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Potential free agency targets for the Hornets

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I don’t care if it’s “too early” for this. I need basketball thoughts running through my brain.

Charlotte Hornets v Miami Heat Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but I’ve completely lost hope of seeing another Charlotte Hornets basketball game in the 2019-2020 NBA season. Apparently, the NBA has been “angling” to cancel the remainder of the season and start fresh with the 2020-2021 season in the fall. My gears have fully shifted into offseason mode. At the Hive will have a bundle of draft content for you to parse through, but it’s also important to address the other important period of the summer, despite the Hornets rarely being a factor in it; free agency.

The Hornets will have the second-most cap space in the NBA next season behind the New York Knicks. Assuming Nic Batum opts into the final year of his contract — which he 100% deserves to/should do and it’s weird that fans express anger towards *him* about it instead of the old front office — Charlotte will roll into the summer with about $27.5 million in cap space (per basketballinsiders.com).

The Hornets can renounce restricted free-agent Dwyane Bacon and two-way players Kobi Simmons and Ray Spalding to free up a few more millions, but I think they’ll at least tender a qualifying offer to Bacon, and wait until later in the offseason to make decisions on two-way contracts. Jalen McDaniels and Caleb Martin’s contracts are not guaranteed beyond this season and theoretically they could be let go, but there’s a 0% chance that happens because Jalen and Caleb are good.

Pipe dream: Brandon Ingram

Rumor has it that the New Orleans Pelicans are not going to let Brandon Ingram slip away from them under any circumstance. I don’t think anyone expected them not to offer Ingram a max contract this offseason, but maybe there was a chance he felt he could further his career elsewhere. Perhaps a quaint, small city with an excellent restaurant scene in the Piedmont region, just a few hours drive from his hometown Kinston, N.C and alma mater, Duke University. Or not. It’s fun to imagine it, at least.

There’s a chance: Bogdan Bogdanovic, Montrezl Harrell, Aron Baynes

We’ll start with Bogdan Bogdanovic. The Sacramento Kings’ swingman is a restricted free agent this offseason, but with the team committing four years and $85 million to Harrison Barnes last summer, there are doubts as to how badly they want to pay up and keep Bogdanovic. His stat lines have only shown incremental improvement in his three-year career, but he has taken on added volume as the team’s sixth man and go-to second-unit scorer. He shot 36.1% 3PT and sported a .595 3PA rate last season, and he has a career 18.4 AST%. It’s a pretty seamless fit with him as the second-unit wing that has a lot of the offense running through him, and could be in the starting lineup if James Borrego decides to move Miles Bridges or PJ Washington to the bench. Depending on the price (he probably commands something between $18 and $22 million per year), I think Mitch Kupchak could take a long look at Bogdanovic, especially if they don’t add a wing scorer in the draft.

Montrezl Harrell is a popular free agency target among Hornets fans, and it makes sense. The team has no centers under contract for next season besides Cody Zeller (who is a free agent the following summer) and their biggest weaknesses on defense are rebounding and rim protection. Last season, the Hornets had the 10th-worst opponent FG% on shots less than 5ft. from the rim, allowed the fourth-most FGA from that area with 33.7 per game, and their 48.6 REB% ranked 26th in the NBA. Conveniently, those are two of Harrell’s best areas of skill. Harrell averages 1.1 blocks per game, while impending free agent Bismack Biyombo led the Hornets with 0.9 blocks per game last season, rendering Harrell an upgrade at the least. He’s a bowling ball in the paint with a 60.7 TS% that will never give anything less than 100% effort on the court. People overlook that sometimes, but it’s a great example being set for Miles, PJ, Devonte, etc. by Harrell who would, in theory, have just gotten a big payday. Here’s a quote regarding Harrell’s free agency status from The Athletic’s Jovan Buha in Dec. 2019;

After surveying league personnel, it appears as if Harrell’s starting point will be around $20 million — think something like four years, $80 million. And that could be on the low end. Harrell could easily sniff the $100-million range given the state of free-agent class this summer.

