The Charlotte Hornets had a historic season, but now must prepare for what is going to be a busy offseason.
Charlotte won 25 of its last 34 games over the final two-and-a-half months of the season to finish in sixth place in the Eastern Conference with a 48-34 record. The 48 wins is the third most in franchise history, and the most wins since the team returned to the NBA in 2004-05. The sixth seed is also the Hornets’ highest of their three playoff appearances since returning to the league.
Charlotte battled Miami in its first round playoff series this year, losing in seven games. The Hornets were swept in their previous two playoff appearances.
Charlotte currently has six players with guaranteed contracts for next year. The six players — whose contracts total over $45.9 million in salary according to Basketball Insiders – are Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Spencer Hawes, Cody Zeller, and Jeremy Lamb. Combo guard Jeremy Lin has a player option, which he is expected to decline, for this upcoming season. Reserve guard Aaron Harrison’s contract is non-guaranteed.
Lin told Rod Boone of the Charlotte Observer that plans to opt out of his contract in order to secure a long-term deal but absolutely wants to return to the Hornets. His player option for next season is worth $2.235 million.
Asked Lin if plan is to opt out, sign long-term deal with @hornets: "Yeah I think that would be the perfect situation if that could happen."— Rod Boone (@rodboone) May 2, 2016
Lin is a high energy player, who can score and distribute the ball. He is not a great shooter and turns the ball over a little too much.
If Lin does indeed opt out, the Hornets could have as many as eight players on the open market when the NBA’s free agency period officially opens on July 1. Starters Nic Batum, Al Jefferson, Marvin Williams and Courtney Lee along with reserve forward/center Tyler Hansbrough are slated to be unrestricted free agents. Guards Troy Daniels and Jorge Gutierrez will be restricted free agents, if the Hornets make them a qualifying offer.
So, how many of the Hornets current crop of free agents will return next season? Obviously, it is too early to tell, but the Hornets are expected to have between $40 and $46 million available to spend on free agents this summer.
According to USA Today, the Hornets’ head coach Steve Clifford said he preferred that the team keep its current core group together. Charlotte’s biggest weakness was rebounding, where they ranked and tied-for 14th overall with 43.9 boards a game. The Hornets were the best team rebounding the ball on the defensive end, coming up with 79.8 percent of all possible rebounds. But, they only collected 20 percent of all possible offensive rebounds, which ranked 29th in the league. Shot-blocking/not having a legitimate rim protector is also an issue that Charlotte needs to address this offseason.
Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer is reporting that re-signing Batum is the Hornets’ top priority this offseason. Bonnell added that Batum isn’t entirely sure that he will return to Charlotte though Batum said the Hornets will be the first team he will talk to once free agency commences.
“When I came here they let me know they wanted me to be one of the [top] two options with Kemba [Walker],” Batum said. “I liked that. I like that they trusted me. It was a pretty cool year. First time I got to play like I want to in eight years in the NBA.”
Batum had an outstanding campaign this past season. The 27-year-old finished led the team in assists (5.8), finished fifth in rebounds (6.1) and was second in points (14.9).
Clifford showered enormous praise on the small forward following the Miami playoff series.
“He’s in his prime. I’ve never been around many guys that have the size, skill & basketball IQ that he has.” -Coach Cliff on @nicolas88batum— Charlotte Hornets (@hornets) May 2, 2016
Jefferson, Lee, and Williams have all stated they would like to return next season.
Jefferson is not the rebounder or low-post scorer he has been throughout his career. The 31-year-old does provide a physical presence and can score and rebound decently. He has dealt with injuries the past two years.
Williams reinvented himself this season, producing his best overall season of his career. The 29-year-old averaged 11.7 points, along with 6.4 rebounds and one block. He also shot 45.2 percent from the field and 40.2 percent from beyond the arc.
Lee and Batum are probably the least likely of the free agents to return to Charlotte. Batum likely will only if the Hornets offer comparable money as other teams, but by no means should the Hornets offer him a max deal. Lee is a professional but the Hornets should be able to find a younger, more offensive oriented player this offseason.
Charlotte owns the No. 22 pick in this year’s draft.
[Photo by Gerald Herbert/Associated Press]