Hornets 2023 offseason primer: Targets, outgoing free agents, trades, draft needs and more

Steve Clifford, Charlotte Hornets (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)
Steve Clifford, Charlotte Hornets (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images) /

The Charlotte Hornets will enter the 2023 offseason with some big decisions to make. After failing to make the playoffs for the seventh straight season, it’s clear that the front office’s current approach isn’t working.

Factor in the rumors surrounding Michael Jordan’s willingness to sell the team and some tough free agency decisions, and the Hornets’ immediate future looks murky at best. However, now isn’t the time to hit the panic button! After landing the second overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, the Hornets could turn the trajectory of their roster around in one summer – if the front office makes smart decisions, of course.

Another reason to remain optimistic is that Mark Williams and Nick Richards both showed promise at the center position this year, and PJ Washinton proved that he can handle an increased usage rate when required. There is also still hope that James Bouknight and Kai Jones can figure things out and become valuable members of the rotation.

Despite the silver linings, one thing remains true: the Hornets have to be smarter if they want to finally break out of their current cycle of mediocrity. After all, this is a team whose lack of depth was brutally exposed throughout the regular season and who clearly lacks high-level talent at multiple positions – especially off the bench.

However, before the Charlotte Hornets can begin reshaping their roster, they will first need to deal with two enormous elephants in the room.

LaMelo Ball’s contract situation with the Charlotte Hornets

Securing LaMelo Ball’s long-term future with the franchise has to be the primary focus for the front office. Forget everything else. Inking your star player to a contract extension will make it far easier for everything else to fall into place.

Failure to convince LaMelo to sign on the dotted line would certainly set alarm bells ringing and make every additional move that much more complicated.

According to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, it appears that both the Hornets and LaMelo are amenable to hashing out terms on a new deal, with some expecting the negotiations to be over early into the summer.

"“There’s an argument that Charlotte should not go [Scoot] Henderson with LaMelo Ball on the roster and likely to sign an extension in the offseason,” Marks wrote."

If we learned anything from LaMelo going down with a broken ankle this season, it’s that he is the bedrock on which this Hornets team is being built – and hopefully, that’s enough to throw everything into the upcoming contract negotiations.

There’s no escaping a Miles Bridges decision for the Charlotte Hornets.

According to Marc Stein, Bridges’ return to the Charlotte Hornets is now widely expected by those around the NBA, with Charlotte required to tender a qualifying offer to the dynamic scorer before June 29.

"“The repeated expectation shared by rival teams is that Bridges is likely to re-sign with the Hornets,” Stein wrote. “The Hornets have until June 29 to tender the required $7.7 million qualifying offer to Bridges to re-establish him as a restricted free agent on June 30.”"

Expectations and reality don’t always align, though. So, it’s worth keeping an eye on the Bridges situation, as from a basketball standpoint, his scoring ability would be a significant boost to the Hornets roster. Yet, there is no ignoring the impact his return could have on sections of the fanbase and the media scrutiny that could potentially follow his reintegration into the rotation.

Still, deciding how to move forward with the Bridges situation will be another big decision the front office has to make before turning their attention toward reshaping their current roster.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s dive into some of the finer details of the Charlotte Hornets’ upcoming offseason.

Charlotte Hornets’ outgoing free agents

  • Kelly Oubre Jr. (SF) – Unrestricted
  • PJ Washington (PF) – Restricted
  • Dennis Smith Jr. (PG) – Unrestricted
  • Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (SG) – Unrestricted
  • Theo Maledon (PG) – Restricted
  • Miles Bridges (SG) – Restricted

Non guaranteed salaries

  • JT Thor
  • Kobi Simmons

Bringing back Kelly Oubre Jr. will be high on Kupchak’s list of priorities after the 27-year-old wing impressed during stretches of the season. Yet, there will likely be multiple teams who believe a wing that averaged 20.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 1.1 assists on 43.1/31.9/76 shooting would be a smart investment. Right now, Oubre Jr. is probably a 50/50 to return to the Charlotte Hornets roster next season.

PJ Washington will likely remain with the Hornets beyond this current free agency cycle. The 2019 lottery pick has shown legitimate growth year-on-year and is coming off his first season as a full-time starter for Steve Clifford. As such, I would expect the Hornets to match an offer sheet should Washington agree to terms elsewhere. Nevertheless, there has to be a limit on what you’re willing to pay the floor spacing forward, I expect the Hornets to draw a line around the $16.5 million per year mark.

The Dennis Smith Jr. reclamation project was a success this past season, with the former top-10 pick proving that he belongs in the NBA, albeit as a bench guard rather than a bona fide starter. Still, the Hornets have been impressed with Smith Jr and will likely look to retain him during the free agency period. During a May 17 mailbag for the Charlotte Observer, Roderick Boone noted how Smith Jr. and the Hornets was a ‘perfect marriage,’ noting that both sides would likely be keen to extend the partnership.

