An examination of the Kelly Oubre Jr. market

As the best remaining free agent came off the board when PJ Washington agreed to a three-year, $48M extension, an argument could be made that the title shifted to another 2022-23 Hornet; the king of vibes and timely celebrations, Kelly Oubre Jr.

Now that Washington has been retained, there are zero restricted free agents left on the market and many of the players currently left unsigned are aging veterans or fringe players fizzling out of the league.

Oubre is one of the select few who doesn’t fall into either of those buckets as he seeks a deal commensurate with his per-game averages of 20.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.4 steals from last season. He, along with Christian Wood, Hamidou Diallo and a couple others, have waited out a stalled market and a summer with strikingly-little player movement in search of a bigger payday than what’s been offered thus far.

At this point in the offseason, options for Oubre and the rest of the free agent pool have largely dried up. A handful of teams have taken a nosedive into the luxury tax, and plenty more are skirting close enough to it as is with a mandate to stay beneath it from ownership. Only the teams with room under the tax, various exceptions or both have a shot at signing Oubre outright. We’re awfully familiar with one of those teams that checks both boxes. At The Hive writes about that team, actually. It’s the Charlotte Hornets.

what if the hornets retain oubre?

It’s a long shot that the Hornets elect to retain Oubre, if not only because they could’ve easily done so in the two months since the offseason began. On top of that, his pathway to a significant role is clouded with the addition of Brandon Miller, the returns of PJ Washington, Miles Bridges and Cody Martin, and the hopeful health of Gordon Hayward. Unless the Hornets are going to deploy an extremely deep, wing-heavy rotation, there’s not much room for Oubre to be more than depth insurance.

If Oubre is willing to bet on himself outplaying that role instability in order to stay in the same city for another year-plus, he’s more than a serviceable depth piece priced at or below the Mid-Level exception. The problem is that he likely doesn’t want to settle for that — as long as he’s not making the minimum, it’d make more sense for him to pass up a few million from Charlotte in favor of a bigger role to re-position himself for a payday next summer. Of the ways for Oubre to find a landing spot — re-signing with the Hornets seems the least-likely.


The obvious route for the Hornets is to explore sign-and-trade routes. Certainly that’s already been done, but to no avail as the Damian Lillard and James Harden trade sagas brought the NBA transaction period to a halt months ago. Teams won’t want to pay Oubre the money he seems to be asking for — or add him to the roster equation at all — until they see the value extracted from those deals and what type of players they need to add to combat the acquisition of these stars.

If those deals ever go through, Oubre will find a landing spot soon after. But even if not, he’ll find his home in the next month or so — camps do open on October 3.

Teams that have access to the Mid-Level, Room or Bi-Annual exceptions would try to take advantage of that before executing a sign-and-trade that involves sending an asset to Charlotte. However, there are a couple of teams in need of wing depth that don’t have much wiggle room when it comes to exceptions. For them, it might be worth it to part with a minor asset to land Oubre. Let’s take a look at a couple sign-and-trade options (note: all sign-and-trade contracts must be guaranteed for three seasons or longer).

Boston gives Oubre an opportunity to play a big role; he could plausibly emerge as the primary backup wing behind Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown with only Sam Hauser and Oshae Brissett blocking him. Oubre’s shot creation and ability to lead a second-unit in scoring vastly differs from Boston’s other backup wings.

Of all the avenues explored in this piece, this one gives Oubre the least amount of money, but Celtics have the $5M taxpayer MLE available and can use most of it to acquire Oubre. In exchange, they move down in 2nd round of the 2024 draft while using Payton Pritchard to match salary. Boston might decide they need Pritchard as a backup guard, but he is heading into a contract year, and a scoring wing to relieve The Jays would be useful for the postseason.

The Hornets finally get the backup point guard and veteran leader they need. TJ McConnell has been around the block, spending nearly a decade as a role-playing guard. A quality pace-setter and distributor, solid point of attack defender and very good rebounder for his position, he lacks shooting gravity but does finish with high efficiency inside the arc.

Indiana can commit to the Tyrese Haliburton-Andrew Nembhard point guard duo, let Bruce Brown, Buddy Hield and Benedict Mathurin handle secondary playmaking and fill out the backcourt rotation, and add scoring punch and wing depth in Oubre. The Pacers can also offer a chance at playing a significant role, along with the full $7.7M room exception.

There are loads more sign-and-trades that work out in the trade machine, but it’s honestly pretty hard to find teams with glaring need for a backup wing at this stage of the summer — especially one that’d be willing to part with an asset to acquire one via sign-and-trade when the Hornets don’t seem motivated to keep Oubre to begin with. The Hornets should be willing to part with a couple of low-value second-round picks to solidify that third guard spot.


There is not a single team in the league with “cap space” left. Thankfully, the CBA arms teams with a couple of different ways to acquire quality veterans without needing the requisite cap space to pay them a salary above the minimum.

Here’s a short-ish explanation of the exceptions: the full Mid-Level is the largest ($12.4M) and is given to non-taxpaying teams that don’t go under the cap to use room. The Room exception ($7.7M) is given to teams that go below the cap and use their cap room. The taxpayer Mid-Level ($5M) is for teams that fall between the first and second cap apron (the new CBA reduced the value/years of the taxpayer MLE significantly). Finally, the Bi-Annual exception ($4.5M) is given to teams every two years — only the Sixers and Heat used the BAE last season, so 28 teams had it at their disposal to begin this offseason.

Given the sheer volume of teams with the full or partial MLE (the MLE can be broken up and given to multiple signees), Room exception, or BAE, there’s a strong chance Oubre bolts via unrestricted free agency. Plenty of teams can offer him a more appealing on-court situation while compensating him similarly to the last two years at $12.3M AAV. Let’s take a look at who those teams are.

FULL MID-LEVEL: 76ers, Grizzlies, Hawks, Hornets, Nets, Trail Blazers, Wizards

PARTIAL MID-LEVEL (more than $4M available): Bulls ($6.19M used on Jevon Carter), Mavericks ($7M used on Seth Curry and Dante Exum), Nuggets ($5M used on Reggie Jackson), Pelicans ($1.8M used on EJ Liddell).


ROOM EXCEPTION: Jazz, Magic, Pacers, Pistons, Rockets, Spurs

BI-ANNUAL EXCEPTION: Bulls, Grizzlies, Hawks, Hornets, Knicks, Mavericks, Nets, Pelicans, Timberwolves, Trail Blazers, Wizards

A handful of the above teams stand out to me as better fits for Oubre; Dallas, Denver, Philadelphia, Minnesota and New Orleans. In the case of Dallas, Denver and Philadelphia, he provides experienced depth on the perimeter. For Minnesota and New Orleans, signing the 27-year-old Oubre prevents them from relying on a young player for contribution in the event of an injury, and adds an extra floor-spacer to their frontcourt-heavy rosters.

In all, it’s not that surprising that Oubre has lasted this long on the free agent market. Though he averaged 20/5 with ample defensive playmaking and increased pick-and-roll usage, he’s garnered the reputation of an inefficient volume scorer that’s too inattentive on defense. Those players are only valuable at MLE-level salary in specific situations, such as the one Oubre found himself in with the Hornets, having free reign as the leading scorer at times during the last two seasons. As of now, a similar situation has yet to present itself.

Let’s hope that Oubre, a talented, athletic wing with clear NBA-level skill, reclaims a spot in the league soon.

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