The Charlotte Hornets are leaving no stone unturned in their search for Dennis Smith Jr.’s replacement. The franchise may have acquired Frank Ntilikina earlier this summer, yet his non-guaranteed contract has ensured the Hornets can do their due diligence on other guard options before the new season begins in October.
According to a report by HoopsHype, the Hornets recently hosted former top-10 draft pick Elfrid Payton for a workout. Payton spent last season with the Phoenix Suns, where he participated in 50 regular-season games, averaging 3 points, 2 assists, and 1.8 rebounds in 11 minutes of play.
Payton would bring a totally different skill set compared to Ntilikina. Where Ntilikina excels as a defensive presence, Payton is a pass-first point guard who can provide solid ball movement and creation for his teammates. Neither guard excels as a scorer, although Payton does average 10.1 points per game in his career.
With training camp set to begin on October 3, the Hornets will need to decide whether they want to push forward with Ntilikina as their primary backup guard or whether Payton gives them more of a boost due to his playmaking and scoring ability. Steve Clifford has a reputation for being a defensive-minded coach. However, having a high-level defender is fine, as long as they also offer some semblance of an offensive punch – which Ntilikina doesn’t.
Payton has also worked out for the Minnesota Timberwolves in recent days, so there is clearly some interest in the veteran guards’ services. Currently, Charlotte’s roster sits at 22 players – the maximum allowed heading into training camp. As such, the front office already has some difficult decisions to make while also being unable to invite Payton to camp without cutting someone from their roster first.
Currently, JT Thor and Ntilikina are the two non-guaranteed on Charlotte’s roster. Ntilikina would receive $200 thousand if Charlotte decided to cut ties with him, with his full contract value of $2.5 million becoming guaranteed on January 10, 2024. Thor, on the other hand, wouldn’t cost a penny to waive.
The Hornets have some tough decisions ahead of them as they look to finalize their roster ahead of the new season.