After two years of being a play-in tournament team, the Charlotte Hornets had a season to forget during the 2022-23 season. As a result, the Hornets must nail their offseason moves, including free-agent acquisitions, to at least go back to where they were before a disastrous season.
Of course, bringing in Brandon Miller sticks out as the Hornets’ biggest offseason move, albeit he doesn’t count for this exercise. With the Hornets opting toward youth, a boring free agency period became unavoidable for a franchise that isn’t known for luring big free players.
That is not to imply that the Hornets did not make any significant changes. They inked franchise cornerstone LaMelo Ball to a five-year contract extension worth up to $260 million. In addition, despite the uproar, they re-signed Miles Bridges, a vital element of their 43-win 2021-22 club, after the much-maligned highflyer signed the qualifying offer of $7.9 million.
The Hornets may not be finished making moves just yet, as they will have to deal with PJ Washington’s restricted free agency in the coming weeks. But, for the time being, how have the Hornets fared in their free agency maneuverings?
Here are the grades for the Hornets’ main free agency moves in 2023 thus far.
Hornets free agency grades
Extending LaMelo Ball to a five-year, $260 million contract: A
A player of LaMelo Ball’s quality does not come to Charlotte very frequently. When was the last time the Hornets had a 21-year-old floor general who is as deadly a three-point shooter as he is as dangerous as a playmaker? Maybe Kemba Walker? Walker was 24 years old by the time he entered Year 4.
As a result, the Hornets needed to keep a player of Ball’s caliber whenever they selected one in the draft. This rookie extension is a major win in and of itself, as allowing Ball’s contract predicament to linger without resolution may have strained relations between the two parties.
The question now is whether LaMelo Ball is worth a contract for up to $52 million per year on average, which is incredible money even with the rising pay cap. And his statistical progression suggests he won’t be a financial burden on the Hornets’ books very soon.
Despite suffering one ankle ailment after another last season, Ball averaged 23.3 points and 8.4 assists, both career highs for the fledgling Hornets floor general. Beyond that, his development as a dangerous pull-up threat bodes well for his ascension to superstardom in today’s NBA.
Last season, Ball attempted a career-high 10.6 three-point attempts per game and hit 4 of them, good for 37.6 percent. While that figure does not rank him among the elites, the sheer difficulty of his shots in terms of opponent contest and range makes that kind of output exceptional.
With more talent and space to work with, as Brandon Miller and Miles Bridges make his life easier on the offensive end, it’s not a reach to imagine that Ball could threaten to average 24-10 next season, especially as he recovers from his knee troubles.
Ball’s defense could use some improvement, but he already has something that few guards have: outstanding size for his position. Ball is a matchup nightmare at 6’7. All he needs to do is put in more effort, prioritize positioning over defensive stats, and be a more stifling presence at the point of attack. But all signs lead to Ball’s meteoric rise, and happily for the Hornets, his services will be available for at least the next six seasons.
Miles Bridges has accepted the qualifying offer: B-
If Miles Bridges had not entered with any baggage, this would have been rated higher, as the Hornets would almost surely have offered him a long-term extension if he had avoided controversy. Bridges, on the other hand, did not, resulting in a year-long absence from the NBA. He is now back with the Hornets on a prove-it, one-year deal after accepting the qualifying offer.
Make no mistake, Bridges will be a valuable addition to the Hornets, enhancing their on-court product tenfold. He averaged 20.1 points in his last season, and his ability to score from all three levels will be a godsend to a squad that had the league’s worst offense last season.
However, Miles Bridges’ off-court activities leave a terrible taste in the mouth. Is Bridges deserving of a second chance? Perhaps. By all means, as long as he’s committed to not repeating his mistakes and demonstrates genuine sorrow for his prior offenses.
However, a one-year deal appears to be a no-win situation for the Hornets, even if they do retain Bridges’ Bird rights in the process. Bridges will earn a large contract in free agency next year if he performs well, and he can sign with any team he wants. And if he doesn’t, the Hornets have created unnecessary controversy for themselves, even though they can easily cut him if he proves to be too much of a nuisance.
When you consider all Bridges will contribute to the Hornets next season, a B- seems fair.