Death, taxes, and the Charlotte Hornets being stuck in mediocrity. That’s how the saying goes for those who follow Hornets basketball, anyway.
When each team in a professional sports league is allowed to spend another $24 million on their rosters, you’d think nothing could possibly go wrong, especially for promising mid-market teams coming off of a playoff run.
Well, you’d be wrong. The Charlotte Hornets invested money in Nicolas Batum (five years/$120 million), Marvin Williams (four years/$54.5 million), and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (who was actually re-signed during the 2015-16 season to a deal worth $52 million over four years).
When the salary cap didn’t jump again in 2017, the Hornets situation started to look worrisome — especially after a disappointing 36-46 season, finishing with 12 fewer wins than the year prior.
These events happened more than two years ago - and the effects of those decisions will linger for years.
Kemba Walker is undoubtedly one of the best players in franchise history - if not the best. He’s also playing for the Hornets under a contract worth only $12 million per year, which is a steal given that Nic Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin Williams, Bismack Biyombo, and Cody Zeller will all make more money than Walker in 2018 - and that’s simply a crime.
That, however, is where the luck ends. Kemba Walker is set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2019, and losing him with no compensation would be devastating for a franchise that can’t seem to catch a break.
However, re-signing Walker would also put the Hornets even deeper in a salary hell. If the luxury tax is the threshold at which Michael Jordan would like to avoid, would Charlotte be willing to forfeit players from an already-thin roster to ensure Walker is a Hornet for the next couple of years?
Let’s take at the Hornets’ salary situation next offseason.
- Kemba Walker ($12 million in 2018)
- Jeremy Lamb ($7.5 million in 2018)
- Frank Kaminsky ($3.5 million in 2018)
- Malik Monk (two-year team option)
- Bismack Biyombo ($17 million in 2019)
- Marvin Williams ($15 million in 2019)
- Michael Kidd-Gilchrist ($13 million in 2019)
Early Termination Options:
- Tony Parker ($5 million in 2019)
I’m going to sound like a mathematician here (trust me, I’m not), so bare with me.
Disclaimer: The rest of this article is based on my projections and the Charlotte Hornets’ roster as of October 3rd, 2018.
The salary cap for the 2019-20 NBA season is estimated at $109 milion. The luxury tax threshold is also fixated at $132 million.
Let’s assume Bismack Biyombo, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Marvin Williams all accept their team options, and the Hornets decide to exercise Malik Monk’s two-year team option.
As it lines up right now, the Hornets would have $6.5M in salary cap room, as well as being $26.5M below the luxury tax line. They will have to work around these numbers.
To create more cap space, let’s say Charlotte decides to terminate Tony Parker’s contract one year early. Again, this creates an added $5 million in money.
They would then stand at $11.5 million in cap space, as well as $34.5 million below the lax line.
As of right now, the Hornets don’t know whether Kemba Walker will re-sign with the team. While Walker has stated that he would like to remain a Hornets, he has also said he doesn’t know what the future holds. However, recent comments from Media Day suggest he is committed to the team. This in turn puts the decision in the front office’s hands.
Let’s say, Walker does intend to sign a contract extension with the Charlotte Hornets. Again, this is hypothetical. Walker is a top-10 point guard in the NBA and will be paid as such, especially with the amount of money that is bound to be spent next offseason throughout the league.
At this point, I’m reaching. In reality, I can only speculate as to whether Walker will re-sign with the Hornets, and for how much.
Nonetheless, we continue.
My estimated Walker extension is a four-year contract worth $112 million total, or $28 million per year. Again, take that with a grain of salt.
If this (projected) contract is signed, the Hornets will be $16.5 million over the salary cap, with only $6.5 million before they surpass the tax threshold. This doesn’t include signed draft picks or re-signing Jeremy Lamb and Frank Kaminsky.
Okay, so let’s say next offseason is a wash, other than re-signing Kemba Walker. Jeremy Lamb moves on to another team and Frank Kaminsky accepts a qualifying offer.
With only signing the 2019 first-round draft pick (which we have to presume is in the lottery), the Charlotte Hornets are barely over the tax threshold, and they will have to pay a fee of $4.5M.
The following offseason (we’re in 2020 at this point, people), Charlotte will finally have cap space. This is also the start of Nicolas Batum’s (and Cody Zeller’s) contract year.
Depending on whether Frank Kaminsky returns, the Hornets will have between $9-18 million in cap space. Remember, he accepted a qualifying offer in 2019 in our hypothetical.
That number isn’t a lot, especially given they’ll be looking for two rotation players to replace Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, assuming they don’t re-sign either player. Willy Hernangomez will also be a restricted free agent in 2020.
Now, these calculations are subject to a possibly big change, but they certainly aren’t promising. Trades and signings could easily throw this prediction off, and not in a minor way.
Last summer, Mitch Kupchak made a couple of trades, which completely skewed any projection anyone had before June. First, Dwight Howard was traded for Timofey Mozgov, and then he was dealt for Bismack Biyombo, among other moves.
Even at the very beginning of my projection, I assumed Charlotte would waive Tony Parker, which is a factor dependent on his performance this season.
My point is, despite how grim this outlook is, projections like this are wrong more often than not and can be upended by a simple trade.
So, would it be worthwhile for the Hornets to re-sign Walker?
This is a question that will be contested by any Hornets fan. The quest to find a suitable trade offer for Walker, should he be available by the trade deadline, would be difficult in itself. I’d lean towards Walker not being dealt, simply because both management and Walker have expressed interest in getting a contract agreed upon.
Again, this article was completely subject to my projections. This probably won’t be right, so don’t get your hopes up? I mean, it’s not like these numbers are something to cheer for. If anything, it’s the opposite.