Crippled by injuries and lack of frontcourt depth to end the season, the Hornets have some big decisions ahead in the offseason

 By Chase Whitney

May 24, 2021

Photo: Nell Redmond / AP

The dust has had time to settle in Charlotte, and the Hornets’ blowout loss to the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the play-in tournament is far enough in the rearview to where it (hopefully) doesn’t evoke a shudder when mentioned. The Hornets organization and its fans are fully in offseason mode.

The immediate future

The next time Hornets fans will be able to participate in an NBA-related event is the draft lottery, which takes place on June 22. Currently, the Hornets have the 11th-best lottery odds, but a coin flip will determine whether they or the San Antonio Spurs pick 11th. 

The difference between picking 11th and 12th is likely minimal, but giving general manager Mitch Kupchak the highest draft pick possible doesn’t hurt. The 2021 NBA Draft is loaded with talent in the lottery, so regardless of the fate of the coin flip and ping-pong balls, the Hornets will be in position to draft a high-level player. Maybe the franchise could consider sending Devonte’ Graham to the lottery event as their representative again, since his presence spurred a jump from eighth to third in the 2020 draft lottery. It can’t hurt.


The draft, free agency, and trades

This is where the fun starts. The 2021 NBA Draft is scheduled for July 29 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY and the Hornets will be armed with the aforementioned mid-lottery pick plus the 56th and 57th overall selections in the second round. As previously mentioned, the 2021 Draft is deep and the Hornets’ direction should be clear: acquire players that mesh well with LaMelo Ball. That should make it easier to parse through draft prospects with the team’s only real needs being in the frontcourt. 

Having drafted Vernon Carey Jr. and Nick Richards in the second round last year, it’s difficult to reason with taking another center in the lottery, especially when Carey and Richards barely got a chance to prove themselves on the court. If Kupchak and his staff feel a center is the best player available when they’re on the clock, there’s no doubt they should pull the trigger but, despite it being the clearest position of need, it might not need to be addressed in the draft.

Free agency hasn’t been an eventful period for the Hornets in the past, but this is a new regime with new goals. Gordon Hayward was the organization’s biggest recent signing and, with Bismack Biyombo, Devonte’ Graham, Malik Monk and Cody Zeller all becoming free agents this offseason, Kupchak expects to have about $29 million in open cap space after the cap holds. It’s a bit early to do the salary cap math for every team in the league, but $29 million would likely be among the handful of teams with the most cap room.

Bismack Biyombo, Devonte’ Graham, Malik Monk and Cody Zeller all becoming free agents this offseason. Photo: Alex Cason

Fans clamored for an improvement at center all season long, and they might get their wish during the free agency period. There are always serviceable big men on the market, and the Hornets have enough cap room to be in the mix for any of them. Richaun Holmes, Alex Len, Nerlens Noel, Kelly Olynyk and Daniel Theis are some free agent bigs to keep an eye on, and the trade market for Myles Turner could resurface in the offseason. Thankfully, the Hornets’ biggest position of need is the most replaceable one, and it shouldn’t be overly difficult to swing a trade without giving up too much value.


Acquiring players externally and bringing them in to support the system already in place is important but, as we’ve seen over the last few seasons as the young core blossoms, internal development is just as crucial.

Ball quickly established himself as a future star in the NBA as a rookie, and Miles Bridges took huge steps forwards on both ends of the floor. PJ Washington had an inconsistent year offensively, but he shot a slightly improved 38.6 percent from deep and demonstrated massive potential as a 6-foot-7 interior defender with switchability. Devonte’ Graham improved his three-point percentage to 37.5 percent despite being hampered with injuries. Malik Monk vastly improved his three-point shooting as well after starting the season on the bench, but his coming-out party was hampered by a late-season injury. Jalen McDaniels and Cody Martin’s defensive versatility will keep them in the NBA for years to come. 

Kupchak has built a solid foundation and head coach James Borrego’s player development staff has done a solid job in maximizing the potential of their recent draft picks. The current players on the Hornets’ roster will hopefully improve their games over the summer and the front office will try to bring in the right additions, which could make for an interesting offseason. The impending free agency of three key players in Graham, Monk and Zeller will have to be addressed to clear cap holds prior to going big game hunting, and how the franchise fares in the lottery and draft will paint a clearer picture of what Kupchak needs to chase. Hornets fans may not have basketball to watch anymore, but there is still plenty to think about and discuss.

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