US Sports Veteran
The Charlotte Hornets got punched in the nose early by the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday night and never recovered. Indiana walked out of their home arena with a dominant 144-117 win that eliminated Charlotte from playoff contention. Now, the Hornets can prepare for an exciting offseason as Indiana plays a do-or-die game against Washington.
Charlotte went 33-39 and finished tenth in the Eastern Conference in James Borrego’s third year as head coach. The former San Antonio Spurs assistant is 105-144 during his time with the Hornets and hasn’t qualified for a full playoff series. Michael Jordan has a decision to make on the fourth and final year of Borrego’s contract and his long-term future with the team.
General manager Mitch Kupchak and Jordan have plenty of other decisions to make too. Bismack Biyombo and Cody Zeller, Charlotte’s two top centers, are unrestricted free agents. Meanwhile, guards Devonte’ Graham and Malik Monk are restricted free agents. It’s unlikely both three-point aces return next season.
There’s also the chance Charlotte offers Miles Bridges an extension. The former 12th overall pick hasn’t developed into a star yet, but he’s only 23 years old and coming off a promising campaign. This season, Bridges set career-highs from three-point range (40.0%), the free throw line (86.7%), and the field (50.3%).
“He’s been great at the free-throw line. He’s gotten to the rim. He’s been much more efficient at the rim,” Borrego said of Bridges. “You put it all together, he’s a much better player than we saw him at this time last year. He deserves a lot of credit.”
Borrego made several other glowing remarks about Bridges’ improvement throughout the 2020 season. The third-year Michigan St. product agrees that he grew significantly over the past few months.
“The game has slowed down for me a little bit. I mean, I’m three years in now, and I kind of know the NBA game,” Bridges said. “I just want to continue to get better and make the right plays for my team.”
The Hornets already picked up the fourth-year option on Bridges’ contract, ensuring he’ll stick around for another season. He becomes a restricted free agent in 2022.
Charlotte has one of the youngest teams in the NBA. While 31-year-old Gordon Hayward was arguably the team’s best player in 2020, he’s only one of four players on the roster over 27 years old. Three of those players, Biyombo, Brad Wanamaker, and Zeller, could leave in free agency.
The Terry Rozier experiment was a massive success over his first two years in Charlotte. Kupchak must feel excited to have the former Celtic paired with 19-year-old rookie phenom LaMelo Ball moving forward. Add in Bridges, Vernon Carey Jr., Graham or Monk, and P.J. Washington, and the Hornets have one of the best young cores in the league.
Kupchak should have over $30 million in cap space this offseason. He’ll likely target some new centers and find veteran role players to elevate his inexperienced roster.
Charlotte is an exciting up-and-coming team that should benefit from a normal offseason. However, the threat of stagnation looms larger than ever as Borrego and some of his players enter crucial stages of their careers.
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