The dust kicked up by the flurry of moves early in the 2023 offseason has all but settled. Apart from the Damian Lillard and James Harden trade requests, most of the player movement has completed and the impactful free-agent signings put pen to paper long ago.
As a result, the market is pretty barren for the Charlotte Hornets, who are still in need of the “backup ball-handling guard” and veteran leadership that general manager Mitch Kupchak mentioned the franchise was seeking. Frank Ntilikina and R.J Hunter were brought into the fold recently on non-guaranteed deals, but neither project to be a long-term answer to any of the Hornets’ roster problems.
PJ Washington’s restricted free agency dragging out longer than any other player on the market has complicated matters further — understandably, the front office doesn’t want to add long-term salary before an extension agreement could be reached with Washington. Tying up cap space and roster spots is best saved for last, when the team is 100 percent sure of the high-dollar players they’re sending into camp. For now, fringe roster moves make sense, even if those moves are unexciting.
Until Washington’s free agency situation is resolved, which likely comes after the Lillard/Harden situations, the Hornets (and the rest of the NBA) are in a bit of a holding pattern. It’s unlikely anything major happens until the big dominoes fall. Until then, we can worry about what we’ve got locked in already.
The new CBA allows teams to roster 21 players in the preseason before it’s whittled down to 15 by opening night. Also new in the updated CBA, teams are allowed to hand out three Two-Way contracts and six Exhibit 10 deals. The salaries for those deals have also increased; a Two-Way deal is worth nearly $560k (half the rookie minimum) and an E10 pays a bonus of up to $75k for players that are waived during camp and subsequently spend at least 60 days with the Greensboro Swarm. Plenty of incentive for players looking to break into the NBA to do it in the G League, opposed to overseas.
As things stand on August 9, 2023, there are 20 players slated to begin training camp with the Charlotte Hornets. Here’s where the roster is at so far, broken down by position group.
Abbreviations: TW (Two-Way), NG (non-guaranteed), E10 (Exhibit 10)
Guards: LaMelo Ball, Terry Rozier, Cody Martin, Nick Smith Jr., James Bouknight, Kobi Simmons (NG), Frank Ntilikina (NG), Amari Bailey (TW)
Wings: Miles Bridges, Gordon Hayward, Brandon Miller, Bryce McGowens, Leaky Black (TW), R.J. Hunter (NG), Angelo Allegri (E10)
Bigs: Mark Williams, Nick Richards, JT Thor, Kai Jones, Nathan Mensah (E10)
Free agents still on the market: PJ Washington (restricted), Théo Maledon (Two-Way restricted)
Notes: James Nnaji is not listed due to his status as an unsigned draft pick. He has a contract with Barcelona that runs through 2028 and it’s unclear where he’ll play this upcoming season.
Angelo Allegri and Nathan Mensah played for the Hornets’ Summer League squad on Exhibit 10 deals, per Rookie Scale.
As we can see, the offseason roster is mostly set. Apart from a multi-player/team trade (more on that in a second), there can only be a few minor adjustments made once an end point is reached with Washington’s restricted free agency saga. Let’s run through a few scenarios:
If only Washington returns: whether via qualifying offer or extension, he slots into the 21st and final offseason roster spot.
If Washington and Maledon return: whether via qualifying offers or extensions, Hornets waive Simmons with no cap penalty, sign both players and fill 21-man offseason roster. Maledon fills third Two-Way slot opened when Xavier Sneed was waived and Washington takes final guaranteed roster spot.
If only Théo returns: Maledon can sign the qualifying offer and slide into third Two-Way slot. Hornets could eventually convert him to veteran minimum at one-year, $1.9M and use him as backup point guard if necessary, then waive a combination of Simmons, Ntilikina and/or Hunter following camp.
That last scenario implies Washington finds a new team this summer. Obviously, that can happen one way now that cap space has dried up around the league: the Hornets sign-and-trade him. How that comes to fruition and what that deal entails is impossible to predict, but they could always jump in on a larger deal…
That’s where the multi-team Lillard/Harden trades come into play. Hayward and Rozier can be used as matching salaries, Washington is a proven rotation piece, and the Hornets have plenty of future second rounders and rookie-contract players to offload. If any of the teams involved in those trades are interested in Washington, or if a sign-and-trade could be looped in to offset tax penalties, scrounge up extra picks for Portland and make everyone a bit happier, the Hornets are in better position than nearly any team in the league to capitalize.
Of course, that’s not a likely scenario. The Hornets front office has preached patience for years, and shipping out top-end rotation players this late in the summer could be more effort than it’s worth if the Hornets want to get off on the right foot this season. But, it’s never been more plausible given Charlotte’s position in the Eastern Conference hierarchy and asset cupboard. We’ve already got 20 players in place. Let’s see if that group changes between now and when camp officially opens on October 3.