Keeping as much of gang together was general manager Rich Cho’s number one priority entering the 2016 offseason. The Charlotte Hornets had four significant upcoming free agents, and they had enough cap space to bring back 2-3 players depending on how they wanted to spend it. Given that Nicolas Batum was priority #1, that left room for only one more among the trio of Marvin Williams, Jeremy Lin, and Courtney Lee. We know how it all went down.
Cho opted to keep the starting five together, a sensible move, but one that didn’t leave lot of cap space to solidify the bench unit. In hindsight, this haunted them, but the decision to sign Batum and Williams may have actually been the best way to go, given that Lin spent much of the season sidelined due to injury. That said, Lee had a very productive season shooting the ball despite playing for the New York Knicks, which I think is deserving of an end of season award.
But speculating on who they should’ve signed is probably meant for another story. Instead, let’s focus on the moves they actually made. I’ve categorized them based on how I liked or didn’t like them, so feel free to bring me your hate in the comments.
The moves I liked most
Extending Cody Zeller
If there’s one thing the front office got right, it was extending Zeller back in October. The 4-year, $56 million extension was good value then, and looks even better now, as Zeller continued to show improvement on both ends of the floor, and his absence while injured showed he was one of the most important pieces on the roster.
But extending him early also alleviated the stress of having to re-sign him in free agency this summer. Zeller would’ve been one of the best free agent centers available, and while he would’ve been a restricted free agent, there’s a good chance another team would’ve offered much more than $56 million with the rising salary cap. The front office did good by taking care of this early.
Signing, and actually playing, Briante Weber
Charlotte’s overall use of the 10-day contracts this season was a mixed bag (as I’ll discuss later), but they did right by signing Weber, and actually playing him. I understand this is more of a Steve Clifford decision, but give Cho and the front office credit for taking a swinger on Weber, especially when Brandon Jennings was on the cards. The final verdict on Weber will be determined this summer, but he had bright spots towards the end of season that gave the Hornets life during a stretch they need someone to step up.
Signing Treveon Graham
Graham actually showed a bit of promise as a 3-and-D role player, a position the Hornets could really use next season. Clifford likes him, and if he has a good summer, he could get the chance to be that player off the bench.
The moves I liked at first, but not as much now (but still like)
Bringing back Batum was a no-brainer heading into free agency. Letting him walk would’ve put them in a tough spot of finding another player who could replicate the things he did well, which left them with little choice but to sign him at whatever cost. The contract came in at less than the max, but $120 million is a lot of money, and after a slightly disappointing second season, it doesn’t look quite as good of a decision. But, as I said in my season review, the contract should look better by comparison once free agency ends this summer, and contracts as high as $200 million are offered.
That said, Batum needs to have a bounce back season in 2017-18, or the contract could look really bad in a year or two.
Re-signing Marvin Williams
I was always on board with bringing back Batum and Williams, even if it meant parting ways with Lin and the LinHive (miss ya’ll). Williams was the team’s best 3-point shooter in 2015-16, so it made a lot of sense to want him back. He too, took less than the max, but didn’t replicate his shooting efficiency, leaving many of us wondering if we were fooled by the case of the player maxing his worth during a contract year. Still, I believe he has at least one more above average season in him, and if all goes well, he could become a productive member of the bench towards the end of his deal, so long as Frank Kaminsky or another unknown younger player not on the roster is able to replace him in the starting lineup.
The moves that made sense, but didn’t work out
Trading the 22nd pick for Marco Belinelli
I was really of the mindset that the Hornets weren’t going to get a rookie capable of positively helping the bench with the 22nd pick, so when they traded for Belinelli it made sense given the news that Courtney Lee was asking for $14 million a season and ended up getting $12.5. So the reasoning was this — would you rather have Marco at $6 million a season, or Lee at double the price? (Don’t answer that).
At first, Belinelli shined, and the trade looked like a coup. Then he played worse as the rest of team did, and on top of that, rookies available at 22 — Skal Labissiere, Tyler Ulis, and most notably, Malcom Brogdon — all look to be players that would’ve helped this season and cost a lot less.
Signing Roy Hibbert
One game into the season, the resurgence of Hibbert looked in the making, but he never stayed healthy from that point on, and was traded away near the deadline. That’s really all I’ve got on Roy. Shame he couldn’t stay healthy.
Letting Troy Daniels become a restricted free agent
Remember when I asked whether you’d have Belinelli at $6 million, or Lee at $12.5? Well what if you could’ve had Daniels at a little over $3 million? This is technically a move they didn’t make, but re-signing him was affordable, unlike the situations with Lin and Lee. Letting him walk made sense at the time, but he ended up making an impact for the playoff bound Memphis Grizzles, averaging 8.2 points per game and shooting 38.9 percent from beyond the arc. But a lot of this was fit, and I’m not sure he would’ve thrived quite as well as the team’s shooting guard off the bench. If he continues to improve, however, he could end up as one that got away.
The move I justified at first, but can’t anymore
Do I even need to say it? The Miles Plumlee deal wasn’t well received when it happened, and looked worse and worse as the season wore on. He didn’t play enough due to injury, and now he’s out for 6-8 weeks after knee surgery. And on top of it all, he’s under contract for the next three years at $12 million a season.
I made a case for why the trade was made, and why it could still work out, but it appears the front office locked themselves in on a big contract that could make things difficult financially moving forward.
The moves I’m indifferent on
Bringing back Ramon Sessions
Sessions was a familiar face, who knew Clifford’s system, so the logic was sound to bring him back for a second stint. But he isn’t the most popular of players at the moment, and many hope the team will decline the final year of his contract. He didn’t have a great season, and ended it on the injury list, but declining his player option isn’t as clear cut as it might seem given the free agent options and the team’s lack of cap space.
Bringing back Brian Roberts
Roberts also had a rough outing in his second go around in Charlotte, largely thanks to having to play as the second string point guard when he was meant to be the third string. Small stretches of B-Rob would’ve been fine, but having to depend on him for 41 games this season was more than the front office was likely expecting.
Johnny O’Bryant III
I’m not ready to ride the O’Bryant hype train after one 15 point out against the Denver Nuggets, but I want to remain optimistic the Hornets found a gem. We would’ve known by now, but he got hurt soon after that breakout game, and we never saw him again, and won’t until Summer League. What’s even worse is that a good SL performance isn’t even indicative his game will translate to the NBA, so until he gets another shot in the actual regular season, I will refrain from feeling one way or another on him.
The Christian Wood experiment
A staple of the Greensboro Swarm, Wood played well in the D-League but apparently didn’t show enough progress at the NBA level, as the team declined his option for next season. This was always a no-risk signing, so this doesn’t hurt them unless Wood blossoms next season with another team.
The other 10-day contracts
Mike Tobey, we barely knew you. Ray McCallum, we never knew you. Tobey played well enough with the Swarm to get a shot in the NBA, but he wasn’t good enough with the Hornets. McCallum was a higher profile name, but apparently wasn’t worth getting a minute of playing time? Unless they needed a body to help in practice for 20 days, I’m not quite sure why they even brought him in.