Before we begin, close your eyes and take a deep breath. Picture Nicolas Batum. Now picture his contract. Think how you would feel if he were traded away. Imagine the cap space the Charlotte Hornets could use to adequately upgrade the roster. Feels good, right?
Now stop. Throw it from your mind, and never think of it again.
The reality is that Batum is not getting moved this summer. His value is low and his contract is high, which means any deal, if one even made it past another NBA GM laughing and hanging up the phone, would sway heavily against the Hornets.
So when it comes to what could make fans happy this offseason, we have to think rationally.
The Hornets enter free agency with limited cap space, but signing a playmaking guard with the Mid-Level Exception would address a long-term need and leave Hornets fans thrilled this offseason.
With the MLE giving the team nearly $8.6 million to work with, the Hornets could potentially attract a quality rotational guard. After three consecutive seasons of low-balling players to sign in hopes of rebuilding their careers — a strategy that outside of Jeremy Lin did not work so well — the Hornets could actually add a quality player to provide Kemba Walker with relief. The likes of Fred VanVleet, Elfrid Payton, or Yogi Ferrell are realistic options that, depending on the free agency market, could be enticed by Charlotte’s MLE. VanVleet and Ferrell won’t be easy to get, as both are restricted free agents, but Charlotte could offer both a significant raise from what they made last season and hope their current team balks.
On the other hand, not addressing this spot, or using it sign a notable, but washed point guard, would be a total waste of the little cap space available.
Say no to Derrick Rose. Say no to Isaiah Thomas. Kindly ask if Raymond Felton would like to join in on the Hornets 30th anniversary celebration, and then definitively tell him no. Fortunately, with all the talk about player development, I feel reassured that James Borrego and Kupchak aren’t thinking down these lines. Because let’s be clear, the Hornets just went through a season of reviving the career of a once great NBA player, and it didn’t exactly pan out for the rest of the team.
I do feel optimistic though.
For one, Charlotte can’t throw bad contracts at bad players because they don’t have the cap space to do so. Borrego wants the team to run a faster offense and take more 3-pointers, and if we’re assuming he and Kupchak are on the same page then it seems likely they will go after a VanFleet or Ferrell type. There is, of course, a solid chance they end up with none of their targets and end up signing a less talented version of the player they wanted. Whether they can nab one of their targets depends on how convincing their pitch is, so I hope Kupchak has found a way to make Charlotte sound like Los Angeles.
Regardless of who ends up in Charlotte, Kupchak and company have an opportunity to make a small, but important signing. If the front office truly believes the Hornets can compete for a playoff spot despite two lackluster seasons in a row, then finally addressing a long-term need of the roster by adding a playmaking guard could make that sentiment a reality.