WHAT WENT WRONG
Gordon Hayward’s bad luck continued, as a badly sprained ankle and bone chip cost him 33 games. Hayward has now missed 173 games over the past 5 seasons, while playing in 218. While Hayward’s injuries over the past few years seem to be unrelated, his body appears to be betraying him in general and therefore he can no longer be relied upon.
Despite the team improving from 23 to 33 to 43 wins the past 3 seasons, coach James Borrego was fired. Management had general concerns about Borrego’s playing rotations, defensive schemes, and what appeared to be a lack of respect from the locker room, as well as how players were being held accountable for mental lapses or lack of effort. Also, the young players, even the ones who flourished, often had their minutes curtailed in favor of veterans regardless of whether those veterans were actually effective. Giving significant minutes to someone like Isaiah Thomas at this point instead of allowing 1st round pick James Bouknight to gain some experience in game situations seems shortsighted. Rookies Bouknight, Kai Jones, Scottie Lewis, and JT Thor barely played; given that the Hornets finished 10th in the Eastern Conference anyway, it seems like that player development opportunities were lost. Vernon Carey Jr. played just 17 minutes all year before being flipped to Washington for Montrezl Harrell.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
LaMelo Ball made the All-Star team in just his 2nd year, something not even his most ardent supporters could have predicted would happen so soon. Ball averaged 20/7/7 and shot the ball from long range at a much higher percentage that anyone anticipated, while thrilling the home crowd with his showmanship.
Miles Bridges bet on himself and won by not accepting a long-term deal that would have locked him in at a price far below what he’ll now command based on last year’s performance. But ultimately his development is a big help to the Hornets, as Bridges enters restricted free agency having established himself not only as a starter but as a potential All-Star. The team will either lock up Bridges as a second young star next to Ball to build around, or they will flip him for an equally valuable asset. There were few things more exciting in the league last season than when the Hornets would run the fast break and Ball would lob it to Bridges for one of his violent emphatic dunks.
Over the past couple of years, the team struggled to win whenever Hayward was out injured. But the team managed to reverse this trend at the end of last year, winning 11 of their last 15 games despite Hayward being unable to play. The team settled on an effective 9-man rotation, with Harrell, Cody Martin, Jalen McDaniels, and Kelly Oubre Jr. able to mix and match with the starting 5 of Ball, Bridges, Mason Plumlee, Terry Rozier, and PJ Washington in a variety of combinations without much drop-off.
|NAME||2022-23 SALARY||FUTURE OBLIGATION?|
|Hayward, Gordon||$30.0m||2023-24 ($31.5m)|
|Rozier, Terry||$21.5m||2023-24 ($23.2m), 2024-25 ($24.9m), 2025-26 ($26.6) conditional|
|Oubre Jr., Kelly||$12.6m||Expiring|
|Ball, LaMelo||$8.6m||TO 2023-24 ($10.9m), QO 2024-25 ($14.3m)|
|Washington, PJ||$5.8m||QO 203-24 ($8.0m)|
|Bouknight, James||$4.3m||TO 2023-24 ($4.6m), TO 2024-25 ($6.1m), QO 2025-26 ($8.3m)|
|Jones, Kai||$2.9m||TO 2023-24 ($3.0m), TO 2024-25 ($4.6m), QO 2025-26 ($6.6m)|
|Thor, JT||$1.5m||TO 2023-24 ($1.8m), TO 2024-25 ($2.0m)|
|McDaniels, Jalen||$1.9m||Team Option|
|Richards, Nick||$1.8m||Fully Guaranteed if not waived before 07/07/22|
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS:
|Bridges, Miles||27||6’6”||225||80g 35.5mpg 20.2ppg 7.0rpg 3.8apg 59.0% / 33.1% / 80.2%|
|Martin, Cody||27||6’5”||205||71g 26.3mpg 7.7ppg 4.0rpg 2.5apg 54.2% / 34.5% / 66.7%|
|Kulbolka, Arnoldas||24||6’9”||198||2g 2.5mpg 0.0ppg 0.0rpg 0.0apg N/A / 0.0% / N/A|
|Lewis, Scottie||22||6’5”||189||2g 3.5mpg 0.5ppg 0.0rpg 0.5apg N/A / N/A / 50.0%|
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS:
|Harrrell, Montrezl||28||6’7”||240||25g 21.0mpg 11.4ppg 4.9rpg 2.0apg 65.3% / 0.0% / 69.2%|
|Thomas, Isaiah||33||5’9”||185||17g 12.9mpg 8.3ppg 1.2rpg 1.4apg 46.8% / 39.7% / 93.3%|
|Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception||$10.3m|
|1||#15||NOP (08/07/21, in 3-team trade, with Tyler Harvey and Wes Iwundu for Devonte Graham)|
FUTURE DRAFT ASSETS:
|2023||1||traded to NYK (protected #1-16 2023, #1-14 2024-25, else 2026 R2) (07/09/21)|
|2023||2||traded to ATL (06/21/18)|
|2024||2||traded to NOP (11/18/00)|
|2026||2||to GSW if #56-60|
OTHER PICKS ACQUIRED
|2023||2||from BOS (11/29/20); transfers to WAS if #46-60|
|2024||2||From BOS (11/29/20)|
2022-23 GAME PLAN:
The team has yet to settle on a new coach at the time of this writing. They appear to be leaning towards a candidate with experience, having interviewed the likes of Mike D’Antoni, Terry Stotts, and Frank Vogel. The new coach will come in with a burden of expectations; management clearly will be disappointed with anything short of a playoff berth after 6 straight years of missing the postseason (falling just short the past two years by losing the play-in game).
The Hornets clearly need more size, especially if they don’t bring back Harrell. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see them swing a deal for someone like DeAndre Ayton or Rudy Gobert. They can easily combine Hayward’s salary with some combination of their 1st round picks and a couple of their young prospects who currently aren’t a part of the rotation to improve in the short-term. Such an aggressive move might be necessary to stay competitive in what will be an exceedingly tough and deep Eastern Conference.
What would really benefit the team is if Washington makes a leap in his 4th year similar to the one that Bridges made last year. The team could really help themselves if they could accurately project his development; if he is going to go up a level, they’d be wise to lock him up earlier rather than let his status dangle as they did with Bridges. But they should also proceed with caution; if Washington’s performance has already maxed out at the level he’s shown in his first 3 years, averaging 12/6/2 on 37% three point shooting, it would be unwise to get locked into a long-range expensive extension.
ASSESSMENT OF ASSETS:
|KEY BUILDING BLOCKS||Bridges, Ball|
|KEY ROLE PLAYERS||Rozier, Plumlee|
|DEVELOPMENTAL RESERVES||McDaniels, Bouknight, Jones, Thor, #13 Pick, #15 Pick|
|EXPENDABLE VETERAN RESERVES||Martin|
|WALK AWAY||Harrell, Thomas, Kubolka, Lewis|
|OPEN ROSTER SPOTS TO FILL FROM TRADES OR FA||4|