Charlotte Hornets

NBA free agency looming: What can $8.4 million buy for the Charlotte Hornets?

Sacramento Kings point guard Darren Collison (right) would fill a big hole for the Charlotte Hornets if they could sell him on accepting their mid-level exception.
Sacramento Kings point guard Darren Collison (right) would fill a big hole for the Charlotte Hornets if they could sell him on accepting their mid-level exception. AP

The Charlotte Hornets don’t have many tools to strengthen the roster this summer. They spent big a year ago to re-sign Nic Batum and Marvin Williams.

The other free-agent signings from last July, Roy Hibbert and Ramon Sessions, didn’t work so well. The second unit suffered and that was a major factor in the Hornets missing the playoffs with a 36-46 record.

When free-agent recruitment starts July 1, the Hornets will be bargain hunting. Over the salary cap, but below the luxury-tax line, the Hornets will need to employ the mid-level exception and the bi-annual exception to augment the roster.

The biggest moves of the offseason may already have happened, with the Hornets trading for eight-time All-Star center Dwight Howard Tuesday and drafting Kentucky shooting guard Malik Monk in the first round Thursday. The in-fill will continue, because the Hornets need help.

The salary cap for the coming season is projected to be about $99 million per team. The Hornets already exceed that cap with a payroll of about $107 million.

As a non-taxpayer, the Hornets will have access to a mid-level exception (about $8.4 million) that they can spend as a first-season salary on one free agent or to split up among multiple players. They will also have access to a bi-annual exception of about $3.3 million.

What does that buy? Not much in these inflationary NBA times. The first priority is finding some depth at point guard behind Kemba Walker. The Hornets appear to have misgivings about exercising Sessions’ team option of about $6 million for the coming season.

Some notions on who might make appropriate targets for the Hornets (listed in alphabetical order):

▪  Darren Collison (6-0, 175), point guard, 9.5 ppg, 3.5 apg., with the Kings: If Collison is comfortable with being a backup and would accept the mid-level salary, he would probably be as sound as any option to fill a major hole. But point guards are always at a premium, particularly those with starter’s experience.

▪  Dante Cunningham (6-8, 230), forward, 6.6 points, 4.4 rebounds with the Pelicans: A forward who could play either spot would make sense, particularly if such a player could be had for the smaller bi-annual exception. This would be Cunningham’s second stint in Charlotte if he signed with the Hornets.

▪  Raymond Felton (6-1, 205), point guard, 6.7 ppg., 2.4 apg, with the Clippers: This franchise used the fifth overall pick in 2005 to draft Felton out of North Carolina. He’s now a backup/fill-in starter who has played for five teams the past seven seasons. Would he like a return to the Carolinas? Would Hornets coach Steve Clifford see Felton as that reliable veteran option when Walker needs a break?

▪  Patty Mills (6-0, 180), point guard, 9.5 ppg., 3.5 apg., with the Spurs: Mills has abundant experience, both in regular season and the playoffs. That San Antonio pedigree always looks good on a player’s resume. If you played for coach Gregg Popovich for any length of time, you’re smart and unselfish.

▪  Anthony Tolliver (6-8, 240), forward, 7.1 ppg., 3.7 rpg., for the Kings: Tolliver played 64 games for the then-Bobcats in the 2013-14 season. He has 3-point range (39 percent last season, 36 percent for his career) that could help space the floor. But he can be a defensive liability because of limited lateral quickness.

Rick Bonnell: 704-358-5129, @rick_bonnell

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