play” Options

Ochai Agbaji- Guard, Kansas

The Hornets need defensive guard help. That’s not a bold statement! Agbaji, in theory, can provide exactly that from day one. Along with becoming a much-improved 3PT shooter in 2021-22, Agbaji has always been a stalwart on the defensive end, and could provide some valuable second-unit minutes in Charlotte next season.

Walker Kessler- Center, Auburn

Picking a center in the first round for the second consecutive year might be a tough sell for Hornets fans. But try to view a potential Walker Kessler pick as not giving up on Kai Jones, but rather bolstering a potential deep frontcourt of the future. Kessler is likely the most NBA-ready Center in this year’s draft (that will plausibly be around at pick 13 or 15) and hypothetically, he is exactly what the Hornets have lacked the last couple of years, which is a big, tough, shot-blocking, interior defensive presence.

Mark Williams- Center, Duke

Williams falls into the same category as Kessler above, and also seems like a guy who will rise up draft boards after the combine and interviews, so he might not be available when Charlotte is on the clock. With that being said, Williams could provide, in Charlotte, a similar role to Robert Williams III in Boston. They are both elite athletes with great rim-running prowess who can use their length and relative quickness to switch out to the perimeter. Williams also isn’t a guaranteed “plug and play” guy, and falls somewhere in between immediate impact player and “project.” He may take a bit to get comfortable in the NBA, as many players of his archetype do.

Hornets Trade Both Picks (And Possibly More Assets) To Move Up In The Draft

I’m confident that Mitch Kupchak is making all necessary calls to the teams at the very top of the draft, but an actual deal like this may be tough to pull off. Sure, a team packaging multiple picks plus a player to move up in the Draft and select one of the few top-end, superstar-caliber players available is not a foreign concept. Just in the last few years we’ve seen top-five picks dealt (happened in both 2017 and 2018.) And with a lottery pick, an almost lottery pick, and some valuable young players, the Hornets might have the ammunition to trade up and draft another elite prospect.

The first problem becomes apparent, though, when you realize the teams that possess the top-three picks (Orlando, Oklahoma City, and Houston) are probably more interested in picking a franchise-changing player this year than stockpiling more draft picks, even though I’d never put any pick-based deal past Sam Presti. The other problem is that, once again, Charlotte wants real success next year. And while earlier I preached about the value in taking the best players available regardless of “team timeline”, in this scenario, Charlotte would have to give up an awful lot of assets to be able to select one of those star-potential players.

And once you get out of the top three, to the teams like Sacramento and Detroit who probably are willing to make a deal, you run the risk of trading up for players who aren’t much better prospects than those you could choose at 13 or 15. I would be very shocked if the Hornets execute a completely pick-centered trade. If they do surprise me though, keep an eye on Sacramento. I think the Kings would love someone like PJ Washington or Kelly Oubre, who they know can simply be good players for them next season. Package one of those guys with a number of picks and the Kings might be willing to part with that #4 pick. In that case, a Jaden Ivey-LaMelo Ball-Miles Bridges core is pretty exhilarating. Just saying.

Hornets Use One Draft Pick, And Trade Another For Veteran Player

If I have to guess, this is the route I believe the Hornets will take on draft night. Being able to acquire an established veteran while also adding to their stache of young, promising players would be a win-win. Here are a few options.

Charlotte Trades: Pick #13, Future Second Round Pick

Indiana Trades: Myles Turner, Pick #31

Would this really be a Hornets trade article without mentioning Myles Turner? That man has played for the Hornets for the last, like, six years, without ever actually playing for the team. Coming off a pretty serious foot injury, I think his value will be lower than it has been the last few seasons, but he is still a valuable rim-protector and defender, which are Charlotte’s biggest glaring weaknesses. Plus, Indiana is pretty much in full rebuild mode now, so stockpiling picks should be their MO right now. Throw in the first pick of the second round coming back to Charlotte, and this deal is beneficial for both sides.

