Hornets remake roster with busy draft, free agency

Several in-state players were chosen in last week’s draft

Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak, center, stands with 2021 first-round picks Kai Jones, left, and James Bouknight at Friday's introductory news conference in Charlotte. (Nell Redmond / AP Photo)

The Charlotte Hornets had a busy NBA Draft night, and things haven’t slowed down much since as the team has embarked on an offseason makeover.

General manager Mitch Kupchak has been busy on the trade front, acquiring an extra first-round pick and a veteran big man on draft night, before continuing to deal as free agency opened.

The first domino to fall came when the Hornets were on the clock with their own pick, at No. 11 overall. The team chose guard James Bouknight.

The scorer was mocked as high as just outside the top five in some projections but fell to 11th. He averaged 18.7 points with 5.7 rebounds and made first-team All-Big East with Connecticut last year. His season was interrupted by an elbow injury.

“I just feel like I’m someone you can give the ball to and ask him to go get a basket,” Bouknight said. “I’m unique and creative. Just because of the situation I was in at UConn, I wasn’t fully able to showcase my playmaking ability and my versatility as a two-way guard. I feel like here with this young team and the talent that we have in this organization, I’ll be able to maximize my abilities and really show my full potential.”

He’ll pair with last year’s first-round pick, LaMelo Ball, to give the Hornets a dynamic young backcourt.

Kupchak was ready to move on from Ball’s backcourt mates from last season. The team didn’t qualify Malik Monk, making him an unrestricted free agent, and Charlotte negotiated a sign-and-trade deal Monday that sent guard Devonte’ Graham to New Orleans and reportedly netted the Hornets a 2022 lottery-protected first-round pick.

The Hornets also discussed a trade for Ball’s brother, Lonzo, with New Orleans, but the Pelicans instead shipped him to Chicago. Ball will need to settle for a potential reunion with his other brother, as Charlotte added LiAngelo Ball to its summer league roster.

Kupchak fielded plenty of offers for the 11th pick but waited until a little later to make a deal.

“We are very glad we stayed there and got the player we got,” he said of Bouknight.

Charlotte traded a future first-round pick to the Knicks to move into the No. 19 spot and took Texas center Kai Jones. The 6-foot-11 Jones was the Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year and averaged 8.8 points with 4.8 rebounds. He also hit nearly 40% of his 3-point attempts.

Jones only started playing organized basketball in high school and is still raw, which sets his ceiling higher than most college sixth men.

“My biggest strength is my versatility and ability to impact the game all around,” he said.

While Jones develops, the Hornets will have a veteran big man in front of him. Kupchak also acquired former Duke Blue Devils center Mason Plumlee in a draft night deal with the Pistons. He averaged 10.4 points and 9.3 boards last year with Detroit.

With two new big men, addressing one of the team’s biggest weaknesses in recent years, Charlotte will clear the contracts of departing free agent centers Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo.

The Hornets also added forward JT Thor from Auburn and Florida guard Scottie Lewis in the second round.

Around the state

Several other players with ties to North Carolina were on the move after draft night.

Trey Murphy, who played for Cary Academy before spending time in college at Rice and Virginia, was the first player from the state to get selected, getting drafted by Memphis with the No. 17 overall pick before being traded to New Orleans.

“He had a really good workout, shot the ball really well,” Pelicans general manager Trajan Langdon said. “Really gives effort defensively and can really shoot the ball — high-character kid with a high IQ coming from a really, really good program.”

Jalen Johnson, who opted out midway through his only season at Duke, will join Eastern Conference finalist Atlanta after the Hawks took him with the 20th pick in the first round.

“They’re a crazy young talented group,” Johnson said. “Like it’s so fun to watch. Trae (Young), he was a bucket the whole playoffs and he was just entertainment, pure entertainment. I’m excited to play with him, the other guys, Cam Reddish. It’s just a great young talented group. I feel myself fitting in just great there.”

Two other Blue Devils went undrafted but signed with NBA teams as free agents. Matthew Hurt joined the Houston Rockets on a two-way contract, while DJ Steward signed a training camp deal with the Sacramento Kings.

UNC one-and-done freshman center Day’Ron Sharpe was also taken in the first round. He was drafted with the No. 29 pick by Phoenix and dealt to the Nets.

Isaiah Todd, who played at Raleigh’s Word of God Christian Academy before becoming one of the first high school players to go pro in the G League, was selected with the first pick of the second round, going to Milwaukee with the No. 31 pick.