Charlotte Hornets

Handicapping the chance of Hornets re-signing 5 key free agents

Small forward Nic Batum averaged 14.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.8 assists last season for the Hornets. General manager Rich Cho has said re-signing Batum is his top priority during free agency.
Small forward Nic Batum averaged 14.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.8 assists last season for the Hornets. General manager Rich Cho has said re-signing Batum is his top priority during free agency.

Observer NBA writer Rick Bonnell sets the odds on whether each of five impending free agents in the Hornets’ rotation re-signs here:

Small forward Nic Batum

Circumstance: Batum was told the offense would run through him as soon as he was acquired in trade a year ago. He lived up to that responsibility, averaging 14.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.8 assists. His biggest value was taking some responsibility off point guard Kemba Walker, allowing him to become more of an attacking scorer.

Impression: General manager Rich Cho has repeatedly said re-signing Batum is his top priority. Cho said he intends to meet with Batum and his agent as soon as free agency begins July 1. Based on his eight seasons in the NBA, Batum is eligible for a maximum contract in the area of $26 million a season.

Chances of a return: 70 percent. Batum made it clear he’d like to return to play for coach Steve Clifford. The Hornets might not offer him the full max, but they have to come in with something above $20 million a season and five years of guarantees to not be in danger of losing him.

Power forward Marvin Williams

Circumstance: Williams is coming off his 11th and arguably his best NBA season. He became the Hornets’ top defender while Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was injured. He matched up with both power forwards and small forwards. He was a major threat as a 3-point shooter, particularly along the baseline, making 40 percent of his attempts. His value as a leader was obvious.

Impression: He didn’t shoot well in the playoff series against the Miami Heat last season, but Clifford attributed that to a previously-undisclosed elbow injury.

Chances of a return: 50 percent. Williams has enjoyed his two seasons as a Hornet and has family that moved to Charlotte to be near him. But he had a strong enough season that he could get offers of $10 million or more per season. Is that more than the Hornets are prepared to spend to keep him?

Point guard Jeremy Lin

Circumstance: Lin was great for the Hornets in general and Walker in particular. He proved physically strong enough to defend shooting guards and the Hornets often played Walker and Lin together down the stretch of close games. He has a knack for getting to the foul line that proved valuable in the seven-game playoff series against the Heat.

Impression: Like Batum, Lin improved the Hornets’ ballhandling and ball movement. He wasn’t a great 3-point shooter at 33.6 percent, but his drives to the rim were key in this team’s half-court offense.

Chances of a return: 40 percent. As well as Lin played, it was a foregone conclusion he’d opt out of next season on his contract to become a free agent. Lin said he enjoyed his first season in Charlotte and that money wouldn’t be the single biggest factor in where he signs. But if a team like the Nets tells him he’d start there, at a considerable raise in salary, might that not be too tempting to turn down?

Center Al Jefferson

Circumstance: Jefferson was a breakthrough free agent signing in the summer of 2013. He finished his first season in Charlotte as third-team All-NBA. Since then he has played through various injuries and spent parts of last season as a reserve, playing behind Cody Zeller. His low-post scoring was a good fit with the second unit.

Impression: Jefferson played in 47 of 82 games last season. He missed time following knee surgery, but was more agile and effective after the procedure.

Chances of a return: 25 percent. Jefferson would very much like to stay in Charlotte to continue playing for Clifford. But he’d probably have to take a big pay cut to make that happen. He made $13.5 million last season.

Shooting guard Courtney Lee

Circumstance: The Hornets acquired him from Memphis at the trade deadline in return for P.J. Hairston, Brian Roberts and two second-round picks. That deal was a steal. He had an immediate impact at the defensive end and shot 39 percent from the 3-point line. His defense on the Heat’s Dwyane Wade was particularly important in the regular season and playoff victories in Miami.

Impression: Clifford knew Lee’s game and personality from coaching him as an assistant with the Orlando Magic. He fit in with the group immediately and told close friend Al Jefferson how much he enjoyed the selfless atmosphere in the Hornets’ locker room.

Chances of a return: 20 percent. Lee played so well that he might have priced himself outside the Hornets’ grasp. He figures to be worth between $8 million and $12 million a season in a summer when so many teams will have abundant cap room. The Hornets trading for Marco Belinelli on Thursday looked like insurance against his departure.

Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell