Revisiting the Belinelli decision

Published: December 4, 2011

I know it must seem like ages ago, but the last Hornets transaction happened just a little over five months ago when GM Dell Demps decided to extend a qualifying offer to shooting guard Marco Belinelli. The qualifying offer was for just under 3.4 million dollars and it gave the Hornets the right to match any offer made to Belinelli this offseason. Now that free agency is just five days away, and the whispers of who is going where are starting to get louder, it is only fair to ask whether or not the Hornets should have made this committment to Belinelli.

Prior to the lockout, there was legitimate concern (or hope) that the owners would impose a tighter cap while simultaneously rolling back existing contracts. Neither of those things happened, and consequently, the system structure for the 2011-12 season will be almost identical to the one we saw last year. I only bring this up because Belinelli’s offer might have been weighted differently if we were in a new system, but since we are not, it is fair to look back and find similar players and their respective salaries to see his true worth.

Last season, there were a couple of guys who were of similar age to Belinelli and were in a similar range with regard to their free agent class: Anthony Morrow and Randy Foye. Randy Foye got a 2 year, 8 million dollar deal with the Clippers, while Morrow got a 3 year, 12 million dollar deal with the Nets. So last year, the marketplace for somebody who has shown that they can be either a fringe starter or rotation reserve player at the shooting guard position was 4 million dollars. That seems about right.

The question then becomes not whether or not Belinelli is worth 3.4 million this year, but whether or not the Hornets would be better served using that money elsewhere. Currently they are about 16 million dollars under the salary cap, but keep in mind all of the cap holds that will not be removed until the Hornets renounce players Bird Rights. David West’s cap hold alone is nearly 12 million dollars, so the Hornets really don’t have any room to get a quality player until they figure out what they are going to do with him.

Let’s say that the Hornets give West a cap friendly deal that starts at eight million and they give up the Bird Rights to all of their remaining free agents, including Carl Landry. With minimum salary cap holds, the Hornets would be able to start a free agent at about 6 million per year. Given the new system, that would mean a max of about 4 years and 26 million dollars. If the Hornets could pull the Belinelli QO off the table, however, they would be able to give one of those guys a significantly better offer. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 4 years and 39 million dollars.

One of those offers can likely get you a player on the downside of his career like Jason Richardson, while the other one can get you an up-and-comer that has the potential to be a long term starter. Think Aaron Afflalo or Thaddeus Young. Or let’s say that West goes to Indiana and the Hornets go after one of the three A-list free agents in this year’s class. With Belly’s QO on the books and the subsequent cap holds, the Hornets would be able to start Nene, Gasol, or Chandler at 12.8 million, which is under the max offer for teams that do not have Bird Rights. Clear Belly off the books and the Hornets can make a max offer, with the hopes that the move can re-energize Paul and get him the second banana he is looking for. One of those guys and a Okafor-for-Iggy swap and the Hornets are looking at quite a formidable Big 3 of their own.

So the answer to the question ‘Is Belly worth 3.4 million’ really has multiple answers, and it all depends on what course the Hornets want to take this offseason. Will they rebuild or will they load up around Paul? And if it is the latter, how will they choose to fill out the roster around him; go for the home run or be satisfied with singles and doubles?


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