Since the departure of franchise legend Kemba Walker, the Charlotte Hornets have assembled a decent young core that has managed to produce success in the regular season. Although they’ve failed to make the playoffs, being a perennial play-in team for back-to-back seasons is impressive for a young group like this. LaMelo Ball has been a revelation thus far in his young NBA career, becoming one of the few players in league history to become a second-year All-Star. Miles Bridges seemed to be the perfect wing creator next to Ball, combining elite explosiveness and creation to have a breakout season in 2022. Others such as Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward, and P.J. Washington have helped this core continue to grow.
The Hornets seemed on pace to develop into a perennial playoff team, and with extra moves, a top young core in the entire league. However, due to circumstances outside of their control, they’ve had their bleakest offseason in recent memory. This summer is one that the players, coaches, and executives of the Charlotte Hornets would like to forget. But, it is one that Hornets fans will remember as one of their roughest stretches in franchise history.
Bridges may just be 24 years old, however, his NBA career has likely already come to an end. Bridges was arrested for three felony domestic violence charges after the accusations of him assaulting his girlfriend in front of their two children. If convicted, Bridges could face 11 years and eight months behind bars. Objectively speaking, what Bridges did was absolutely unjustifiable, and he should never step on the NBA hardwood ever again. However, looking at it from a basketball point of view, this comes as a big loss for Charlotte. Although no team would want a player to act out like Bridges, he’s still a massive loss on the court and is nearly irreplaceable looking at the rest of the roster.
Charlotte is going into next season with a starting lineup capable of returning to the play-in. A starting group of Ball, Rozier, Hayward, Washington, and Mason Plumlee isn’t bad by any means as long as they have the proper bench to compliment them. However, the entire bench for Charlotte is full of wildcards from top to bottom. Kelly Oubre Jr. is one of the streakiest players in basketball. James Bouknight has yet to show why he was a highly touted prospect in the 2021 NBA Draft. Mark Williams is just a rookie and could easily be disappointing, and Cody Martin is an average at best piece. One could argue that unless Bouknight takes a big leap and Williams exceeds expectations as a rookie, the Hornets have one of the worst benches in all of basketball.
Charlotte also hired Steve Clifford as their head coach, who will replace James Borrego starting next season. Clifford coached Charlotte from 2013 to 2018, so he’s already familiar with the city and upper management of the Hornets. This is a coach that instills discipline into his teams, helping the development of his younger talent in turn. The signing of Clifford wasn’t a bad one, but this being Charlotte’s best move all summer is concerning.
The chances of Charlotte getting better and reaching the play-in once again have become increasingly unlikely by the day. The bottom of the East has only improved with teams like the Detroit Pistons, Washington Wizards, and New York Knicks getting better, which puts Charlotte closer to the 13-15th seed rather than the top 10. Charlotte has no chance at doing much of anything going into next season, so it’d be best for them to go into a mini rebuild instead of trying to compete for a low-end play-in spot.
Charlotte should look into trading Rozier, Hayward, Oubre Jr., and Plumlee before the start of next season. Getting value out of their veterans is the only logical move looking at the trajectory of their team, and with this, they can enter themselves into the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes. With this in mind, here are a few mock trades for the players above-
Clippers Land Terry Rozier
Los Angeles Clippers Receive-
Terry Rozier ($21,400,000/ Four years)
2023 First Round Pick (via Denver Nuggets, top five protected)
Charlotte Hornets Receive-
Luke Kennard ($14,400,000/ Three years)
Brandon Boston Jr. ($1,500,000/ Two years)
Jason Preston ($1,500,000/ Two years)
Of all the veterans listed above, Rozier easily garners the most value. He’s quite easily the best player of the four and is on a long-term contract that has a reasonable price tag for a player of his caliber. His ability to create for himself combined with his on-court swagger and confidence makes him one of the league’s more exciting scorers. In addition, he can play without the ball effectively as well. He’s also a transition threat, using his overlooked speed to get down the court within the blink of an eye, and his tight handle allows him to get into the lane in a half-court set. Sure, the Clippers adding Rozier may seem redundant, but it makes them easily the deepest team in basketball while adding yet another Sixth Man of the Year caliber player.
This trade may not make sense on paper for Charlotte, but they get Ball an elite shooter in Luke Kennard for the short-term future, while taking a swing at two upside players in Brandon Boston Jr. and Jason Preston. Boston Jr. is a born scorer who can blossom in Charlotte, and Preston is almost a mini LaMelo Ball despite not playing a single NBA game yet. Both Boston Jr. and Preston have more potential than many think, and it only gives Charlotte a better chance at pairing Ball with Wembanyama.
