Even with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's improvement, the Hornets will likely still be looking to add a small forward during the off-season. While Charlotte found good production from Anthony Tolliver and Chris Douglas-Roberts (signed due to Jeff Taylor's injury) at the position last season, the team could likely find better talent than just waiver-wire players, and they will be considering free agent options. Here are a few potential free agents that the Hornets could be looking at, with the notable exceptions of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, because I do not expect them to wind up in Charlotte.
Group 1: Luol Deng/Paul Pierce: I decided to combine these two, as they're both unrestricted this season, both veterans, and likely both looking either for one last big contract or for another shot at a title on a contending team. Pierce will be looking for a contender moreso than Deng, I would think, but they both could possibly be swayed into Charlotte by an overwhelming offer. With that said, I don't think Rich Cho & Co. would make that type of offer to acquire either of these players, because it would tie up the payroll and possibly create a logjam with the team's on-court chemistry and strategy. In other words, this is unlikely, but I believe it is within the realm of possibility.
Addendum to Group 1: Rudy Gay is similarly highly-priced, as he did play some of the best basketball of his career after being traded to Sacramento midway through last season. On the other hand, if he decides not to exercise his player option for 2014-15, he's only 28 with little room to improve, and could tie up the salary even more than Pierce or Deng. Like the other two, Gay is probably not a serious consideration for the Hornets, especially because he has an option remaining.
Group 2: Unrestricted Potential High Rotation Players: This group contains the most likely signings, as the backup small forward for teams that do not have a LeBron, Carmelo, Kevin Durant, or Paul George is getting a lot of playing time in today's NBA.
This group includes Trevor Ariza, Shawn Marion, CJ Miles, Mike Miller, and Al-Farouq Aminu. It's a pretty eclectic group there, and some of these players could be a very valuable 6th man for the Hornets, but all of them have their value.
Ariza had a career season in Washington and was instrumental in getting the Wizards to their first playoff berth in seven years, but I do worry that his outside shooting this season was an anomaly, although he is a good defensive stopper otherwise. Marion is not the player he once was, but still offers a lot of value defensively, and there is no better player to take Kidd-Gilchrist under his wing than the veteran that MKG's game most closely resembles. Mike Miller was healthy enough to play all 82 games last season, plus a seven-game playoff series, and had the highest three-point percentage of his career. He'll also be pretty cheap. CJ Miles has quietly developed into a pretty well-rounded basketball player, even with some injury concerns, and I doubt he'd cost more than $4 million for the next season, which is not bad for a player of his quality. Aminu is definitely a role player at this stage of his career, but will be only 24 in 2014-15, and I could see his defensive abilities becoming a big asset within Steve Clifford's system.
Group 3: Restricted or Option Players: If these players are not retained by their current team, or their option is declined (by either party), they would immediately become potential targets for the Hornets. It includes Gordon Hayward, Andrei Kirilenko, and Francisco Garcia. Still an eclectic group, though without the upside of the previous five players.
Hayward is clearly the treasure here, still only 24 next season, and, despite a regression in shooting that was bizarrely out of form, just off the most improved season of his career. A lot of teams will be bidding for his services if Utah does not sign him, but the Hornets could be one of the teams that has the most to gain from Hayward's skill set. Kirilenko is a shell of his former self, and is probably more of a power forward than a small forward at this point, but is still a productive player, even if he can't take the minutes that he used to. Garcia is a low-risk, low-reward three-and-D player that could fill in at any time, and seemingly in any system. He provides little upside and won't surprise anyone, but probably won't cost more than $2.25 million and is almost guaranteed to be effective within his role.
Group 4: Former Bobcats: This is more for fun than anything, but Anthony Tolliver, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Dante Cunningham, Cartier Martin, Stephen Jackson, and James Southerland are all free agents this summer. Of these, Tolliver, CDR, and Martin are probably the only actual options for the Hornets, much as I'd like to see Captain Jack back in Charlotte. Tolliver and Douglas-Roberts would fill the same role, for a comparable salary as they made last season (which is to say: not much), and I'd be happy if they came back, as they were both productive last season. Martin isn't much, but is a pretty reliable three-point shooter.
(Ed. What, no Walter Herrmann? - Ben)