The Charlotte Hornets arguably made more out of their draft day assets than any team in the league on Thursday. They acquired Mason Plumlee and moved up 20 spots in the second round to do so. They took a consensus top seven or eight pick in James Bouknight at 11, then traded a future mid to late first round pick to get Kai Jones at 19. They then took a couple of big swings on potential in the second round on JT Thor and Scottie Lewis.
All of that wheeling and dealing has the Hornets perfectly set up for free agency, which opens tomorrow. It also provides a little bit of clarity on the Hornets plans.
In the Mason Plumlee trade, the Hornets sent no salary out. That implies that they are absorbing him into their cap space. To have any cap space at all, the Hornets have to renounce the rights to Cody Zeller and Malik Monk. That means the Hornets would not have Bird rights on either player and would not be able to go over the salary cap to re-sign them. The Hornets could bring either back as regular free agents that fit within their cap space, but that seems unlikely.
The acquisition of Plumlee and the drafting of Jones would imply that the Hornets won’t be big players for guys like Richaun Holmes, Jarrett Allen, Myles Turner, and the like. They don’t have the cap space to sign players like Holmes or Allen, and trading for a player like Turner doesn’t make for good roster construction unless the Hornets are sending Plumlee out as part of the trade.
If the Hornets do roll with Plumlee as their starting center this year, they’ll be alright. He’s a very underrated big that fits very well with what the Hornets do. Last year in Detroit, he averaged 10.4 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game. He even notched a pair of triple doubles. He’s got great feel as a passer and is a good athlete and finisher around the basket.
The Hornets will have around $10 million in salary cap space going into free agency if they renounce all of Zeller, Monk, Bismack Biyombo, and Brad Wanamaker. They can free up another $4.7 million by renouncing Devonte’ Graham. However, Graham seems a likely candidate to stay, as his small cap hold is hardly preventative and the Hornets can go over the cap to re-sign him for any deal after using the remaining $10 million to sign other free agents.
To summarize, the Hornets will likely have these players under contract with an additional ~$10 million to play with:
Guards: LaMelo Ball, Terry Rozier, Devonte’ Graham (pending free agency)
Wings: Gordon Hayward, James Bouknight, Cody Martin, Caleb Martin
Forwards: Miles Bridges, PJ Washington, Jalen McDaniels, JT Thor
Bigs: Mason Plumlee, Kai Jones, Vernon Carey Jr., Nick Richards
That puts the roster at 15 players with the status of second round pick Scottie Lewis undetermined. The Martin twins and Jalen McDaniels are all on non-guaranteed contracts, so any combination of them can be waived to open up a roster spot and an additional $1.5 million in cap space per player.
The Hornets can use that space for depth in the front court or, perhaps more pressingly, on the wing. Guys like Reggie Bullock, James Ennis could be options to provide size and 3-point shooting on the wings. Nerlens Noel and Daniel Theis could bring more veteran presence to the Hornets front court that is extremely green behind Mason Plumlee.
The Hornets are set up to be a good young team next year even before the start of free agency. They Plumlee trade and selections of Bouknight and Jones have left the Hornets roster without any obvious massive holes. They can now use free agency to shore up their depth and bring on some veteran experience. The front office have done a magnificent job building up the Hornets to this point, and it’ll be exciting to see how the roster continues to come together.