Michael Kidd-Gilchrist exercising option ensures Hornets have to hit luxury tax to re-sign Kemba Walker

Ben WeinribYahoo Sports Contributor
Yahoo Sports

The Charlotte Hornets always knew it would be expensive to re-sign star point guard Kemba Walker, but now it’s setting in how costly it truly will be.

After Marvin Williams exercised his $15 million player option a week ago, fellow forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will reportedly use his $13 million player option on Wednesday. This means that in order to re-sign the franchise’s best player, the Hornets will have to hit the luxury tax for the first time ever.

Since taking over as the majority owner of the Bobcats/Hornets in February 2010, Jordan has been adamant about the team not going over the luxury tax unless they were a consistent playoff team. While that hasn’t happened yet — they last reached the postseason in 2016 — Jordan may have to break his own rule to keep Kemba around.

How did the Hornets’ cap situation get so bad?

The Hornets haven’t been a playoff team in years, but it’s not for a lack of trying. The team has spent right up to the luxury tax the last two seasons with $121.4 million last season ($123.7 million luxury tax) and $117.4 million the year before ($119.3 million luxury tax).

Charlotte took a big swing for the fences in 2015 when they traded their previous lottery pick, Noah Vonleh, for Nicolas Batum. After a strong first season in Charlotte, they rewarded him with a max five-year, $120 million contract in an offseason when the cap had its biggest jump in years. In short, Batum hasn’t been the same since.

The Hornets have given out plenty of other questionable contracts too. They have $85 million committed next season to Batum, Kidd-Gilchrist, Williams, Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo — a group that averaged just 40.6 points per game last season. Kidd-Gilchrist, in particular, has not lived up to his promise as a former No. 2 pick with just two seasons of double-digit scoring averages.

The good news for Charlotte is that $45 million of that group will come off the books next season. It won’t give the Hornets enough space to sign a second max player, but it would give the team a chance to have more flexibility and likely get back under the luxury tax.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (right) will return for at least one more season with the Hornets. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (right) will return for at least one more season with the Hornets. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Will Kemba come back to send the team over the luxury tax?

Of course, none of this discussion about the luxury tax matters if Walker leaves the Queen City. He’ll have no shortage of suitors, including his hometown New York Knicks, the Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Lakers, who want him to be their third star.

Walker has long said that he wants to stay in Charlotte, even saying that he would take a discount to stay in teal and purple if it helps them build a contender. But there’s a difference between taking a discount to add a key player and taking a discount to save MJ some tax dollars.

Assuming the Hornets roster their players at pick Nos. 12, 36 and 52, they would be about $9 million over the cap if he signed for the full supermax. It seems like a big ask for Walker to go from making $44 million to $35 million just because, but it’s worth noting that other teams can only offer him $140 million over four years.

The Hornets do have other options to avoid the luxury tax. They can try to find a trade to clear salary by attaching a pick or even stretch a bad contract. But there’s no avoiding the fact that the Hornets are in a tough position in choosing between letting their star go and being locked into giant contracts with a middling team.

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