If you’re waiting on Fourth of July fireworks from the Charlotte Hornets during free agency you’re in for a letdown.
Don’t expect some high-profile signing, because it’s simply not in the cards. After the Hornets agreed to pay more than $170 million to retain Nic Batum and Marvin Williams, there is about $10 million in cap space available. That has to be rationed out to acquire a backup point guard and another big man.
What will $10 million get you in this summer of NBA inflation? My guess is a veteran big like Zaza Pachulia or Kris Humphries or Jason Smith. As for a point guard, maybe Jarrett Jack or a second stint for Ramon Sessions.
If that fails to excite you, then keep in mind last summer’s acquisitions also didn’t light up the sky. Batum was coming off a down season in Portland and the NBA market wasn’t exactly clamoring for Jeremy Lin.
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Both those additions turned out splendidly. So splendid, in fact, that Batum received a near-maximum contract to stay and Lin earned himself $12 million a season and the inside track on the starter’s job with the Brooklyn Nets.
The fact is, this was just a bad summer for five players in the rotation to simultaneously become free agents. The salary cap spiked from $70 million to $94 million, which meant nearly every team suddenly had plenty of cap space and an urgency to spend it.
That created the classic seller’s market, where the demand for quality free agents far exceeded the supply. If Miami Heat guard Tyler Johnson is worth a $50 million offer sheet, then you know everyone is getting rich.
It actually speaks highly of the Hornets’ front office that all five players – Batum, Williams, Lin, Al Jefferson and Courtney Lee – had new gigs in the first two days of free agency. The last of those, Lee, will sign with the New York Knicks for a reported $48 million.
(Quick aside: I couldn’t be happier for Lin, Jefferson and Lee. They were all classy and professional. Sorry I won’t be covering them more on a daily basis. Particularly sorry to see Big Al go because he epitomized the word "gentleman.")
I thought general manager Rich Cho had the right priorities in targeting Batum first and Williams next. Nic and point guard Kemba Walker are the two most talented Hornets and Williams fills multiple roles as a defender and 3-point shooter.
Lin will be missed for his versatility, and Jefferson and Lee for their scoring, but it was inevitable the Hornets couldn’t retain all five.
So where from here? Sessions is interesting for his knack for getting to the foul line. He’s not a great distributor or outside shooter, but that skill for creating free-throw attempts comes in handy. Jack has excellent experience, but he’s recovering from an ACL tear (never good for a 32-year-old).
As for a big man, I kind of like the notion of signing Pachulia (who was technically an original Bobcat after the expansion draft, but was immediately traded to the Milwaukee Bucks). He’s not a great athlete by any description, but he has some of the physicality Cho and coach Steve Clifford said the team needs following the seven-game playoff loss to the Heat.
I realize those guys are more sparklers than cherry bombs, but that’s really all the Hornets can still afford.