Hornets waive former first-round pick Kai Jones

The Charlotte Hornets announced today that the team has waived 2021 first-round pick Kai Jones.

The 19th overall pick in the 2021 draft had been away from the team during training camp and the preseason after displaying some erratic behavior on social media over the summer and fall. In short, Jones made repeated comments regarding teammates’ skill levels, stated that he would beat LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal in a 1-on-1, and posted a few unusual videos on his Twitter and Instagram.

This situation has taken quite a sad turn. Clearly, Jones is going through something in his personal life that has now significantly altered the course of his future and may have prematurely ended his NBA career. What seemed like a handful of bizarre social media posts at first has snowballed into a first-round draft pick from barely two years ago squandering loads of potential and falling out of the league. Hopefully he can sort out whatever has been going on that’s caused this situation to arise.

Obviously, this is also quite unfortunate for the Hornets organization from a basketball perspective. Charlotte does not own its first-round pick in the upcoming draft after trading it to acquire Jones in the 2021 draft, going down two assets with nothing to show for it only 27 months later. Drafting Jones and James Bouknight in the first round — widely regarded as smart picks at the time — has turned out to be a massive whiff for a myriad of non-basketball reasons.

Jones’ waiving puts the Hornets’ frontcourt depth on thin ice. Mark Williams and Nick Richards are the only true centers on the roster, the Two-Way slots are occupied by two guards and a wing, and Steve Clifford has shied away from small lineups with PJ Washington at center. If the front office decides to give the final roster spots to Edmond Sumner and Frank Ntilikina, small-ball might be the only option if Williams or Richards get into foul trouble or suffer an injury.

The Hornets roster now stands at 20 players including the Two-Ways. To get down to the NBA’s 15-man roster limit, Charlotte needs to waive two players — likely Nathan Mensah and R.J. Hunter based off the preseason game rotation. The Hornets could also convert Mensah from an Exhibit 10 to a standard NBA deal to fill out the depth char. Or, they could convert Amari Bailey, Theo Maledon or Leaky Black to a standard deal and put Mensah on a Two-Way.

In other Hornets news, James Bouknight underwent a successful knee surgery today after injuring his meniscus during practice.

Bouknight will be reevaluated in four weeks. The Hornets have until October 31 to decide whether or not the team will exercise the fourth-year option on Bouknight’s contract. Making a decision of that magnitude will be difficult after only having seen him practice a few times this season before getting injured. If that option is declined, Bouknight becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer. Charlotte would be on the hook for $6.06M in 2024-25 if they exercise the option.

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