There are a lot of things wrong with the Charlotte Hornets roster right now. Firstly and most importantly, it doesn’t have Kemba Walker on it. That means it probably isn’t going to win many games.
The other problem with this roster, and this had a big effect on the first problem becoming a reality, is that there are a lot of players on bloated contracts. If you include the assumed contract of new point guard Terry Rozier, the Hornets have six players set to make at least $13,000,000 in the 2019-20 season. It’s enough to put the team over the salary cap with a roster that’s poised to win somewhere in the ballpark of 25 games.
Here’s the team’s cap situation for this season. I made up deals for second round picks Cody Martin and Jalen McDaniels, but they’re going to be largely inconsequential to the bigger picture in this piece.
Not the kind of cap sheet you want to see for a bad team.
But if we open it up and look a little further ahead, the future doesn’t seem quite as bleak.
The Hornets currently stand to have nearly $40 million in cap space next summer, but that’s not important. What’s important is that bottom number. The Hornets have over $60 million in room under the luxury tax. That room can be used to absorb other teams’ bad contracts.
A perfect target for the Hornets is Gorgui Dieng of the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Wolves just missed out on landing their top free agent target in D’Angelo Russell. They’ll probably want to position themselves for another run at a big free agent next summer. To do that, they’ll need some extra space.
Dieng has two years and $33.5 million left on his deal. The Hornets can send the Wolves Bismack Biyombo for Dieng to wipe Dieng’s $17.2 million salary off the Wolves’ books in 2020, giving them enough room to sign a player to a maximum-level salary.
Kelly Olynyk, James Johnson, and Dion Waiters of the Heat all expire in 2021 and all have salaries that match either Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s or Marvin Williams’. If the Heat offload two of those three, they’ll have enough space to sign another max-level player to pair with Jimmy Butler.
Other players that could be targeted depending on how the standings look at next season’s trade deadline: Tony Snell (Pistons), Dennis Schroder (Thunder), Tim Hardaway Jr. (Mavericks), and Gordon Hayward (Celtics).
Those are the types of moves the Hornets should be looking at for the next couple seasons- bring in longer contracts in exchange for expiring deals and collect draft picks for their troubles. The names and abilities of the players on those contracts are not important. This is all about the draft picks.
The Hornets have a clean slate to work with in the summer of 2021. That’s when the team can maximize its assets and start to work their way back into relevance. It sucks to have to wait that long, but that’s what happens when you go all in with several long contracts and they all flop. The Hornets aren’t going to compete with all these bad contracts eating as much cap space as they currently are, so they need to wait for them to fall off before they can look to drastically improve. In the meantime, they can utilize the one positive feature of those contracts, the fact that they expire, to accumulate future assets.
If all goes well, the Hornets will add some talent from the top of the lottery in the next couple of seasons while picking up some additional draft assets. They can use those assets in a multitude of ways, either by selecting for themselves, trading them, or some combination thereof. It’s not an ideal situation, and it’s very difficult to build up from the bottom, but the Hornets don’t have a choice.
The one move the Hornets have made since it was reported that Walker was leaving is the acquisition of Terry Rozier in a sign-and-trade. Props to the Hornets for getting something in return for their star player, but they absolutely should not give up any draft picks to make the move happen, which has been reported as a possibility. The three year contract doesn’t jibe with the rest of the roster. Forfeiting additional assets to facilitate an already questionable decision is the total opposite of what the Hornets should be doing right now. Never mind the optics of giving a draft pick to the team that’s taking Kemba Walker away from you so you can get Terry Rozier. Talk about a bad look.
It’s enough to make fans wonder what the organization is doing. The team needs to do something to illustrate a plan. They don’t have to come out and announce it to the public, but they need to show a clear direction with the rest of their moves this summer. Letting Walker, Jeremy Lamb, and Frank Kaminsky walk implies that the team is ready to rebuild. Signing Terry Rozier to a three year deal seems to imply the opposite. The Hornets need to make their objective clear, and that objective should be to prepare for the future.