The Charlotte Hornets biggest move this offseason has been the sale of the team by Michael Jordan to a group led by Gabe Plotkin and Rick Schnall. With an ownership change looming over everything this summer, Charlotte chose to mostly stay the course. Their biggest decision was what to do with the second overall pick, ultimately choosing Brandon Miller out of Alabama, and they have otherwise had a quiet offseason aside from re-signing their franchise centerpiece, LaMelo Ball, long-term.
The Hornets have not made any outside signings or trades this summer, choosing to keep their team mostly intact from last year, with the addition of some youngsters, and will use this upcoming season as a chance to see who fits around Ball before some potential larger changes to the roster and organizational structure under the new ownership group. Here, we’ll take stock of their summer so far, handing out grades for their Draft, free agency signings and contract extensions, and work on the trade market.
The Hornets made a pair of selections in the first round of the 2023 NBA Draft, taking Brandon Miller at No. 2 overall and adding Nick Smith Jr. at No. 27 overall. Miller’s selection was the more controversial of the two, as taking him meant passing on Scoot Henderson, but the Hornets deemed Miller to be the better fit for how they want to build their roster around LaMelo Ball. While understandable, that tends to knock a grade down a bit when you take fit over best player available — although there were some who rated Miller second on their big board. Miller will provide the Hornets with a shooter and scorer with size alongside Ball, while Smith Jr. offers upside at guard after a bit of a down year at Arkansas battling through injury. On Draft night, our Brad Rowland gave them a B- for Miller and B+ for Smith Jr., with the following explanations for those grades.
It isn’t a surprise to see Miller come off the board at No. 2 overall, but Scoot Henderson is the better prospect, which knocks Charlotte’s grade down a bit. With that said, Miller is a worthy No. 2 overall choice in most drafts with a combination of size and shooting that provides a strong median outcome.
Smith Jr. falling this far would’ve been quite shocking before the season. He struggled, at least relatively, at Arkansas with injury and performance, but the talent is there as a natural creator. Charlotte may not be the perfect place for that skill to blossom, but it’s a good value here.
Free Agency/Contract Extensions: B+
Inking LaMelo Ball to a max extension this summer was a no-brainer, particularly once they made clear their commitment to him in the Draft by taking Miller over Henderson. Ball made the All-Star team as a second-year player and improved across just about every category in his limited playing time a year ago. Provided he’s fully healed from the ankle woes that plagued him last year, he’s worthy of the rookie max and is clearly Charlotte’s franchise player.
The other signing made by the Hornets this summer was more controversial, as Miles Bridges accepted the qualifying offer after not being able to find the long-term deal he wanted (in Charlotte or anywhere else). Bridges will be suspended to start the season after missing all of last year following a domestic violence incident to which he pleaded no contest. Him taking the steps needed to show remorse and begin making amends for that supersedes anything on the court when it comes to re-establishing himself in the league. There’s no doubt the Hornets missed Bridges’ presence on the floor last year, but by only extending the one-year qualifying offer they showed they’re not willing to invest in him fully until he takes the necessary steps over this next year off the court.
There is still one lingering question for the Hornets this summer, and that is what to do about restricted free agent PJ Washington. The big man has not found much of a market and is in a holding pattern as the few teams that could offer him a deal outside of Charlotte are still holding out to see if their cap space is needed to help facilitate one of the blockbuster trades. Meanwhile, the Hornets don’t seem too inclined to give him the deal he’s seeking (as, if they were, that would be done). It’ll be interesting to see whether they’re just refusing to bid against themselves and are just waiting for someone to make an offer sheet, or if they’d be fine letting him walk. Either way, Washington is still left playing the waiting game.
The Hornets have not been involved in the trade market this summer, choosing to keep things pretty quiet amid an ownership change. They’ll be, effectively, running it back from last year, just with Bridges back on the roster and their two first round picks entering the rotation, as this figures to be an evaluation year before possibly making bigger moves next summer to try and build a more cohesive roster around Ball and company.