Charlotte Hornets offseason preview

The 2022-23 season has mercifully come to an end for the Charlotte Hornets. This About ten months ago, we were all feeling good. There was optimism. The Hornets seemingly had a slam dunk coaching hire with Kenny Atkinson and a rising roster with potential breakout stars. Then everything fell apart. Atkinson backed out of the deal and pending free agent Miles Bridges got arrested. The Hornets scrambled to try to put something together for this season, but every significant player missed time with injuries and the entire team struggled to find any shooting rhythm.

In short, it was a complete, abject disaster.

But now a new offseason is upon us, and it brings us another chance to be hopeful and for things to turn around. They certainly can’t be much worse than last season. So as we prepare to embark on the NBA’s second season, let’s take inventory of what the Hornets have.

Returning Players

The cupboard isn’t bare. The Hornets will retain or have a clear path to retain all five of their preferred starters from this season plus all of their key bench pieces. Pre-free agency, the Hornets roster looks like this:

  • LaMelo Ball
  • Terry Rozier
  • Gordon Hayward
  • Cody Martin
  • Nick Richards
  • Mark Williams
  • Bryce McGowens
  • James Bouknight
  • Kai Jones
  • JT Thor

There’s a lot of talent there. Ball is obviously a rising star. Rozier and Hayward make great complementary pieces that can play as stars on some nights. Martin, Williams, and Richards are solid role players, and Williams looks like he could be a difference maker in time. It’s a good foundation.

NBA Draft Assets

According to Tankathon’s draft power rankings, the Hornets have the best bag of assets in the 2023 NBA Draft. Pre-lottery, the Hornets have the 4th, 27th, 34th, 39th, and 42nd picks. They almost certainly won’t have the roster space to use all five of those picks, but the cluster of picks between the late first and early second might be enough to move up to the middle of the first round.

The Hornets also have a chance to jump up and nab a franchise altering star if the ping pong balls bounce their way. They have a 12.5% chance of landing the number one overall pick, a 12.2% chance of landing number two overall, and a 11.9% chance of moving up one spot to the third overall pick. If that 1-in-8 shot for the number one pick lands, the Hornets will land Victor Wembanyama, who immediately changes the trajectory of the franchise. Even if they don’t get that lucky, they have a chance to pick up a potential future star to bolster the solid squad that’s already in place.

Cap Assets

None. Kind of.

The Hornets will start the offseason right at the salary cap. They can technically clear space by renouncing the rights to PJ Washington and Kelly Oubre, but that means they can’t go over the cap to re-sign either player. The alternative is $30-ish million in cap space and no really great options to sign with that cap space. There’s a case to be made that Washington and Oubre would be two of the more coveted free agents on the market if they were allowed to walk.

The other alternative would be to renounce their rights to create room to acquire a player in a trade without sending salary out. That could be paired up with the aforementioned draft assets, but we’ll have to get farther into the offseason before we can see if there’s any player the Hornets could realistically target in that scenario.

Also, the Hornets will be rid of the $8.9 million cap hit they had been eating for the past three seasons after they waived and stretched Nicolas Batum in 2020.

Overall Outlook

Barring another cataclysm, the Hornets are actually in a really good spot. If the Hornets simply bring back Oubre and Washington and add a high lottery pick, the roster already looks good on paper. Then you still have Miles Bridges lingering in the periphery, and rumors seem to suggest some sort of plan to return. He and the team have a lot of bridges to mend (no pun intended) and goodwill to earn back, but should they be able to do that, he’ll provide a huge boost to the team’s potential from a basketball perspective.

There’s a relatively easy path to competitiveness this offseason. Some lottery luck could catapult the team into playoff round win territory. There are also assets present to make more aggressive moves if the Hornets want to rework the roster.

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