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What should the Hornets do with their $90 million worth of CAP space?

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The Hornets have more cap space than most of the league in each of the next two summers.

NBA: Lottery Draft Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Since the infamous summer of 2016 the Hornets have not had a substantial amount of CAP space, relying mostly on the Bi-Annual/Mid-level exceptions, trades and the draft to improve their team. Despite functioning under brutal financial restrictions flexibility is finally within site as the team looks to have an expected $19 million in space in 2020 and $71 million in 2021. If you add the cap space together over the next two years Charlotte have the second most cap space in the NBA second to only the Knicks.

So how will GM Mitch Kupchak navigate his first summer with cap space? Well, if he’s a historian he will know that free agent signings haven’t done Charlotte any favours, nor did they help the Lakers while he was GM. Let’s look back at the list of Free Agent additions by the Hornets and Kupchak’s Lakers over the past decade for signings earning over the league average salary.

Hornets/Lakers FA signings

Charlotte Hornets Kupchak's Lakers
Charlotte Hornets Kupchak's Lakers
Terry Rozier 3 years $58 Luol Deng 4 Years $72
Nic Batum 5 years $120 Timofey Mozgov 4 years $65
Marvin Williams 4 years $54 Nick Young 4 years $21
Lance Stephenson 3 years $27 Kobe Byrant 2 years $49
Al Jefferson 3 years $41 Dwight Howard 5 years $118
Tyrus Thomas 5 year $40 Steve Nash 3 years $27

Yikes, it’s as bad as you feared. The best of any of those deals appears to be Al Jefferson who some may still argue was overpaid at the time and contributed to the rushing of another rebuild. So what can we learn from this? Mitch Kupchak and MJ must be shitting their pants for the upcoming two off seasons, the pressure is on. Kupchak has gone on the record stating during media availability the team plans to build through savvy trades and the draft, going out of his way to downplay free agency. However, it would be foolish to completely rule out signing an unrestricted free agent of an all star calibre level under the age of 26 who fits this team’s core, so let’s who meets this criteria over the next two summers:

Christian Wood

Giannis Antetokounmpo

Well the team already passed on Wood once and tales of immaturity follow his career closely. I won’t completely rule him out as a small ball five option, credit to him he was fantastic for Detroit when made a starter this year averaging 22 points and 10 rebounds per game on 54% FG and 37% 3FG in 12 games before the NBA shut down. Personally I would steer clear of Wood, he’s a little too “Lance Stephensony” for me.

Giannis isn’t worth considering as the team won’t want to take the ball out of Monk/Rozier’s hands for a lanky 7fter with a shaky jumper.

Where does this leave us? The Hornets have a vast amount of CAP space over the next two years, a limited set of free agents who fit the team’s needs and a GM and owner who have a dreadful track record signing free agents

Don’t deviate from the plan, Mitch

Trades, Kupchak has already said it numerous times, the Hornets need to trade their way into contention. Mitch should use CAP space by going after the most overpaid players in the NBA (Sorry Nic Batum is already on the roster). I know it seems counter intuitive but in return for taking on these truly Chandler Parson-esq contracts the team will pick up assets in the form of draft picks and young players. These can then contribute to being part of the Hornets core or be packaged together to trade for a disgruntled All Star, Karl-Anthony Towns anyone? Trading for an overpaid veteran could also benefit Charlotte’s young roster if they target the right guy. After losing Marvin Williams there seems to be somewhat of a void of culture setters to help this young core establish the right habits.

In my opinion this is unquestionably the best use of CAP space, coupled with an astute lower salary level signing or two. With a stacked incoming 2021 draft class now is not a time to start re-chasing the 8th seed. If we look around the NBA landscape it’s reasonable to assume the Bulls, Suns, Hawks, Warriors and Timberwolves will all have much improved records. There also don’t seem to be any obvious candidates apart from maybe Memphis who would be expected to suffer a drop off. Charlotte looks to be set for another good chance at a top 5 pick, so why put this at risk by signing an aging all star such as DeMar DeRozan.

I’ve come up with some trade ideas to give you all a taste of the sort of moves the team should be looking at:

Salary Dump Trades

Philadelphia 76ers Trade Al Horford (3 Years $28 million per Year declining) + OKC’s 2020 1st (21st pick) for Batum + Caleb Martin

The Hornets fill a position of need and add one of the best locker room guys around. I still feel Horford has more to give when being able to play his natural position at centre. The real goal of this trade is to pick up the 1st round pick as an additional asset. The Sixers create financial flexibility getting off the last two years of Horford’s contract and add a wing defender/shooter to fit around Embiid/Simmons in Martin.

Brooklyn Nets Trade DeAndre Jordan (3 years $10 million per year) + Nic Claxton + Memphis 2021 2nd round pick for Cody Zeller

Charlotte picks up a 1st round calibre prospect in Claxton who is a potential stretch five with ball handling capabilities. The Memphis 2021 2nd round pick will likely fall in the 30-40 range in what looks to be a stacked draft. Jordan is past his best but seems to be a popular veteran among his peers and again fills a position of need. The Nets free up $12 million in space in 2021 and beyond and also pickup Zeller who would be a fantastic backup to Jarrett Allen and one of the best screen setters in the league (2nd in Screen assists per game in 18-19.) This one would need the Durant/Kyrie sign off which I doubt it gets as Jordan is “Their Guy”, but from a front office point of view makes some sense for both sides.

Sacramento Kings Trade Harrison Barnes (3 Years $24 million per year) + SAC 20 1st (12th pick) for Batum + Cavs 20 2nd (32nd pick)

Barnes finally ends up in Charlotte after a seemingly never ending set of rumours over the past few years. Barnes is coming off a career low year, so it feels smart in some ways to buy while his stock now, or is it just dumb to trade for a guy who has fallen off a cliff? Anyway, There’s going to be a lot of turnover in the Sacramento front office and I can’t imagine a new GM will be wanting to pay the rest of Harrison Barnes contract. Charlotte picks up another lottery pick in a similar range to where they were originally drafting to pair with the 3rd pick.

Philadelphia 76ers trade Tobias Harris (4 Years $33 million per year) + 76ers 2021 1st round pick for Batum + Monk

Oh hello Philadelphia, you’re lucky enough to find yourself on this list twice. Harris is coming off an abhorrent playoffs after a decent regular season, he has shown he has value with both the Clippers & 76ers. Sure he is overpaid and limits your flexibility going forward but between filling a need and adding a 2021 1st it could be worth considering. Philly again moves on from another one of it’s overpays and also picks up Monk who theoretically should space the floor and can create for others.

I am well aware none of these trades are perfect, far from it, but hopefully they help you begin to understand the type of trade structures I think the team should be looking at. Please vote below which of the trades you feel is most realistic and has fairest value for both sides.

Poll

Which of the above trades do you feel is most realistic for both sides?

This poll is closed

  • 29%
    Al Horford + 2020 1st for Batum + Martin
    (128 votes)
  • 11%
    DeAndre Jordan + Claxton + 2021 2nd for Zeller
    (51 votes)
  • 40%
    Harrison Barnes + 2020 1st for Batum + 2020 2nd
    (173 votes)
  • 17%
    Tobias Harris + 2021 1st for Batum + Monk
    (75 votes)
427 votes total Vote Now