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Which players should the Hornets target in free agency?

We’ve only got a few days before the action truly begins.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Brooklyn Nets Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The mania is almost here.

It’s been a couple of years since the NBA had its usual summer free-agent frenzy, and it feels like things are finally back to normal in the world of basketball. The NBA Finals concluded and fans across the league instantly shifted into offseason mode as rumors flew every which way, including some about our own Charlotte Hornets. John Wall was bought out of his contract and already plans to sign with the Clippers and Kyrie Irving was rumored to be traded to like three different teams before opting into his deal and staying in Brooklyn, all while contract negotiations are supposed to be on hold. NBA summers are so back.

Though general manager Mitch Kupchak has sent out signals that indicate the Hornets may not be players in the free agent market outside of re-signing Miles Bridges and Cody Martin, there’s still plenty of flexibility to create cap space by shuffling pieces around along with the $10.3M non-taxpayer mid-level exception. But that begs the question; which players should Kupchak and his staff be interested in?

We’ll go through (realistic) targets at every position and give a little insight as to why they’d be a good fit in Charlotte for each player. Most of these players will be exception candidates that can presumably be signed for about $10M or less annually given the Hornets’ lack of cap space. Let’s start with the guards.

Free-agent guards

Ricky Rubio: Granted, the veteran Rubio will likely have suitors that can offer the chance to compete for a championship and/or a bigger role, but he’d provide stability as a backup point guard and his style of play wouldn’t be a significant change from LaMelo Ball when he sits.

Delon Wright: The Hornets could use a backcourt defender and Wright’s length would pair well with Ball and counteract Terry Rozier being undersized at the two. He’s a career 35.4 percent shooter from deep but has been north of 37 percent each of the last three seasons.

Tyus Jones: Jones has been one of the most efficient playmakers in the league for the last few seasons and even led the NBA with a 7.04 assist-to-turnover ratio in 2021-22. While a bit undersized, the eight-year vet is one of the best backup point guards in the NBA.

Lonnie Walker IV: Though Walker is a restricted free agent, the Spurs added two more guards in the 2022 draft and are in a bit of a roster crunch at that position. If he’s the odd man out, it may not take a huge offer to lure him away from San Antonio. Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer reported today that Walker is unexpected to return to the Spurs.

Rajon Rondo: Like Rubio, Rondo might be chasing rings at this stage of his career, but I have a feeling he’d receive plenty of minutes under Steve Clifford with his occasional defensive activity and reliable playmaking.

Isaiah Thomas: There’s always a chance IT gets brought back after establishing himself as a leadership presence in the locker room last season. Defense is always going to be an issue with Thomas but every team can use a microwave scorer.

Free-agent wings

Bruce Brown: As a wing-sized playmaker who doubles as a screen-setter that can roll to the rim or pop out for threes, Brown has a unique role in today’s NBA. He shot 40.1 percent from downtown last year, crashes the glass and can switch across a few positions defensively.

Kyle Anderson: Anderson may be one of the hottest non-star free agents on the market. Every team can use playmaking, shooting and rebounding from a sturdy 6-foot-9 wing. It would be undeniably fun to root for SloMo on the Hornets.

Gary Harris: Harris might be another vet that’s seeking a more competitive situation, but there could be minutes to go around if the Hornets move on from either Gordon Hayward or Cody Martin this summer.

TJ Warren: After missing two full seasons with an injury suffered in the bubble, Warren could be signed cheaper than his ability suggests. If he’s healthy, he’d be a solid release-valve scorer off the bench.

Josh Okogie: Okogie profiles similarly to Martin while not offering the upside as a catch-and-shoot option from three, though adding another perimeter defender to this roster probably wouldn’t hurt.

Kent Bazemore: We’ve fully entered the territory of veterans that would only sign in Charlotte if no contenders would take them, but Bazemore would be a useful 3-and-D wing off the bench.

Ben McLemore: Same goes for McLemore as it did for Bazemore, who not only have similar last names but similar styles of play. McLemore is a bit smaller but a better shooter.

Free-agent bigs

*** Some players were not included in this list because they’re rumored to be re-signing with their current team: Kevon Looney, Jusuf Nurkic, and Mitchell Robinson.

Nic Claxton: Of every player listed in this article, Claxton is my favorite. A long, agile, defensively versatile big with some offensive upside as a roller and finisher would be a wonderful complement to Mark Williams. If Claxton, a restricted free agent, can be pried away from Brooklyn for the MLE or even a bit more, the Hornets should be all over it.

Mo Bamba: Now an unrestricted free agent after the Magic declined to tender a qualifying offer, Bamba has some traits that blend in well with the current Hornets roster. Though not much of a roll or lob threat despite his size, he can stretch defenses by popping out beyond the arc and makes some impressive blocks as a help defender.

Isaiah Hartenstein: Another prime MLE candidate, Hartenstein has a similar build and play style to Williams and would give the Hornets frontcourt a totally different look than what they’ve had recently. He’s a good rebounder, finisher, shot-blocker and even shot 14-30 from three last season.

Chris Boucher: Following four seasons with Toronto in which he emerged as one of the league’s better floor-spacing shot-blockers, Boucher is an unrestricted free agent. Depending on what Charlotte does with Mason Plumlee, signing an experienced, young big to a full MLE deal might be the move.

Thomas Bryant: Having only played more than 46 games in a season once in his career, I’d be surprised if Bryant commands a high salary. He’s not much of a rim protector, but he offers intriguing offensive potential with his three-point shooting and efficient finishing.

Jalen Smith: Less than two years after going 10th in the 2020 NBA Draft, Smith is an unrestricted free agent due to the Suns declining his club option for the 2022-23 season prior to dealing him to Indiana. Given his uncommon situation, I’m unsure of the type of contract he’s looking for, but Charlotte could take a shot on the young big if he’s open to a smaller/shorter contract.

Gorgui Dieng: The most experienced big among this group, Dieng can really shoot it for a player his size and already knows how to fit into a smaller role within a team. If Williams is ready to start on opening night, Dieng would make for a solid backup.

If I missed a player that would fit well with the Hornets and has a remote chance of signing with the team, post it in the comments! We’ve got about 30 hours until the circus begins.