Hornets won't go 'big-game hunting' even if sold, GM says

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Charlotte Hornets aren't expected to be big spenders in free agency this summer even if Michael Jordan sells the team.

The Hornets are a projected $39 million under the NBA salary cap for next season -- which ranks in the top 10 in the league in terms of available spending money -- but the team plans to focus on re-signing its own players and adding others through the draft and "savvy trades," according to general manager Mitch Kupchak.

"Although we have a lot of financial flexibility, we don't typically go big-game hunting with our free agent money," Kupchak said Tuesday.

He added, "We're going to use that to sign back players."

The Hornets (27-55) finished with the fourth-worst record in the league, so they're guaranteed to pick somewhere between 1 and 8 depending on the outcome of the May 16 draft lottery. Charlotte has five draft picks in all, including two in the first round, although Kupchak indicated it's unlikely the team will use them all.

The Hornets haven't won a playoff series in more than two decades, and Jordan has been criticized at times by fans for not spending enough money to get big-name free agents.

Last month, Jordan's family office released a statement saying the six-time NBA champion is considering selling another portion of the team to Hornets minority owner Gabe Plotkin. While it's unclear if Jordan will give up his majority stake in the team, Kupchak indicated it is largely irrelevant in terms of the Hornets building process.

"Typically, the basketball operations [such as] players, contracts, who you draft and all that stuff doesn't really get affected by that," Kupchak said of a potential change in ownership.

Kupchak's first priority will be re-signing restricted free agent P.J. Washington, who appears to have nailed down the starting 4 spot after averaging 15.7 points.

Whether or not the team makes a move to bring back restricted free agent Miles Bridges remains to be seen.

Bridges was charged with three counts of domestic violence last summer, and although the case has since been settled the league is still looking into the matter and he could face disciplinary action. Kupchak said until the team hears from the league it's not going to act on Bridges, the team's leading scorer and rebounder in the 2021-22 season.

"Even when [the NBA] completes its investigation, there are going to be steps that need to be taken, whether it's from us or other teams," Kupchak said. "It looks like, for certain, that this is going to go over to July 1st. There was maybe some thought that us or somebody would sign him during the season, well, that's not possible."

The Hornets are coming off a 27-55 season, missing the playoffs for the seventh straight year -- the longest such streak in the league.

Bridges' absence and a rash of injuries to key players such as LaMelo Ball, who was limited to 36 games because of ankle issues, were a big reason the team didn't build on its 43-win season from a year ago. Charlotte finished the season with none of its opening night starters in the lineup.

But Kupchak said the injuries could serve as a "silver lining" because they allowed some of the team's younger players, including rookie center Mark Williams, to gain experience. Williams is expected to start again next season, Kupchak said.

The hope is players such as Williams, Nick Richards, Bryce McGowens, JT Thor and James Bouknight develop into starters, and the Hornets begin to build a winning franchise.

It may not be the fastest way to success, but Kupchak is confident it's the best way -- for now.

"Maybe one day we will get to the point where a marquee free agent would look at our team and we're winning a bunch of games and he'll say, 'Hey, that's a place I really want to go,'" Kupchak said. "But right now, I don't think that's realistic. We've got to do it through the draft primarily."