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

Published: June 30, 2010

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

In Part One we took a look at some players that the Hornets might try to pursue via their numerous trade exemptions. Now we will turn to some possible free agents that the Hornets can choose to target when free agency opens up on July 1st.

While fans all over the country are obsessed with the thought of their favorite team landing LeBron James or Dwayne Wade, Hornets fans probably need to be more realistic with regards to their expectations. Even with the trade of Morris Peterson, the Hornets are right at the proposed luxury tax line and are in danger of going over it with any new acquisitions. That is not to say, however, that the luxury tax will govern all of the moves The Hornets make- Nor am I implying that this franchise will avoid paying the luxury tax at all costs. Instead, the logic is that if they can produce a similar product for a fraction of the cost, then that is just good business sense.

For this reason, players that Brendan Haywood and John Salmons will not appear on this list. While both would fill a need for the Hornets next year, their price tag just would not make sense to a team that is much more than a Hayward or a Salmons away from being a serious contender. Instead, what the Hornets will try to do is get similar players on much smaller and much shorter deals to fill in certain gaps.

Much of this appears to be driven by the upcoming Collective Bargaining Negotiations. I won’t go into heavy detail in this piece (since this can be a 5-part article in and of itself), but many GM’s and owners believe that this will be the last NBA season in which there is no hard cap in place. Once a hard cap is in place and maximum contracts are reduced (some think by 30-40 percent), salaries are expected to go way down.  It could be that in the future, seven million dollar per year deals will be reserved for the Joe Johnson’s of the NBA, not for guys like John Salmons.

The Hornets want to maintain as much flexibility as possible going into the next CBA and yet they still want to put a competitive unit on the floor this upcoming season. Here is a list of players who could help them accomplish both of those goals:

7. (Tie) Roger Mason, Larry Hughes, Ronald Murray, and Jarvis Hayes

Cost: 1 year/vet’s minimum- 2 million
I know it is a bit of a cop-out to bunch these guys together, but that is exactly how they should be viewed. All four have obvious strengths, as well as glaring weaknesses, but they are each capable of spelling Thornton for 20 minutes per game. Hughes might be the best fit out of the group due to his defensive potential when he is motivated, but you wonder if his ego would allow him to take the veteran’s minimum.

6. Johan Petro

Cost: 1-4 years/ 1.5-3 million per year
It is hard to figure what the market for Petro will be right now. He is a legit seven footer that has looked serviceable and is only 24 years old. In the past, that could get a guy 8 mil per season. More than likely, though, Petro will come with a moderate price tag, especially if he is all but assured a spot in the rotation. With Aaron Gray the only seven footer on the team and Okafor always a trade possibility, New Orleans could look like an attractive landing spot for Petro.

5. Raja Bell

Cost: 1 year/ 2-3 million
Of all the guys on this list, Raja might be the hardest to get since he figures to have several suitors. The Lakers are already said to be interested in him, as are several other contending teams. If those teams look elsewhere, however, Bell could be a perfect fit in New Orleans. His ability to guard out on the perimeter will be huge to a team that had problems with perimeter defense last year, and his three point shooting will help spread the floor on the other end. He would be a one-year rental at best, but that one year could be huge as he can mentor Thornton much in the same way PJ mentored West.

4. Rasual Butler

Cost: 1 year/2-3 million
One year after letting him go, is it possible New Orleans can welcome ‘Sual Bop back? Why not? He loves the city, has friends on the team, and could fill the spot Mo Pete just vacated at less than half the price.

3. Louis Amundson

Cost: 2-4 years /2-4 million per year
Many would argue that the last thing the Hornets need on this roster is another undersized player on the frontline, and while I would agree in 99 percent of the cases, I would make an exception with Amundson. Along with height, the other thing missing on the Hornets front line was passion, purpose, and pride- all things that Amundson has in abundance. Even with his lack of height, Amundson averages 4 offensive rebounds per 40 and 12 total rebounds/40 minutes. He is an infectious player who would fit perfectly with our second unit and could give us an element we have been missing since The Birdman flew the coup.

2. (Tie)Ronnie Brewer/Tracy McGrady

Cost: 1 year/ 2-4 million
Again, another cop-out but let me explain. It is very likely that both of these players are ignored by teams this summer as higher profile guys are targeted. At this point, they could each opt to look for a place where playing time and even a starting job are available, so that they could boost their stock for the much weaker free agency class of 2011. Enter New Orleans. With a strong desire to have Thornton as our bench assassin, we could offer either of these players a starting spot with the hopes that they shine in a contract year. Brewer would be the preferred choice, but McGrady is intriguing as well. While he looked awful at times in New York last season, it could be a different story if he only had to play 20-25 minutes a night and he got to run with the best PG in the world. It worked for Grant Hill, right?

1. Ian Mahinmi

Cost: 2-4 years/ 1.5-3 mil per year
Who? Seriously…who? I’ve at least heard of all the other guys before- this is the guy you put #1 on our free agent target list? Look, I understand. Other fan bases are talking about LeBron or Bosh- heck at the very least Jermaine O’Neal, and I just gave you a list where I put Ian Mahinmi as the #1 target this summer. But remember, I am not saying he is the best player or even the best player we can possibly get. I am saying that we should look at all the factors- need, supply/demand, cost, the future CBA, what is available on the trade market, etc. etc. When all those things are factored in, I place the seven-foot, 23 year old center that can be had for a moderate price at the top of the list. He is extremely athletic and defensive minded, with room to grow. The fact is that we can fill our other needs in a multitude of ways, but athletic big men are rarely available, so if you can get one this cheap, then you have to believe in your coach and your organization to develop him. Mahinmi won’t grab any headlines, but if we lock him in at a cheap price for the next few years, it is the equivalent of having another 1st round pick in this year’s draft, where some guys like Ekpe Udoh and Wesley Johnson are the same age.

Other cheap possibilities:

DJ Mbenga, Hakim Warrick, Joe Smith, Keith Bogans, Randolph Morris, Joey Graham, Antoine Wright

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