"The union between DSJ and the Hornets was a perfect marriage and from this vantage point there’s no reason for a divorce. Not only is he a perfect peg for them defensively, he gets along well with coach Steve Clifford and is a staunch supporter of the veteran coach’s style and philosophy."

After acquiring Mykhailiuk as part of the three-team deal that saw Jalen McDaniels head to the Philadelphia 76ers, the shooting guard made a solid impression for his new team. Participating in 19 games and starting 8 of them, Mykhailiuk ended the year with 10.6 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 2.7 assists for the Hornets. Assuming that the price is right, it would make sense for the Hornets to try and retain the 25-year-old shooting guard in an attempt to polish his game and have a reliable scoring option off the bench.

Theo Maledon is eligible for another two-way contract with the Hornets, and given the strides he made this year, extending a new offer to remain with the team makes sense for both sides. Of course, Maledon could have his head turned if another team offers him a full NBA deal, but honestly, that seems unlikely right now.

Charlotte Hornets’ potential trade targets

Gordon Hayward is entering the last year of his $120 million deal and is now viewed as a tradeable contract, while Terry Rozier has been drawing interest from around the league too – most notably the Los Angeles Lakers (although they have since acquired D’Angelo Russell.)

Bother Rozier and Hayward are prime trade chips if the Hornets want to make a bigger splash in the trade market, and honestly, both should be on the trade block to expedite rebuilding around LaMelo Ball.

Ideally, any potential trade will be for a young player with untapped potential and legitimate experience in the league. As such, recent rumors linking the Hornets to players such as Deandre Ayton and Jonathan Kuminga are encouraging, as both fit the type of player Kukpchak should be targeting.

The Hornets could also look to add one of their younger prospects to any potential deal, which means James Bouknight and Kai Jones could find their names floated in trade rumors over the summer.

However, if Kupchak wants to swing for the fences, we could also see offers for John Collins and OG Anunoby being floated around, as both provide the youth, upside, and experience required. Although, both of those targets could become redundant if the Hornets add a talented wing on draft night.

Right now, the Hornets could use a two-way wing, a defensive-minded guard, and potentially an upgrade at the center position.

Potential free agent targets for the Charlotte Hornets

  • Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception: $12.2 Million
  • Bi-Annual Exception: $4.4 million
  • Projected cap space: $26.4 million

Naz Reid would be an ideal pick-up for the Hornets if they’re not sold on either Mark Williams or Nick Richards as their starting big man of the future. The rim-running big man is an unrestricted free agent this summer and could be attainable with Charlotte’s Mid-Level exception after struggling for form and consistency behind Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert with the Minnesota Timberwolves this season.

If Charlotte is looking for some additional ball-handling and defense, then Josh Richardson could be a smart option, having impressed over the past two seasons with the Boston Celtics and San Antonio Spurs, respectively. While Juan Toscano-Anderson could also be a cost-effective addition to supply some grit to the Hornets’ rotation off the bench. Or, if the Hornets were willing to take a gamble, Dillon Brooks could be the ideal instigator the team needs to add some grit and aggressiveness to their rotation.

If you’re looking for a ‘swing for the fences’ type option, Charlotte could look to make a statement by trying to acquire Christian Wood or Jerami Grant, but they would need to shed some salary first, which makes both of those options appear highly unlikely.

Charlotte Hornets draft picks

The Charlotte Hornets own five picks in the 2023 NBA draft: 2nd, 27th, 34th, 39th, and 42nd.

With the 2nd pick in the draft, we can expect to see either Scoot Henderson or Brandon Miller join the Hornets franchise. However, neither player projects to be a smash hit! There are questions about Henderson’s fit alongside LaMelo Ball, and Miller has some off-court controversy that will undoubtedly follow him into the opening months of his rookie year.

Further down the draft, Andre Jackson Jr. makes a lot of sense with the 27th pick, assuming he’s still on the board. A legitimate wing defender with all the tools and aggression to succeed at the NBA level, the UCONN product would instantly improve Charlotte’s perimeter defense.

One thing’s for certain, though – the Hornets are highly unlikely to make all five picks. As such, moving up higher into the first round could be an option, with Michigan product Jett Howard being an ideal target. The scoring wing is coming off an impressive year in the NCAA and would be an exciting prospect to watch develop alongside LaMelo Ball.

If the Charlotte Hornets would prefer some fresh blood at the shooting guard spot, Maxwell Lewis, Ryan Rupert, and Leonard Miller could all be good targets (although moving up in the draft may still be necessary.)

Other Forward and big-man options could be GG Jackson, Bilal Coulibaly, Noah Clowney, and James Nnaji.

Next. 3 Reasons the Hornets should avoid drafting Scoot Henderson. dark