The Charlotte Hornets exceeded expectations in the 2020-21 season, led by new acquisitions Gordon Hayward and LaMelo Ball. The pairing joined a team that was on the up and up and took them to another level as the team made the play-in game.
While the year featured some mighty highs and some frustrating lows, the end result was an encouraging year. Ball fit seamlessly onto the court and into the franchise, changing the outlook of the team’s future in the progress.
The success of the season does lead to some interesting and difficult questions facing the franchise heading into as an important an offseason as Charlotte has had possibly ever.
Here’s a look at the five biggest questions for the Hornets this summer.
Devonte' Graham or Malik Monk?
The first question surrounds which guard to retain between Devonte' Graham and Malik Monk. While it's possible both are brought back, with Ball and Terry Rozier under contract, there is likely only room for one more guard on the salary the pair will dictate. There is an argument to be made to trade Rozier with his value at it's highest, but it's a very unlikely scenario. Therefore, the Hornets front office will need to decide whether to retain Graham, a point guard that exemplifies the player development system of the franchise but has his limitations, or Monk, the microwave scorer that finally began to make good on his potential this season.
Who is the answer at center?
The Hornets managed their way through the season with a mix-and-match answer at center. Some nights it was Cody Zeller, some nights it was Bismack Biyombo, rookie Vernon Carey made a cameo and P.J. Washington played a good chunk of his season at the five. With Zeller and Biyombo unrestricted free agents and Carey not yet ready to contribute, the team clearly needs an answer at center. There are a couple of intriguing free agent names like Richaun Holmes or Nerlens Noel that could be signed. There are a number of players that could be had via trade with the many assets the Hornets have. There are also a number of prospects in the draft that could be solutions. Whatever it is, it's the biggest area of weakness on the Hornets roster entering the summer and an area they will certain address.
How to build around LaMelo Ball?
The front office is ready to build a roster around its young star in Ball, but what would that type of roster look like. Shooters will be needed, like Rozier and Graham or Monk. Wings are also at a premium across the league and the Hornets have a pair in Hayward and Jalen McDaniels. Secondary playmakers around Ball also would be helpful, which the team has an abundance of in Rozier, Graham/Monk and Hayward. The team also has a spacing big man in Washington that can pick and pop. An athletic big man that can be a threat rolling to the rim would complement Ball well. The Hornets do not have that, as noted in the previous question. Identifying what pieces fit around Ball and acquiring them will be the team's challenge.
How to use the nearly $30 million in cap space?
The Hornets will head into the summer with the ability to create nearly $30 in cap space. Rozier will be extension eligible this offseason as will Bridges. The latter will start a cycle of extensions for the team's string of first round picks. Effectively, then, this will be one of the last times this iteration of the Hornets can add significant talent from outside their roster not through trade. How will the team use that cap space, then, to fill its holes?
How will the team make the jump to the next level?
Charlotte made a jump from lottery team to fringe playoff side. Now, the challenge is to become a consistent playoff side. That jump is a more difficult one and the team will need to make the right moves to pull it off. It's a challenging job for any front office, but the Hornets are one of the handful of teams that have a general manager that has won a title in his role before.