Some players will get overpaid this summer, but it may not be to the same degree after all that has transpired in the past month. The salary cap will probably go down a bit, and most players with options in their contracts will opt-in to ensure they get paid their full salary. But, for players like Harrell who are the “marquee” free agents this offseason, some team out there is gonna drop a big bag of cash on the doorstep.

At age 33, Aron Baynes doesn’t really fit in with the timeline of the franchise, but if the Hornets can’t find a big man prospect in the draft or sign a younger free agent big, they could go for someone like Baynes. He’s a hard screen-setter, can orchestrate a defense from beneath the rim, rebounds on both ends of the floor, can hit 3-pointers (he made nine and scored 37 points on Mar. 6), and bravely challenges the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, and LeBron James on their dunk attempts. Baynes alleviates a large portion of the Hornets’ rim protection and defensive rebounding issues while adding a stretch-five dynamic to their offense. He’s hard to move off of the block, and has the physical tools to either drop back, hedge, stay home or switch on a pick-and-roll. He’s getting up there in age, so he may not be interested in joining a rebuild in Charlotte, but if he’s willing to come here I think it’s worth a look. He wouldn’t care about starting or coming off of the bench, and he probably won’t be paid more than $10-$15 million per year. Again, this is far from Plan A, but Baynes is about as valuable of a fall-back option as it gets.

Easily attainable: Jakob Poeltl, Ante Zizic, Furkan Korkmaz, De’Anthony Melton, Derrick Jones Jr., Jordan Bell, Harry Giles

All of these players are young-ish and shouldn’t command a high per-year salary. If they’re paid well and sold on the direction of the team, it shouldn’t be difficult to get them to come to Charlotte. Jakob Poeltl and De’Anthony Melton are both restricted free agents, meaning that their respective teams have the right to match any offer the players receive from another team. Poeltl would be a nice 24-year-old piece to throw into the equation at center, and Melton has emerged as a solid role-playing guard in Memphis. None of these lower-tier free agents boast impressive stat profiles or highlights, but they’re all still young enough to fit into the Hornets’ timeline and unearth some potential that other organizations couldn’t.

Ante Zizic, Furkan Korkmaz, Derrick Jones Jr., Jordan Bell and Harry Giles are all unrestricted free agents, and it’s likely that none of them would cost a lot to sign. I know some ATHers are high on bringing Giles, a Winston-Salem native, back to North Carolina, and I’m on board with that, too. He can play the 4 or the 5, he rebounds, and his 58.6 TS% is pretty good (though he does not take 3-pointers).

Korkmaz shot 39.7% from distance on 5.0 attempts per game with Philadelphia this season, showing both catch-and-shoot and off-the-dribble shot-making ability. It’d be interesting to see how the rest of his game develops in Charlotte.

Zizic and Bell are like Poeltl in the sense that it’s not a home-run signing, but it does add depth and help solve problems that the team has. Imagine Derrick Jones Jr., Terry Rozier, Malik Monk, Miles Bridges and Jalen McDaniels all on the floor at once. That would be the all-NBA lob-throwing lineup. I’m having fun just thinking about it.

If all else fails: Matthew Dellavedova, Kyle O’Quinn, Jae Crowder, undrafted free agent(s)

These are just a few veteran players that I’d be okay with the Hornets signing for a minimum deal if they can’t get any of their preferred players to fill out the roster. Dellavedova and Crowder have a lot of playoff experience, have made some money in the league, and are now relegated to low-salary reserve roles. There’s something to learn from in that, and they’re still competent role-players in the meantime.

I fully expect Kupchak to dive into the undrafted free agent market as soon as Charlotte makes their last pick. He did the same last year, signing Caleb Martin to a three-year deal and Robert Franks to a two-way deal. Obviously, I have no idea what the UDFA market will be like, because the draft has not happened, but it’s a safe bet that the Hornets will at least try to bring in an undrafted rookie, at least for Summer League (if they even have it :’) we’re in a great place in the world) or training camp.

As always, sound off in the comment section below if you have any other free agents you’d like the Hornets to target. We have plenty of time to talk about this stuff, might as well start now.