Gordon Hayward Returns To The West
Phoenix Suns Receive-
Gordon Hayward ($30,000,000/ Two years)
Charlotte Hornets Receive-
Jae Crowder ($10,100,000/ One year)
Dario Saric ($9,200,000/ One year)
Torrey Craig ($5,100,000/ One year)
2023 Second Round Pick
Hayward was quite easily the hardest player to find a new home for of the players listed on Charlotte’s trade block. If healthy, he’s arguably Charlotte’s second-best player, but the problem lies in staying healthy. However, if healthy, Hayward remains a borderline All-Star in this league. He’s a perfect fit in Phoenix, even if it means he has to come off the bench for Cameron Johnson. He can hit shots from anywhere on the court while being able to legitimately run an offense in spurts and slow the game down at an elite level. Adding Hayward only bolsters Phoenix’s offense, despite taking a risk with his colossal contract and health risks.
Charlotte doesn’t receive any future talent here, but they get three veterans on expiring deals to clear out cap space for the summer of 2023. If they could manage to land a top guy in the draft with this mini rebuild, some players could be intrigued at coming to Charlotte to play with Ball and whoever Charlotte selects. In the meantime, Crowder, Saric, and Craig provide a nice veteran presence for Charlotte, and they will be valuable for the short time they are on the team.
Kelly Oubre Jr. To Cleveland
Cleveland Cavaliers Receive-
Kelly Oubre Jr. ($12,600,000/ One year)
Charlotte Hornets Receive-
Cedi Osman ($7,400,000/ Two years)
Lamar Stevens ($1,700,000/ Two years)
2024 Second Round Pick (via Golden State Warriors)
Oubre Jr. has struggled to find a home thus far into his NBA career, as Cleveland would be his fifth pit stop in his eight-year career. Oubre Jr. was a tough player to find a deal for, as his play style doesn’t fit on most teams due to his streakiness as a shooter. However, Cleveland may be his best fit. Oubre Jr. can step into a starting role, and all he’d be asked to do is cut to the basket, be a lob threat, attack the rim, and defend. Occasionally, he’d be asked to knock down the open three, but adding Oubre Jr. provides Cleveland with a big wing that brings rim pressure and cutting. Pairing that with one of the league’s best playmakers in Darius Garland is a near-perfect fit, and it should give Oubre Jr. a chance to shine in his role.
Charlotte gets a wing to replace Oubre’s services in Cedi Osman. Osman can hit the three while being a solid passer, and in the future, he can be a decent bench piece for Charlotte after they finish their rebuild. Lamar Stevens is an underrated piece, as he’s shown an ability to defend in limited opportunity. Given he’s only 25, he as well can be another solid piece for this team moving forward.
Charlotte Deals Plumlee For Promising Young Wing
Houston Rockets Receive-
Mason Plumlee ($9,000,000/ One year)
2024 Second Round Pick (via New York Knicks)
2027 First Round Pick (Top 10 Protected)
Charlotte Hornets Receive-
David Nwaba ($5,000,000/ Two years)
Kenyon Martin Jr. ($1,700,000/ Two years)
The Houston Rockets have assembled a nice young core in a short span of time, but they still lack locker room veterans who can use their experience to teach the young guys a thing or two. Plumlee would be a great presence for the young guys, especially for their big man of the future, Alperen Sengun. Plumlee is quietly one of the best passing “bigs” in the league, and coming out of his class, Sengun’s passing was a skill worth noting. Plumlee can help mentor Sengun, and his experiences on teams like the Denver Nuggets backing up Nikola Jokic can help Sengun blossom into a top big man in the league. Houston also adds to their boatload of picks, stacking up draft capital for the future.
Charlotte takes on Kenyon Martin Jr., a great wing to help compliment Charlotte’s young core. Martin Jr. recently requested a trade, so adding him to a team where he’d likely start right away would help his development and morale. Despite having to give up draft compensation to acquire him, Martin Jr.will be one of Charlotte’s top young guys for the foreseeable future.
With all these moves made, the Hornets lineup changes a ton going into the next season. They’d have a starting lineup of Ball, Kennard, Martin Jr., Washington, and Williams. With a bench group of Bouknight, Martin, Osman, Craig, and Saric. Charlotte gets significantly worse with these moves, however, entering themselves into the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes is something they need to do. They’re not on a trajectory to compete anytime soon, so taking a year off to settle and get a top pick in a stacked class with a historically good prospect is the right move for their future. They may be in trouble now, but there’s a way to fix their future, and this is the way.