Charlotte Hornets

Hornets finalize trade with Kings for Marco Belinelli, add depth with Roy Hibbert, Ramon Sessions

Introducing Charlotte Hornets Ramon Sessions and Roy Hibbert

The Charlotte Hornets introduced center Roy Hibbert and point guard Ramon Sessions during a new conference on Thursday at Time Warner Cable Arena.
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The Charlotte Hornets introduced center Roy Hibbert and point guard Ramon Sessions during a new conference on Thursday at Time Warner Cable Arena.

The Charlotte Hornets quickly firmed up their roster Thursday morning with the NBA’s annual moratorium on transactions expiring.

First thing they did was use available space under the salary cap to sign free agents Roy Hibbert and Ramon Sessions. Those two added depth at the center and point guard positions.

Next, the Hornets finalized the trade they agreed to on draft night, sending the rights to 22nd pick Malachi Richardson to the Sacramento Kings in return for veteran shooting guard Marco Belinelli.

Then the Hornets re-signed Nic Batum to a five-year, $120 million contract and added a third point guard, Brian Roberts, for the veteran minimum of just over $1 million.

The last step is re-signing power forward Marvin Williams, who fits in the “Early Bird” cap exception. That allows the Hornets to exceed the cap for a player who has been on their roster the previous two seasons. Williams will sign a contract worth about $54 million over the next three seasons.

Cap flexibility

One thing to keep in mind about the contracts Hibbert and Sessions signed: Neither obligates the Hornets financially beyond the 2016-17 season.

Hibbert signed for one season at $5 million. Sessions has a two-year deal for $12.3 million, but the 2017-18 season is a team option.

That provides flexibility going into the summer of 2017, when the NBA salary cap will take a jump above $100 million per team for the first time.

This is Sessions’ second stint playing pro basketball in Charlotte. A native of Myrtle Beach, he’s thrilled to be playing again so close to his hometown.

“I’ve been around. It’s a big thing to come back home. I’ve been away since I was 17,” attending college at Nevada, Sessions said. “As a younger adult, you don’t really understand the importance of family. As time went on, that changed. I want to be around family a whole lot more.”

Coach Steve Clifford said it was crucial to sign a backup point guard he could trust to start if Kemba Walker gets hurt.

“If Kemba is out for four or five games, Ramon can physically – strength, quickness and game – play against starters,” Clifford said.

National team commitments

Batum and Belinelli probably won’t be in Charlotte anytime soon, as they are involved with national-team commitments to France and Italy, respectively.

Belinelli recently suffered a fractured jaw during an exhibition game between Italy and Canada. However, the fracture isn’t considered particularly serious and he has remained with Italy’s national team. General manager Rich Cho joked Thursday that the protective mask Belinelli is wearing makes him look like Batman.

Belinelli, who is 30, has played 10 NBA seasons for six franchises. Last season with the Kings he averaged 10.2 points and 1.9 assists. He shot 30.6 percent from 3-point range, well below his career average of 37.9 percent.

Belinelli will back up Batum at shooting guard. He was the 18th overall pick of the 2007 draft, selected by Golden State.

Hornets coach Steve Clifford passionately defended the decision to trade a first-round pick for Belinelli.

“I know Marco can come in here and play very well every single night against every single team. At (pick) 22, there’s no way you’re getting that. At 22, you’re getting a (rookie) who you hope is playing in three years.”

Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell

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