Re-signing All-NBA point guard Kemba Walker could make the Charlotte Hornets’ roster weaker next season.
Speaking early Friday morning following the NBA draft, Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak sounded determined to avoid the team from paying the league’s luxury tax at the end of next season. The massive contract Walker would command will have the Hornets flirting with the tax threshold, projected around $132 million in player payroll.
So Kupchak might have to trade a veteran in a salary dump or use the NBA’s “stretch provision” to waive a player under contract and count that dead money against the salary cap over multiple seasons. Either of those tactics would weaken a team that went 39-43 and missed the playoffs a third straight year.
Additionally, Kupchak’s comments cast serious doubt that the Hornets can afford to re-sign both Walker and shooting guard Jeremy Lamb.
“I would not anticipate that is something we would look to do,” Kupchak said of being a tax-paying team next season.
“There are ways to increase (the distance from the luxury-tax threshold). It’s important we address that as soon as possible. Everybody needs to get on and plan.”
NBA teams can start negotiating with free agents the evening of June 30 and sign them starting July 6. So there is some urgency to do whatever Kupchak will to clean up the player payroll.
That suggests Kupchak will look to trade a veteran salary (maybe power forward Marvin Williams’ $15 million for next season) or waive a veteran (such as center Bismack Biyombo) and use the stretch provision under NBA rules to spread the cap implications of Biyombo’s remaining $17 million guarantee.
Kupchak said last week that crossing the tax threshold would make it unlikely the Hornets use the $7.8 million trade exception they received last July in the Dwight Howard deal. Kupchak called that exception a valuable roster tool at the time of the Howard trade.
So it’s hard to picture how the Hornets could pay a maximum-salary contract to Walker and also re-sign Lamb, their No. 2 scorer last season at 15.3 points per game, and still avoid the tax. The Hornets have never paid the luxury tax, and team owner Michael Jordan has said that doing so doesn’t make sense unless the Hornets are in contention to advance deep into the playoffs.
Lamb figures to draw an offer in the area of $12 million per season as an unrestricted free agent.
Kupchak reinforced that everything else this off-season is secondary to re-signing Walker, who is eligible for a new contract of up to $221 million over the next five years.
“You’re talking about a substantial contract that goes out many years. When that happens, it creates some financial inflexibility that you have to deal with,” Kupchak said.
“We have to be mindful of a Kemba contract, should we be lucky enough to re-sign him. There could be limitations (on other roster moves), absolutely.”
G-League for rookies
Kupchak said he anticipates all three rookies drafted Thursday — including first-round selection P.J. Washington — spending some of next season assigned to the Hornets’ G-League affiliate, the Greensboro Swarm.
In the past, the Hornets haven’t typically sent lottery picks, such as Miles Bridges or Malik Monk, to the G-League. But Kupchak and coach James Borrego were pleased with the improvement second-round picks Dwayne Bacon and Devonte Graham made last season while playing for the Swarm.
“We had a great degree of success there last year,” Kupchak said, citing Bacon ending the season as a starter.
Kupchak said the Hornets roster for the Las Vegas Summer League in July will include Bacon, Graham, Bridges, last year’s second-round pick Arnoldas Kubolka and the three draft choices.
Monk has not yet committed to play in summer league, Kupchak said. As a player going into his third season, he’s not obligated to do so. But considering Monk was in and out of the rotation last season, it seems logical he would play for at least part of summer league.
“We’re kind of working our way through it right now. Maybe, but we don’t have him committed right now,” Kupchak said, adding that it’s possible Monk would play the first couple of games, then be done. Monk injured his hand last summer, limiting his summer league participation.