The Charlotte Hornets finished the 2021-22 season with a 43-39 record. It was a roughly 5-and-a-half game improvement from the 2020-21 season if you were to extrapolate that season to a full 82 games. It’s a modest improvement, but improvement nonetheless. Still, while 53% of the league watches their season continue into the playoffs, the Hornets have the spring and summer to figure out to get themselves to that dance.
There isn’t reason to fret yet, as it seems like this is part of the planned timeline. The Hornets traded a potential 2022 first round pick to the New York Knicks during last year’s draft, but they protected that pick in the top 18, which implies that the team didn’t see itself as anything better than a 7-seed. They fell short of that with another play-in collapse, but that doesn’t change the long term outlook.
The Hornets have some intriguing assets to improve the roster this summer. First, the draft pick situation panned out about as perfectly as possible. The Hornets own their own pick, the 13th overall, due to the protections put on it in the aforementioned trade with the Knicks. On top of that, the Hornets will get the 15th overall pick from the Pelicans, which is the best possible pick the Hornets could have gotten from last summer’s sign-and-trade of Devonte’ Graham. The Hornets also have the 45th overall pick in the second round.
The Hornets won’t be able to get under the salary cap to make any splashy free agent signings. However, they have Early Bird Rights on Montrezl Harrell, meaning they can re-sign him for up to 175% of his previous salary without considerations for the salary cap. He’ll probably be back if both sides are interested because there’s little downside to keeping him and little upside to letting him walk.
The Hornets will also have to pay Miles Bridges, but he’ll surely get whatever the team needs to pay him to keep him, and they can also stay over the cap to do so.
The most likely path forward for the Hornets is to bundle up some assets and trade them for a franchise altering player. That probably looks like some combination of the two first round picks the Hornets own this year and a combination of complementary players. Gordon Hayward, Kelly Oubre (whose contract is expiring and is guaranteed for only $5 million next season), and Mason Plumlee can make up some big salary numbers to match that of a bigger name player, and the Hornets also have young assets like PJ Washington and James Bouknight that can sweeten the pot even further.
There are targets on rebuilding teams that might come at a discounted rate as those teams just try to collect assets. Frequent Hornets trade rumor target Myles Turner makes as much sense as ever here. Jerami Grant of the Pistons is another target that provides a level of versatility the Hornets covet. There are also always playoff teams looking to shake things up. Think the Jazz this season with the rumored discontent between Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell.
Targets will become clearer as the playoffs shake out and the lottery solidifies everyone’s places in the draft. The Hornets have assets to make another jump this season, and it’ll be interesting to see what kind of moves Mitch Kupchak is able to pull off this summer.