After the departure of Kemba Walker, the Charlotte Hornets were expected to be one of the worst teams in the league. Instead, by the season’s suspension, they finished with the 10th-best record in the Eastern Conference. The Hornets are in the middle of a rebuild that saw many pleasant surprise performances. With a healthy cap sheet going forward, Charlotte must stay on the path of patience and focus on developing their young players.
HORNETS 2020-21 PAYROLL
The Hornets are entering the 2020-21 offseason with just $81 million dedicated to 10 players, assuming Nicolas Batum opts in. They are projected to have just under $28 million in cap space under the $115 million salary cap projection. That is slightly below the 25 percent maximum starting salary for players with 0-6 years of service ($28.75 million).
Rookies Caleb Martin and Jalen McDaniels are non-guaranteed for $1.5 million each, but there is no urgency to cut either since they already have a lot of cap space. Out of all their free agents, Dwayne Bacon and Willy Hernangomez are the only realistic candidates to be re-signed. That is because the Hornets have their full Bird rights and both players have very low cap holds. Keeping their cap holds on the books would deduct $3.7 million in cap space, but that is a small deduction for being able to re-sign them after utilizing their cap space or sign-and-trade them.
The Hornets have significant cap space for the first time since 2016. That season was also the last time they made the playoffs. Despite a first-round exit, the Hornets rewarded all their key contributors from that season with big long-term deals. The list includes Batum, Marvin Williams, and Cody Zeller. Until Walker left, the Hornets were in a limbo state trying their best to win so they can keep him but were never good enough and had little flexibility to improve the roster.
With close to maximum cap space, the Hornets have plenty of room to pursue several starting-level players. The Hornets were 25th in the league in defensive rating and 28th in defensive rebounds by the time the season got suspended. Even if they draft a center with their lottery pick, they should prioritize some of their cap space on a rim-protecting, great rebounding center. Such free agents who fit that need include Hassan Whiteside, Derrick Favors, and Andre Drummond if he declines his player option.
DEVONTE‘ GRAHAM EXTENSION
Sophomore point guard Devonte’ Graham had a breakout performance that truly no one saw coming. After only appearing in 46 games last season behind Walker, Graham started most of 2019-20 and averaged 18.2 points, 7.5 assists, and 3.5 threes per game. Although he cooled off towards the second half of the year, his performance early on gave him All-Star consideration and he should be a finalist for Most Improved Player. The Hornets have their point guard for the foreseeable future.
Graham will be eligible for a veteran extension on July 6, which will be the two-year anniversary date of signing his original contract. He can extend for an additional four years on his current deal. Because he earns less than the average salary, Graham’s starting salary can be a maximum of 120 percent of the estimated average salary for 2020-21. The estimated average salary for 2019-20 is $9,560,000, so currently, next year’s average salary can be estimated at $10,038,000, which is 105 percent of $9.56 million. That would give him a starting salary of $12,045,600 for 2021-22 and would total $53.9 million through 2023-24. Expect the Hornets to offer Graham the maximum amount they can offer him, but he will get bigger offers if he enters free agency in 2021.
MALIK MONK’S FUTURE
Third-year guard Malik Monk was finally turning a corner this season. Through his first three seasons, Monk has been inconsistent and in and out of the rotation. Once thought a steal when he fell to 13th in the 2017 draft, Monk has been disappointing and found himself in trade rumors. In February, Monk found his groove as he averaged 16.7 points per game in 28.6 minutes per game off the bench. He finally became the scorer he was originally pegged as.
Monk will be eligible for a rookie-scale extension before the start of the 2020-21 regular season. His breakthrough may have moved him from a below mid-level contract to one in the $8-12 million range.
The Hornets’ 23-42 record would give them the eighth-worst record in the league. Assuming there is a draft lottery, they’re likely to get the eighth-overall selection with a chance of them jumping into the Top 4 and an even smaller chance of falling somewhere between 9-12. The Hornets also have the 32nd overall pick from the Cavaliers and the 56th overall pick from the Celtics.