According to an Eastern Conference executive, who spoke with Heavy on Sports’ Sean Deveney under the condition of anonymity, the Charlotte Hornets could be in the running to acquire former first-round draft pick Deandre Ayton.
"“The Hornets also garnered a mention, as the Suns have had interest in point guard Terry Rozier as a potential Paul successor,” Deveney wrote. “The Suns were rumored to have interest in guard Fred VanVleet, but that would require an Ayton trade and the Raptors seem to have settled on Jakob Poeltl as their center going forward.”"
The reason for Charlotte pursuing the 7’0” center is simple: he would instantly become a legitimate running mate for LaMelo Ball, providing a pick-and-roll partner while also giving the Hornets a legitimate secondary creator both around the post and above the perimeter in delay actions.
Rozier will be entering the second year of his current $96 million contract next season, earning him in the region of $23.2 million. Whereas Deandre Ayton is entering the second year of his $132.9 million deal, with his salary expected to be around $32.5 million. With a $9 million disparity between the two contracts, the Hornets would almost certainly have to include an additional player to make the money work and most likely throw in some draft picks due to Ayton being a semi-recent overall first-round pick.
Yet, if the Hornets can find a deal that works for both sides, they would be acquiring a big man who has genuine All-Star potential and already boasts deep playoff experience, courtesy of his time in Phoenix. Ayton ended the regular season with a stat line of 18 points, 10 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 0.8 blocks per game while shooting the rock with an effective field goal percentage of 59.2%.
Furthermore, adding Ayton would allow Nick Richards to continue his development off the bench while increasing the competition level at his position, something which could expedite his own growth. However, should the Hornets finalize a deal for Ayton, it would certainly impact Mark Williams’ current minutes within the rotation and stunt his development following an impressive rookie season that saw the Duke product average nine points and 7.1 rebounds per game in 43 appearances.
Why would the Charlotte Hornets want to add Deandre Ayton?
Coming into the offseason, it was clear that the Hornets needed to begin rebuilding their roster around LaMelo. After missing out on the postseason for the past seven years and not winning a playoff series since the 2001 season, Charlotte has a lot of work to do if they’re going to convince their star guard that his long-term future resides with the team that drafted him in 2020.
As such, we should expect the front office to be active throughout the summer as they explore potential trade options, scout players for the upcoming draft, and due their due diligence on potential free-agent additions. Currently, Terry Rozier projects to be Charlotte’s best trade chip, as his value around the NBA remains high as a lead ball-handler who can play both sides of the floor, create for others, and generate his own shot.
Given LaMelo’s status as a rising star within the NBA and the Hornets’ desire to keep him long-term, the franchise is in desperate need of a reset so that they can begin building toward a period of sustainable success. While that type of roster reset can take time, being willing to make a splash on a talent such as Deandre Ayton when the opportunity arises is a reliable way to send a message that you’re committed to improving the quality of the roster and to building toward the goal of being a contender in the Eastern Conference.