With the conclusion of the 2021-'22 NBA season, it's time to look ahead to the 2022-'23 season! This last season's Charlotte team is the most complete I have ever seen. For the second time since the team rebranded back to the Charlotte Hornets, the team finished with an above .500 record. However, as we move into a new season, I am concerned about whether we can replicate that again, much less consistently be an above .500 team.
For the next two years, possibly three, we have Lamelo Ball, who is easily the most talented player to come through the organization since I have been watching the team. Sorry, Kemba. If you could bet on Ball winning an NBA Championship at some point in his career, it'd be a safe bet. Securing him beyond his current contract would do wonders for the Hornets, and that is a real possibility come 2024.
Gordon Hayward is the highest-paid player on the team and will make just over $30m this upcoming season. However, since signing with the Hornets, he has only played in 57% of the regular-season games and has been decent when healthy. Not worthy of being the highest-paid on the team by any stretch of the imagination, but decent. By not resigning a 34-year-old Hayward in 2024 to a Top-35 contract, the team's cap space opens up tremendously.
The last time the Hornets had a player in the Top-25 highest paid was back in the 2017-2018 season when they went 36-46. Those two players were Dwight Howard, who made $23.8m and was the twenty-fourth highest-paid player that season, and Nicolas Batum, who made $24m and was the twenty-second highest-paid player that season.
That being said, when Lamelo becomes a free agent, the Hornets must figure out how to make him at least the fifteenth highest-paid player in the league. This last season, Anthony Davis of the LA Lakers was the fifteenth highest-paid player in the league making $35.4m. So you can't tell me that a Lamelo ball in his fifth season isn't going to be more valuable than what Anthony Davis is right now. Jordan is going to show his true colors as an owner. If Championship contention is what he's after, he will do whatever it takes to keep Ball around.
Lamelo has to be priority #1 for the Hornets. He's one of those talents that other talents will flock to for the sake of winning a championship. The Hornet's priority this offseason must be figuring out how to get Miles Bridges back on board. Earlier this year, he declined the Hornets' offer of $60m over the next four years, and I can't say I don't blame him. Multiple sources have stated that he expects at least $20m per year for four years. Last year he led the Hornets in points, had the second-most rebounds per game, and was third in assists. He's an asset to the team, and keeping the Bridges/Ball duo together could be super special in the long run. Charlotte has to build around the two by any means necessary.
I like Hayward and Rozier, but I also believe they are overpaid. Unfortunately, the Hornets tend to overpay who they expect to be their number one player. Shoot, we still have to pay Nic Batum $8.9m this upcoming season. That's more than what we're paying Lamelo and PJ.
The trend of superteams continues, but as the last two NBA Champions have taught us, it pays off to invest in the draft and keep your core around for the long haul. Unfortunately, Charlotte is not a big market compared to other NBA cities, so building a championship-caliber team through free agency is nearly impossible. That's why I still roll with Oklahoma City, but that's a story for another glass. In recent years, Charlotte has drafted well. Malik monk in 2017, SGA in 2018, PJ in 2019, Ball and Cary in 2020. I'll throw Bouknight in the mix though he's still yet to prove himself. All those picks are better than Kaminsky, MKG, and Zeller.
So, what exactly are my expectations for this season? First, we need to secure Bridges. That's the most essential item on the agenda. With two first-round picks in this year's draft, I fully expect one of them not to be a bust. Then, should Charlotte explore free agency, they need to make sure they don't sign away a lot of money to keep Bridges and Ball. As much as I'd like to see Russell Westbrook come to Charlotte, he's way too expensive. Mo Bamba might be a decent pickup.
I'm not going to make an official prediction on the season before free agency and the draft. But, if we can secure Bridges and pick up some good players through the draft, I fully expect the Hornets to sit comfortably in playoff contention. The bottom line, this offseason is pivotal to the Hornets' future success.