Charlotte Hornets Free Agent Targets
The Hornets missed qualifying for the playoffs in 2019-20 by one spot, finishing as the ninth seed in the East. It wasn’t all that close, though.
Charlotte finished dead last in the NBA in field goal percentage and in points scored. They were also in the bottom five in rebounds, steals, and blocks. Only one other team had a worse offensive rating - only seven had a worse defensive rating.
The good news is the Hornets do have a solid young core featuring DeVonte Graham, Terry Rozier, Miles Bridges and P.J. Washington. They also have a decent (tradeable) big in Cody Zeller, and a guard with potential off the bench in Malik Monk. Charlotte also has the third overall pick in the draft this year.
On another positive note, the Hornets are projected to have about $20.7 million in open cap space to spend in free agency, even if Nicolas Batum opts into his massive contract. They’ll also have a $4.7 million room exception.
There’s plenty of upside in Charlotte. And while it’s anyone’s guess what happens at the draft, let’s make a few guesses about what the Hornets do in free agency:
Bismack Biyombo is coming off the books for Charlotte, and Cody Zeller will be the team’s only solid center under contract. They could bring back Biyombo, draft a big or look to the free agent market to find a starter at the five.
Whiteside may be the best answer to several of the team’s biggest problems. He can immediately step in as a huge upgrade at the center spot, and immediately help the Hornets in rebounding and rim protection.
Whiteside finished in the top five in both of those categories last year. He was third in rebounds with 13.5 per game and led the league in blocks with 2.9 per game.
Would it take up the majority of their cap space? Probably. But it could launch Charlotte back into the playoffs.
Graham and Rozier give the Hornets an intriguing starting backcourt. However, when these two come off the floor, the backup guard rotation is definitely lacking. Jordan Clarkson could help immensely in this area.
Charlotte shot 43.4 percent from the field last season, the worst mark in the NBA.
Clarkson shot 46.2 percent for the Jazz, posting 15.6 points per game in the process. He was worthy of the Sixth Man of the Year buzz he earned.
This signing would do wonders for Charlotte’s bench, and would energize the starters by giving them a bit more rest. What Whiteside would do for the defensive side of the game for Charlotte, Clarkson would do for the Hornets offense.
Montrezl Harrell was indeed the 2020 Sixth Man of the Year. The big man shot 58 percent from the floor and scored 18.6 points per game this past season on one of the best teams in the league. He ranked behind only Kawhi Leonard in offensive win shares, defensive win shares, and total win shares for the Clippers. Not too bad.
Harrel could be on his way out of LA, but big questions loom large. Would he like a chance to start? To compete for a title?
Charlotte could offer some of the above. Despite being listed as a power forward, Basketball Reference shows that he logged 100 percent of his minutes last season as a small-ball center.
Graham, Rozier, Bridges, Washington and Harrell. The thought of how quick and intense that starting five is tremendously exciting.
Charlotte could really use a rim protector, especially if they don’t re-sign Biyombo. If the team does draft one via a player like Onyeka Okongwu or James Wiseman, that works too. Inking Nerlens Noel to a short-term deal would also be a smart move. He and Zeller would make for a solid, reliable big man front line.
The Hornets ranked between 23rd and 29th in rebounds, steals, blocks, and defensive rating. Bringing in a player like Nerlens improves the team in all those categories. Oklahoma City had the seventh-best defensive rating in the NBA last season and Noel led the team in defensive rating, defensive box plus/minus and blocks as well as steals per 36 minutes.
Charlotte head coach James Borrego brings in an old friend here. As an assistant with the Magic, Borrego coached Harkless from 2012-2015.
The Hornets like their long, athletic forwards and Markless is exactly that. Harkless owns a 7-2 wingspan, an ability to shut down any opponent, and he can hit the trey. Somehow, though, he hasn’t had great success in his NBA career.
Still, Harkless is a good player and can do more than just contribute in the right system. This could be a good match for him, and for Charlotte. It likely wouldn’t be too expensive to sign him and he is reunited with a coach he is familiar with. This has the potential to be a sneaky good move.