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The Hornets are in a tough salary cap situation

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Mitch Kupchak is going to have to be creative if he wants to improve the team this offseason.

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Charlotte Hornets Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

General Manager Mitch Kupchak inherited a Charlotte Hornets roster that was short on talent and long on salaries. After a 48 win season in 2015-16 season that saw the Hornets tie for the third best record in the Eastern Conference, then General Manager Rich Cho elected to keep the roster intact for the long haul. He re-signed Marvin Williams and Nicolas Batum to very large deals on top of the 4-year $52 million extension that was set to kick in for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Cody Zeller was given a 4-yeaer $56 million extension that fall.

None of those deals have paid dividends. The Hornets have missed the playoffs in each of the last three seasons and have had little means of upgrading the roster. Now they are in danger of their star player walking away.

Throughout the offseason, we’re going to look at different courses of action the Hornets can take to improve the roster going into next season. Here’s what they have to work with as it stands right now:

Note: Green represents a player option, red a team option, blue an unguaranteed salary, and purple a qualifying offer

If the Hornets elect to extend a qualifying offer to restricted free agent Frank Kaminsky, here is the situation:

As you can see from the charts, the Hornets are already up against the cap before accounting for potential contracts for Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb, arguably the team’s two best players last season. Re-signing both of them would put the team well into luxury tax land.

The first, easiest, and most painful route for the team to take this offseason would be the tank route. The Hornets would let Walker, Lamb, and Kaminsky all walk in free agency. They would probably waive Tony Parker, who has no interest on playing for a bad team. With all that done, here’s what the Hornets roster would look like heading into free agency.

The team would also have to account for any contract they give to their second round picks, meaning the Hornets would still have little cap space without their best players. Without the incentive to win, the Hornets can retain all of their overpaid players currently under contract. They’ll be flush with cap space next offseason, though their wouldn’t be much of a core here to build around. Most of that space would probably be used to absorb contracts in trades or for a large one-year deal with the hopes of flipping that player to a contender later (a la Trevor Ariza last summer).

If the Hornets go this route, the 2022-23 season is probably the likely target for competitive basketball. Chairman Michael Jordan won’t want to wait that long, and Mitch Kupchak hasn’t been the type of GM to tear down a team. This scenario probably only happens if Kemba Walker makes it clear that he has no intentions of returning to the Hornets next season.

Stay tuned, as we’ll break down ways the Hornets can revamp their roster without tanking in the coming days and weeks.

Contract data courtesy of Spotrac and RealGM.