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Charlotte Hornets free agency preview: Who should they target?

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Free agency begins at midnight, and the Hornets have a few empty spots on the roster. What players should they be looking at?

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Free agency is a heartbreaking time for many fans. It's when the market dictates value, not the draft, and in the past the Charlotte Hornets have seen the worst side of capitalism when chasing free agents. Marquee names rarely give the Hornets a serious look, and many outright refuse to visit even when the team has substantial room under the cap. As a result, the Hornets often overpay for mediocre players that probably were not their first choice.

Hey, Marvin Williams.

However, the Hornets have been, for the most part, quite intelligent with their free agent signings over the last couple of years. The signed Al Jefferson to a three-year, $41 million deal two years ago, and last summer's three-year, $27 million deal (with a team option!) for Lance Stephenson was quite the coup for a team that struggles to attract big names, even if the signing eventually didn't work out.

This season, the Hornets have zero cap room to work with, even after renouncing the rights to Bismack Biyombo, and still if they renounce the rights to Jeffery Taylor. They're subsequently left with a handful of exceptions: the mid-level exception, valued at roughly $5.46 million; the biannual exception, valued at roughly $2.14 million; and two trade exceptions totalling approximately $1.3 million. In other words, the Hornets are extremely limited in free agency this year, especially with the impending cap spike that makes the aforementioned figures look like chump change.

That doesn't mean they're out of luck, though. This free agency class is decent, especially in terms of role players. The Hornets appear to have all of their core assets for the upcoming season in place, meaning they're likely going to fill some holes and add depth with veterans to aid them in their push for the playoffs.

Here's how the Hornets' depth chart looks to stack up right now. Obviously, things could change dramatically before the season. Kaminsky, for example, could be the real deal and find himself starting for the Hornets in October. This is our best guess right now.

Starter Reserve Reserve
Point guard Kemba Walker Brian Roberts
Shooting guard Nicolas Batum Jeremy Lamb Troy Daniels
Small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist P.J. Hairston
Power forward Cody Zeller Marvin Williams Frank Kaminsky
Center Al Jefferson Spencer Hawes

The Hornets have the strongest group of wings they've had in years, but still find themselves with an over-abundance of bigs with overlapping skill sets. They don't have any single player worthy of a reputation as a rim protector, and while retaining Biyombo would have completed the front line nicely, there are several other good players available in this year's free agent class. The Hornets should also look for a third point guard in case one of Walker or Roberts gets hurt. While Batum and Lamb can theoretically play the point in a pinch, they're far from good options there.

With this in mind, let's take a look at some of the players that fit what the Hornets want to do in this year's free agency.

Mo Williams

Williams had an up-and-down season with the Hornets, and there were rumors that he was displeased with his playing time when Kemba Walker returned from injury. In Williams' defense, the Hornets' offense generally did operate better when he was at the helm. The Hornets exhibited a poise and consistent effort level that Walker can't quite harness from them when Williams ran the point, and there's no doubt he knew this.

Williams has been linked to the Cleveland Cavaliers in recent weeks, however, and all indications suggest he'll reunite with LeBron James this summer. That's a blow to the Hornets, but fully understandable. It's difficult to warrant giving Williams major minutes when Walker is healthy, even if the offense runs more smoothly.

Patrick Beverley

Honestly, Beverley is a pipe dream. He's worth a bit more than the Hornets can offer, and he could probably start on a handful of teams. Beverley's calling card is his defensive intensity. He nicknamed himself Mr. 94 Feet, a reference to playing fullcourt defense, and he's owned up to that proclamation since coming into the league in 2009.

Beverley can also score a bit. He shot a solid 35.6 percent from behind the arc last season, and while he's fairly athletic he's not a particularly gifted scorer inside. Still, he plays with the hustle coaches adore, and that alone should get him just about what the Hornets are able to offer.

It would have been cool to see what Beverley could do with Batum, Kidd-Gilchrist, Zeller, and Biyombo, though. Really cool. Alas, that's no longer possible.

Kosta Koufos

Koufos is one of the NBA's hidden gems. He's a very good defender despite average athleticism, and possesses the smarts to play in nearly any system. He's somewhat limited offensively — he shot 50.8 percent overall but worse than 37.5 percent from everywhere outside of the restricted area — but with the Hornets' recent influx of offensive fire power, that wouldn't be an issue.

Unfortunately, Koufos is likely to get a substantial pay raise in free agency this season. The center crop simply isn't that deep, and because he was hidden behind Marc Gasol, he's a bit better than his statistics suggest. It wouldn't surprise me to see Koufos earn upwards of $6 million per year.

Bismack Biyombo

Look, there's no way around it. Biyombo is probably the best center not named Koufos worth less than $7 million per season in free agency this year. Biyombo's weaknesses are very clear: His hands, while improved, still aren't great, he has virtually no offensive game outside of dunking the basketball, and he can be foul prone when he gets amped up. But he has strengths, too, and they're things the Hornets desperately need now that their frontline is composed of Jefferson, Zeller, Hawes and Kaminsky.

He's as good an offensive rebounder as you'll find in this draft class, he's an above average defender in every respect, he provides phenomenal help defense and, despite being unable to score, opens up the offense with stellar screens. It's unlikely Biyombo returns to Charlotte, but he's really one of their best options at the center spot.

Marco Belinelli

Belinelli's been in this league for what feels like ages, and he's still only 29 years old. Belinelli shouldn't need much of an introduction. He's a great shooter and overall a very heady player. He's lost a step or two since he came into the league, and that relegates him to a role of standing idly behind the arc, but there's no doubt that if shooting is what the Hornets want, Belinelli is a prime candidate. Belinelli is a career 39.2 percent shooter from behind the arc.

He leaves a lot to be desired defensively, however, and should he ever be paired with Jefferson and Kaminsky at the same time, a red carpet will emerge from beneath the hardwood, inviting any and all opponents to kindly grant the ball to the basket. Used in the correct lineups, Belinelli is a huge positive. Defenders simply cannot leave him open behind the arc. Ever.

Kendrick Perkins

Just hear me out. Kendrick Perkins is good at nothing. He's just not. But what he could provide the Hornets is a no nonsense, beat-your-ass in practice big that holds teammates accountable and gives them an edge. The Hornets desperately need that edge, as this is the softest group of bigs that Charlotte has had in at least a decade.

He's not good. He probably wouldn't play much. But he still has a lot to offer.

Amir Johnson

Johnson's been on the decline in recent years, and much of that has to do with the fact that he has 10 years of NBA experience even though he's just 28 years old. He's noticeably slower and prone to recurring ankle issues, but he's a trooper. Johnson routinely plays through most injuries.

On the court, Johnson is a consummate professional. He doesn't look to score or put up big numbers. He does the little things, and he does them well. He's also an outstanding team defender with excellent standing reach, and coupled with his near-perfect rotations he'd be an asset to any good defense.

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The Hornets don't have much to work with in free agency this year, but if they're smart with their exceptions they can fill the cracks in this roster beautifully. They need to be aggressive, especially with centers, unless they want to end up with the second coming of Jason Maxiell.

Who do you think the Hornets should target in free agency?