The Charlotte Hornets have an open roster spot tailor-made for an NBA buyout market creating veteran free agents in the coming days.
But general manager Mitch Kupchak plans to balance the desire to fortify the roster in a playoff race with caution about disrupting the development of players.
“I think the biggest question we have to answer internally, when reviewing a (veteran) who is available,” Kupchak said, ”is that player going to take away from the development potentially of some of our other players, particularly our younger players?”
Kupchak was emphatic Thursday during a media conference call that the Hornets’ “first objective is making the playoffs.” They sat 26-28 for the season when the NBA’s trade deadline passed Thursday without Kupckak making a deal.
The young players Kupchak would have meant are rookies Miles Bridges and Devonte Graham, second-year pro Malik Monk and third-season center Willy Hernangomez. Bridges and Monk have significant roles off the bench as the season is a week away from the All-Star break.
Kupchak addressed a variety of other Hornets topics:
Kupchak spoke glowingly about veteran Tony Parker, calling the 18-season veteran “much more valuable than we every anticipated,” at this stage of Parker’s career. He also singled out first-season starter Jeremy Lamb, who becomes an unrestricted free agent in July.
“I’ve seen Jeremy Lamb separate himself to some degree and become our second (offensive) option,” Kupchak said.
On the downside, Kupchak talked about the lack of star power on this roster beyond point guard Kemba Walker.
“We have a lot of good players, but we’re not a team that has two or three superstars and then everybody else,” Kupchak said of a roster he mostly inherited when he was hired last spring. “The rest of the guys (beyond Walker and Parker) are all in the same area, so to speak.
“In a perfect world, you have two or three guys you can rely on (to carry a team). We really don’t have that.”
Walker free agency
In discussing Walker’s free-agency decision in July, Kupchak noted it’s extremely hard for a player to both change teams for optimum chance of winning championships and maximize his earning power. Underpaid relative to the market at $12 million this season, Walker could be worth closer to $30 million a season. Under the NBA’s collective-bargaining agreement, the Hornets will have the option to pay Walker more than any other suitor.
“A lot of times the best spot to win a championship and (the spot where you’ll) be paid what you feel is the correct market value for you, a lot of times they don’t line up,” said Kupchak, a former NBA player who was also GM of the Los Angeles Lakers for about 20 years.
“I’m optimistic and I’m hopeful, as I always have been, that Kemba starts his career in a Hornets uniform and ends it in one.”
Last third of season
Kupchak said trade-deadline behavior this week suggests some teams giving up on a playoff chase. He said that could help the Hornets win some games down the stretch of the regular season.
“Typically, sellers (teams giving up veteran talent at the trade deadline) will play their young players more toward the last third of the season,” Kupchak said. “If we stay healthy, even (when) we’re on the road, we’re hopeful we can take advantage of that.”
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