Hornets Draft Recap: Breaking down the Tidjane Salaün, KJ Simpson picks and roster moves heading into free agency

By Chase Whitney

July 1, 2024

Photo: Julia Nikhinson / AP

With their first crack at the bat, Jeff Peterson and the Charlotte Hornets’ front office regime took a swing selecting Tidjane Salaün sixth overall in the 2024 NBA Draft.

Up until Krysten Peek reported Charlotte’s interest in the 18-year-old French forward a few hours before the draft began, there was very little buzz connecting Salaün to the Hornets. He had been linked to teams in the top-10 at times throughout the pre-draft process, but Charlotte kept its cards close to the vest and surprised many around the NBA after strong connections to Dalton Knecht, Reed Sheppard and Stephon Castle had surfaced in recent weeks. Credit to Peterson and his staff for deploying effective smokescreens over the last couple months and keeping their interest in the Cholet Basket product under wraps.

When the first handful of picks were on the clock, Peek’s fellow Yahoo! Sports reporter Jake Fischer posted a Tweet saying that the Hornets were trading back to nine with the Memphis Grizzlies, though he retracted that minutes later and credited Peek with nailing the pick hours before the draft. It seems as though Charlotte didn’t feel comfortable trading back to the ninth pick, thinking Portland or San Antonio could be landing spots for Salaün ahead of them. Head coach Charles Lee was more than excited to stay at six and select a player of Salaün’s caliber.

“As I was on my playoff journey [with Boston], I got even more excited about this job seeing the caliber of player and people that Jeff and his front office team had identified as potential Hornets. Watching film of both these players, you’ve gotta be excited about their competitive nature,” Lee said in the introductory press conference. 

To boil it down, the selection of Salaün consists of four main selling points: a high motor, physical tools, shooting upside, and defensive activity. A 6-foot-9 forward who is 217 pounds with a 7’1″ wingspan, Salaün looks comfortable flowing into his jumper after screening, rolling, handing it off, or spotting up. He projects to be a versatile “dirty work” type of modern power forward with potential for small-ball five capability, or even as a jumbo wing if the shooting and shot creation come around. 

Though he’s not explosively athletic, he’s strong with quick hands and plays with a ton of energy, withstanding contact on both ends and using length to finish at the rim offensively and generate stocks (steals and blocks) defensively. As a teenager in the French LNB Pro A– a high-level overseas domestic league– Salaün displayed a real “nose for the ball” and flashed a versatile shot profile. NBA teams covet floor-spacing and defensive playmaking, especially from players with Salaün’s strength and physical tools. In a class filled with low-ceiling talent, Salaün is a boom-or-bust candidate. The Hornets have bought into its player development staff and its ability to help Salaün reach his potential and maximize it.

With their first-ever day two NBA draft pick, Charlotte drafted Colorado guard KJ Simpson with the 42nd overall pick. The back-to-back All-PAC-12 selection averaged a team-leading 19.7 points, 4.9 assists, and 5.8 rebounds per contest, leading the Buffaloes to the Round of 32 in the 2024 NCAA Tournament as a junior. The 21-year-old finished his college career by making a huge leap as a three-point shooter, jumping from 27.6% as a sophomore to 43.4% this year while slightly raising his attempt volume. Simpson can create shots for himself and others going downhill, reading defenses, and playing with extreme passion and aggressiveness on both ends of the floor, particularly as a rebounder at the guard spot. Peterson noted how much it means to him that Salaün and Simpson take pride on the defensive end in his post-draft interviews.

To help round out the Summer League squad that will head to the California Classic and then Las Vegas in just a few weeks, the Hornets have signed St. John’s center Joel Soriano to an Exhibit 10, while inking UNC Asheville big Drew Pember and West Virginia guard RaeQuan Battle to Summer League deals. 

Shortly after Charlotte made Simpson its second-round pick, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Hornets were acquiring Reggie Jackson and three unprotected second-round picks from the Denver Nuggets. In all likelihood, the trade will be completed after the July moratorium so that Charlotte can utilize a feature of the new CBA where teams can absorb players into the mid-level exception via trade without parting with any assets. In previous years, the Hornets would’ve had to trade something back to Denver– now, they simply take on Jackson’s $5.25 million salary into the $12.9 million non-taxpayers MLE. Savvy use of the new CBA by Peterson, as Charlotte can reroute Jackson to collect even more assets on top second-rounders in 2025, 2029 and 2030 from Denver.

In preparation for free agency, veteran guard Seth Curry was waived from his non-guaranteed contract, and 2021 second-round pick JT Thor had his team option declined. Bryce McGowens and Aleksej Pokuševski have non-guaranteed deals as well and can be waived at any time without penalty, and the Hornets would save roughly $11 million by waiving Dāvis Bertāns.

Expect more roster moves in the coming days and weeks as Peterson and company put their fingerprints on the roster. 

Check out the Charlotte Hornets 2024 Summer League Schedule:

Saturday, July 13 – New York Knicks at Thomas & Mack Center (ESPN2)

Tuesday, July 16 – Denver Nuggets at Cox Pavilion (ESPN2)

Wednesday, July 17 – Boston Celtics at Cox Pavilion (NBA TV)

Friday, July 19 – Portland Trail Blazers at Cox Pavilion (ESPN2)

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