New Hornets braintrust reshapes roster with flurry of post-draft moves

New GM, coach lead to changes in Buzz City

Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak, right with James Borrego during the coach’s introductory press conference in May, traded away center Dwight Howard, has a deal in place to add point guard Tony Parker, and made several other moves in an effort to reshape the team for the 2018-19 season. (Photo courtesy of Charlotte Hornets)

With a new general manager and coach, the Charlotte Hornets were expected to have a roster makeover during the offseason. That process started shortly after the NBA Draft.

The biggest departure from the Hornets is center Dwight Howard. Exactly one year after the team acquired Howard in a trade with the Hawks, Charlotte dealt him away to the Brooklyn Nets.

Howard increased his scoring by more than three points, averaging 16.6 points per game with Charlotte last season, to go with 12.5 rebounds and 1.6 blocks.

Under new coach James Borrego, however, Howard would likely have seen a greatly reduced role on the team.

“With our new staff and new coach, we spent time talking and meeting, and the feeling was that coach wasn’t going to play the type of game that Dwight can really excel at and play a lot of minutes,” new GM Mitch Kupchak said in an interview with the team website at NBA Summer League. “The decision was made to try to make a move. We also were up against the tax, so we tried to use the space to bring in some other players.

The only piece that the Hornets received for Howard which remains in Charlotte’s possession is a 2021 second-round pick from the Nets. Charlotte also received Hamidou Diallo, selected by Brooklyn with the 45th pick in this year’s draft. The Hornets then sent Diallo to Oklahoma City for a 2019 second-round pick.

The Nets also sent Charlotte veteran center Timofey Mozgov, who averaged 4.2 points and 3.2 rebounds last season. Mozgov didn’t last long in Charlotte, however, as the Hornets flipped him in a three-team deal with Orlando and Chicago. Mozgov was sent to the Magic, while the Hornets received center Bismack Biyombo and two second-round picks — one in 2019 and one in 2020. The Hornets also sent Julyan Stone to the Bulls in the deal.

Stone averaged 0.8 points and 1.3 rebounds as a reserve shooting guard in 23 games with the Hornets this year.

Biyombo returns to the city where he started his NBA career. Drafted seventh overall by Sacramento in 2011, Charlotte acquired him in a draft-day deal. Biyombo played four seasons in Charlotte, averaging 4.4 points and 6.1 rebounds with the Bobcats and Hornets. He left as a free agent following the 2014-15 season.

“We didn’t have a player like Biyombo on the team,” Kupchak said in his Summer League interview. “Someone that can rebound like that, defend the paint, defend the rim. He’s not the perfect player, but there aren’t many perfect players, and we didn’t have a player like him.”

While the Hornets emerged from the Howard deal with a stack of future draft picks and Biyombo, the Nets bought out Howard’s contract for $5 million, putting the former All Star on waivers. Howard later signed with Washington.

That sequence of events raised the question of why the Hornets bothered to deal Howard away, rather than waiving him and getting cap relief that way.

Kupchak explained in his Summer League interview that the team saved about $7 million by trading Howard and acquired other assets that wouldn’t have come with a straight release.

“We ended up with four second-round picks,” he said. “Picks are very important going forward for us as a franchise. But the main reason, once again, was to create some space. We got an asset in Mozgov that allowed us to get picks and add flexibility to add players.”

With the cap flexibility that the Howard trade gave the team, Kupchak was able to come to an agreement with a veteran free agent who should help the team in the short term. Point guard Tony Parker agreed to leave the San Antonio Spurs, where he’s won four NBA titles in 17 years, and sign with the Hornets.

Parker will fill the role of backup point guard, behind Kemba Walker, while the team develops 2018 draft pick Devonte Graham for the future.

“We have an understanding with Tony Parker,” Kupchak said. “He would be a great addition to this club. We were looking for someone in the backcourt who can play 15 to 18 minutes a game. The bonus with him would be his presence in the locker room, his leadership, and his experience in terms of winning.”

As of right now, the team appears to be done dealing.

“(Parker) would be our 14th player,” Kupchak said, “and we want to go into the season with 14 players.”

Despite that, Kupchak will keep his eyes and ears peeled, in case an opportunity presents itself.

“There could be another deal tomorrow, or two months from now, or a year from now,” he said.