Charlotte Trades: Pick #13

Philadelphia Trades: Matisse Thybulle, Future Protected First-Round Pick

Thybulle doesn’t give you much on the offensive end, but the Hornets wouldn’t need him to give them much of anything on the offensive end. Instead, Thybulle would provide the Hornets much-needed wing defense. Here, Philadelphia moves back into the first round of the draft after they sent away their own pick in the James Harden/Ben Simmons deal. Charlotte also receives a future protected pick in the deal, as Thybulle by himself is likely not worth giving up a FRP.

Free Agency

The Hornets don’t have a ton of money to play with this offseason, and this free agent class isn’t particularly strong, hence players are going to get overpaid. Regardless, there are always some sneakily good players available for pretty good value. Here’s a list of a few players who Charlotte should target when free agency opens in August.

1. Isaiah Hartenstein

Hart hive, stand up! Hartenstein has become highly underrated in his time with the Clippers, and could be an incredibly valuable and relatively inexpensive pickup for Charlotte. Keep an eye on Hartenstein.

2.  Mitchell Robinson

M-Rob will likely command a lot of interest on the FA market this summer, being a 24 year-old, athletic, shot-blocker who has become more consistent over his years with the Knicks. The Hornets could sell him on being the immediate starting center on a team with high hopes for next season.

3. Delon Wright

I absolutely loved Isaiah Thomas on the Hornets last year. He’s impossible to cheer against, and it was great seeing him get a chance in Charlotte. However, if the team decides not to bring back IT, I think Wright is a perfect answer at the backup PG spot. He’s a stout defender and brings some veteran experience to a still very young Hornets team.

Coaching Search

For the first time in four years, the Hornets are back on the market for a new head coach. Luckily, the pool of free agent coaches right now is so deep you could Olympic dive into it. The Hornets have cast a wide net on lots of types of coaches, and it seems that Mitch Kupchak, Michael Jordan, and the rest of the front office are exploring every possible option before making a final decision.

This is a pretty big hire for the franchise. Whoever the coach ends up being, they will be directly responsible for overseeing some pretty important developmental years for Lamelo Ball and Miles Bridges. Because of that, a coach with a past that involved getting the most out of young, talented players is probably the ideal candidate. Here are the best three potential hires for the Hornets.

1. Kenny Atkinson

Atkinson is well-respected around the league, is clearly a very smart basketball mind, and was the man in charge of one of the most surprising playoff teams in recent memory, the 2018-19 Brooklyn Nets. That team had no business being in the playoffs, but Atkinson showed his coaching chops and lead the young Nets to the postseason. He certainly deserves another head coaching gig, and his potential fit in Charlotte is perfect.

2. Terry Stotts

Consistent postseason success: Check. Solid past of developing young players into superstars: Check. Well-liked by seemingly all past players: Check. Stotts brings pretty much everything you want in a coach to Charlotte. He oversaw the beginning’s and primes of the careers of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, and took the Blazers to eight straight playoffs, including one Conference Finals, a place where the Hornets have never been.

3. Darvin Ham

Ham is the one candidate without any former coaching experience that Hornets fans should be happy about hiring. He’s had many stops around the NBA as an assistant coach, many times in a player development role. Ham has received rave reviews from his coworkers at every stop, and if Charlotte is going to hire another first-time coach, it should absolutely be Ham.


Having loads of “currency” means nothing if a team doesn’t know how to use it. The Hornets are still confidently headed in the right direction as a franchise, and this offseason feels like a big turning point for the future of the franchise. Of all the options listed above, I think the best possible outcome heading into next season is that Charlotte trades one of their first-round picks for an established center, drafts who they believe to be the best player available–regardless of age– with the other pick, sign a veteran point guard, and hire a head coach with a head coaching past.

Simple, right?

Of course, with so many options at their disposal, there isn’t one “correct” way to attack this offseason. But the Hornets want to win now. So going out and acquiring players (and a coach) who can contribute to winning “now” makes the most sense.

Next. Phoenix Suns players to target in free agency. dark