The Charlotte Hornets enter the 2023 offseason with what I’d call a favorable cap situation. There is lots of talent either under contract or that is easily retainable with different free agent rights that the Hornets hold. They could also get under the cap if they really wanted to, but that’s probably not practical or beneficial. More on that later. We hit the too long; didn’t read version of all this in the offseason preview, but we’re going to get in the real nitty gritty now. Let’s start with the current situation.
The starting point
Here’s what the Hornets have as we speak right now before any moves are made.
The Hornets start the offseason well over the salary cap. They also have an $11.4 cap hold for the midlevel exception, though it’s probably 50/50 that they use it. Again, more on that later. The gray on this table means the player has a non-guaranteed salary and can be cut without penalty. The yellow represents a cap hold, which means the player is not currently under contract, but the team is required to hold space against the cap for those players if they intend to use exceptions or special rights to go over the salary cap to re-sign those players.
The first thing that jumps out about this list is that it contains 19 players counting against the Hornets cap. They’re not allowed to have that many players, but that’s not enforced until the end of the preseason. There’s no need to make an immediate decision on who stays and who goes, but Kobi Simmons, Theo Maledon, Dennis Smith Jr, and Svi Mykhailiuk make up the roster bubble at this point. All can be cut or renounced without penalty.
The other big decision in front of the Hornets is what to do with all of their pending free agents. There are a few paths they can go. One is full scorched Earth, which is not practical and goes against what we’ve heard Mitch Kupchak say in press conferences. The other is a more measured approach that could help the Hornets build a very strong team for next season.
The Scorched Earth Approach
The Hornets could theoretically renounce all of their free agents and create a significant chunk of cap space. This is what the cap table looks like if they do that.
This iteration of the Hornets has no PJ Washington, Kelly Oubre, Miles Bridges, or JT Thor. But it does have over $32 million in cap space. Cap space is cool, but there have to be free agents to spend it on. Possible big targets would include the likes of:
- James Harden
- Kyrie Irving
- Fred VanVleet
- D’Angelo Russell
- Jerami Grant
- Kyle Kuzma
It’s not an inspiring list by any stretch of the imagination. The Hornets could technically use that cap space in a trade, but they’d be running low on assets to trade if they let all of those players walk. All of that is to say that this isn’t on the table.
The Reasonable Approaches
The Hornets have flexibility to keep together what should be a strong core of players while supplementing it with a couple of good draft picks. All three of Bridges (should the Hornets or any team choose to employ him), Washington, and Oubre are probably worth close to their cap hold. The Hornets could re-sign all three of them for the equivalent of their cap holds and stay just under the luxury tax, which is currently projected at $162 million. They would get a little bit more breathing room under the tax when they cut their roster down at the end of training camp.
There’s another similar approach that the Hornets could use to give themselves a little bit of extra space while also reshuffling the deck some. PJ Washington seems like a pretty safe bet to return. Oubre and Bridges are question marks. Oubre for his value/fit and Bridges for his off court concerns.
What the Hornets could do is renounce one of the two. That would then free them up to use the midlevel exception to supplement the roster. They could look to add more outside shooting and/or defense with targets like Gary Trent Jr., Seth Curry, Jae Crowder, Torrey Craig, Max Strus, Shake Milton, etc. The Hornets can use the full midlevel exception on one player or split it between multiple. They’d have a little over $11 million to throw around in that scenario.
So for example, if the Hornets elected to keep Bridges (which is seeming increasingly likely by the day) along with Washington. They could renounce Oubre and the other minimum holds to set up this scenario.
This setup gives the Hornets some more breathing room under the luxury tax should Washington or Bridges command significantly more than they’re respective cap holds. It would also allow the Hornets to target needs in the free agent market that might make the roster fit together a bit better than it does as constructed with Oubre in the picture.
The Hornets have a couple of reasonable paths they could go down to end up with a formidable roster. They could run it back with a few key additions, or they could replace someone like Oubre or Bridges with midlevel exception players. They also have the ability to ink LaMelo Ball to a long term extension, but that wouldn’t affect this season’s cap. Regardless, they’ll have a roster that when healthy should be able to be competitive in the East, especially if the ping pong balls bounce favorable.