Barring a trade that doesn’t add significantly to their payroll, the Charlotte Hornets look close to done building their roster.
The big move happened before the draft or free agency, when the Hornets traded for eight-time All-Star center Dwight Howard. Then, the Hornets added two wing players in the draft, in Kentucky’s Malik Monk and Florida State’s Dwayne Bacon.
Finally, Friday, the Hornets addressed their biggest need – depth at point guard – by signing Michael Carter-Williams to a one-year, $2.7 million.
Where do the Charlotte Hornets’ moves leave them in a seemingly weakened Eastern Conference?
Where does this leave them in a seemingly weakened Eastern Conference? The Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers all lost stars in trades with Western Conference teams (Jimmy Butler to Minnesota, Paul George to Oklahoma City and Paul Millsap to Denver).
The conference champion Boston Celtics got stronger by recruiting Gordon Hayward away from Utah. But the rest of the conference looks mostly status quo, an opportunity for the Hornets to return to the playoffs and perhaps compete for a home-court advantage in the first round.
The Hornets will consider adding another big man and what to do for a third point guard. Both those spots would likely be at veteran-minimum salaries.
The Hornets have roughly $113 million under contract for next season. Six players – Howard, Nic Batum, Marvin Williams, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller and Kemba Walker – will each make $12 million or more next season.
How does this roster shape up? A position-by-position look:
Projected starter: Walker. Backup: Carter-Williams. Third option: Briante Weber or a player to be signed.
Analysis: Walker is coming off his first All-Star appearance. He is among the top pick-and-roll ballhandlers in the NBA. His salary each of the next two seasons – $12 million – is a major bargain for a top-10 point guard.
Carter-Williams has regressed since winning NBA Rookie of the Year in 2014 with the Philadelphia 76ers. He’s big for his position at 6-foot-6, but he’s a poor perimeter shooter (25 percent from 3-point range). Coach Steve Clifford and his staff have a good record with reclamation projects.
Clifford always wants a third point guard on the roster. Maybe that’s Weber, who started on the summer-league team, but the Hornets will consider other options.
Projected starter: Batum. Backup: Monk. Third option: Bacon
Analysis: Batum skipped playing this summer for France to work on his game. The Hornets will pay him more than $22 million next season, and need him to come up big in the playoff push. He will also play a lot of small forward.
Monk, the 11th overall pick, averaged 19.8 points in his only college season and shot 40 percent from the college 3-point line. He’s small for a shooting guard at 6-3 and not a strong defender. Playing him with the taller Carter-Williams could mitigate that problem. Bacon totaled 29 points and eight rebounds in the Hornets’ last summer-league game in Orlando.
Projected starter: Kidd-Gilchrist. Backup: Batum. Other options: Jeremy Lamb, Bacon, Treveon Graham.
Analysis: Kidd-Gilchrist didn’t quite get back to his previous level of play last season, after two shoulder surgeries during the 2015-16 season. They need him intense defensively and more effective offensively.
Batum keeps the second unit organized. Lamb is a scorer and a leaper. Bacon is intriguing, particularly if he can figure out NBA-level defense quickly. Graham played so well in Orlando summer league, he’s making it hard for the Hornets to consider waiving him.
Projected starter: Williams. Backup: Kaminsky. Other options: Kidd-Gilchrist, Graham, maybe Johnny O’Bryant.
Analysis: Williams made 40 percent of his 3-pointers two seasons ago, 35 percent last season. They need him closer to his best, both spreading the floor with his 3s and keeping the defense organized. Kaminsky averaged 11.7 points last season, but barely shot 40 percent from the field and needs to improve defensively.
NBA teams increasingly go small these days, and for the Hornets that could mean using Kidd-Gilchrist and/or Graham in certain matchups at power forward.
Projected starter: Howard. Backup: Cody Zeller. Other option: O’Bryant or a free-agent signing.
Analysis: Howard has never failed to average a points-rebounds double-double in each of his 13 NBA seasons. He can be the rim protector the Hornets have needed for several seasons. This will be Howard’s fifth team in seven seasons, so something about him gets old.
Zeller, a starter last season, can upgrade the second unit, which was a major flaw. Clifford always wants three options at center because it’s so hard to find a competent one at the NBA level who is available mid-season.