An In Depth Look at Free Agent Targets (Part I)

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Published: June 29, 2010

((The following is a guest post from Michael McNamara, aka loveforhornets))

Before the Hornets sent Mo Pete to OKC on Draft Night, it would have been pointless to write an article on possible free agent targets for the Hornets because it just wouldn’t have been an option for them.  With New Orleans already several million dollars over the luxury tax, any player that they would have signed would have actually cost double what his contract was. This would have left the Hornets with only one option- fill the remainder of the roster with minimum players; guys like Sean Marks.

However, now that Mo Pete has been moved, the Hornets have the flexibility to explore the free agent market and/or use some of the trade exemptions that they compiled last year. Assuming the Hornets offer Aaron Gray his restricted tender and sign the  two rookies, they will be right at the luxury tax line and have twelve guys on the roster, leaving them with two to three spots to fill. While it is true that any free agent signing will put us back over the luxury tax line, the team believes it will be able to dump some of our expiring contracts onto other teams, either in the offseason or at the trade deadline, in order to get back under the tax threshold. The two most likely candidates for such a transaction would be Julian Wright and Darius Songalia. Combined, the two are scheduled to make a little over 7.5 million dollars this year. Therefore, if the Hornets are confident they can get someone to take on these contracts at some point this year, the Hornets will be able to spend a nearly seven million dollars on free agents this summer without becoming a luxury tax team.

Of course trades are always an option, but those possibilities are endless. Instead, let’s focus on players that might be available by using the Mid-level Exemption in free agency or by using one of many trade exemptions available to us this summer. The MLE allows a team to sign a player off with a starting salary of about 6.5 million this year – or the team could choose to split their MLE up and give it to multiple players. Alternatively,  trade exemptions allow the Hornets to consummate a trade with another team without having to give anything back in return.   The Hornets biggest trade exemption is only for 4 million dollars, so they cannot take on a player with a 2010-2011 salary higher than this if they go that route.

The next thing the Hornets have to consider is need. For a team that was so poor in rebounding and shot-blocking, the primary focus has to be another big body who can come in and make a difference on the defensive end and the glass. Going with the assumption that Songalia will be moved, that leaves the Hornets with a four man rotation of West, Brackins, Okafor, and Gray. Of course Posey can slide to four, but that does nothing to solve either issue. What is needed is a long, athletic big who can guard the paint and successfully spell Emeka.

Shooting guard is also a need for the Hornets, as they could use somebody who can spell Thornton for twenty minutes a game, whether as a starter or someone coming off the bench. Ideally the guy would be a good wing defender who can give the Hornets a whole new element at shooting guard. Someone who can step in and slow down a Kobe Bryant or a Manu Ginobli if he starts to get hot. Tony Allen, for instance, filled this role with Boston and was therefore a perfect compliment to the streaky Ray Allen. The Hornets need to find their own Tony Allen.

In Part One we will focus on targets that the Hornets can get with their trade exemptions, of which they have four- ranging from $600,000 to 4,000,000.  They cannot combine these exemptions, so every player they target has to be making a salary under 4 million and frankly most guys under that figure are either garbage that wouldn’t get in the rotation or guys on rookie contracts that are way too valuable for teams to give up. What the Hornets have to look for are role players that can fit with the team and a team that is willing to dump that cheap player for nothing in return- either to clear cap room or to open up a spot for someone else in their rotation. Here are some possible targets, ranked from least attractive to most attractive:

7. Marco Bellinelli

Contract: 1 years/ 2.3 million (team option for 2nd year)
Toronto doesn’t have much use for him with the emergence of Sonny Weems and DeMar DeRozen and they will be looking to dump salaries this summer. Bellinelli is a nice offensive player but lacks the defensive capabilities to compliment Thornton.

6. Willie Green

Contract: 1 year/ 3.9 million
Philadelphia has no use whatsoever for Green and would love to dump him. They might even be willing to give some cash and/or 2nd rounder’s to move him. He is a grizzled vet who is capable of being a quality defensive player and has a high basketball IQ. He is a liability offensively and wouldn’t be able to be on the court at the same time as JuJu or Pondexter, but he could compliment Peja or Posey well.

5. Maurice Evans

Contract: 1 year/ 2.5 million
Atlanta is another team looking to dump salary and they just drafted Jordan Crawford, so Evans would seem like the perfect guy to dump. Like Bellinelli he is far more skilled offensively than defensively, but he is capable of getting into passing lanes and being disruptive on the defensive end. Evans is better off the bench, meaning Thornton would have to start, but something tells me Monty could get a lot out of a guy like Evans.

4. Kosta Koufos

Contract: 1 year, 1.98 million (team options for years 2,3)
The Jazz do not want to be a tax team and if they re-sign Fesenko and Boozer that is exactly what they will be, so they will look to cut costs wherever they can. Koufos is still a project, but he is a young cheap seven footer and is worth the risk. He could become a nice pick and pop player and defensively he has six fouls to give.

3. Chris Wilcox

Contract: 1 year/3 million
Wilcox almost became a Hornet in 2009 in the infamous Tyson Chandler swap, and although it appeared to be just a salary dump, Bower had some nice words to say about him at the time. While he would be an undersized center, he would give us some much needed athletisicm at the position and could give us a poor man’s version of the CCC.

2. Courtney Lee

Contract: 1 year/1.35 million (team options for years 2,3)
Depending on what the Nets want to do in free agency, they might dump a lot of players that don’t fit into their plans. Last week they moved CDR for a 2012 2nd rounder, and Lee could be next to open playing time for Terrence Williams, Damion James, and perhaps LeBron or Rudy Gay. Lee showed some great flashes in Orlando and could provide a great compliment to Thornton- offering some more size at the 2 guard position at a really cheap price.

1. Dhantay Jones

Contract: 3 years/ 8.1 million (starting at 2.5)
Some love him, and some hate him- but count me as a Lover. Jones played this role before- a defensive minded starter who only played 18 to 20 minutes a night and then gave way to a talented offensive player. In Denver, he and JR Smith were an ideal combo when Smith’s head was right. Dhantay would be physical and cover the team’s best wing before giving way to Smith. If Smith was off that night or if another team’s 2 guard was on fire, Jones would play more. If Smith was on however, Dhantay would be fine cheering on from the bench. Thornton is streaky and will have both kinds of nights, and in either instance Dhantay will be the perfect compliment. Indy is loaded on the wings and is looking to move all long term deals to make a run in the 2011 offseason and Dhantay would be a perfect fit here. Yes, like Bruce Bowen all fans of the 29 other teams hate the guy, but if he is on your team, you will love to have him.

Part II- Free Agent Targets (coming soon)

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