What could Miles Bridges’ next contract look like?

The Hornets” leading scorer is set to be an unrestricted free agent

Hornets forward Miles Bridges has averaged 21.5 points and 7.4 rebounds through 46 games this season. (Nell Redmond / AP Photo)

CHARLOTTE — As the Charlotte Hornets begin the final stretch of their season with a renewed energy following a series of moves at the trade deadline, the franchise faces a familiar and recurring question: How should it handle Miles Bridges and his expiring contract?

Back on July 2, 2023, the team signed Bridges to a one-year, $8 million qualifying offer.

A year prior, he was coming off a career-best season and just one day away from receiving a contract in the range of $150 million when negotiations were shut down by his felony domestic violence arrest and eventual plea of no contest that led to him missing the entire 2022-2023 season.

Fast-forward to the present and the Hornets again have to make a decision on their star forward and leading scorer.

It’s possible the 25-year-old is moved as a free agent this offseason. At this point, however, it’s just as likely — if not more — that he is signed by Charlotte to a multiyear contract.

With Bridge’s Larry Bird rights — a CBA mechanism that allows teams to exceed the salary cap to keep their own players — the Hornets could attempt to re-sign him and pay him anything up to his max as a free agent.

While they could potentially sign and trade him elsewhere, other teams are limited to whatever cap space they have or a possible cap exception.

Because of this factor and the trade veto power he had in his deal, Bridges used his contract clause to stay in Charlotte at the trade deadline, stating his intentions that he wanted to remain with the Hornets.

In a recent postgame interview, he was asked if wanted to stay in the Queen City going forward.

“I can just control what I can control. I’m just trying to get to the next day,” Bridges said. “I’d love to be here. I got drafted here and they stuck with me through my lowest times, so I for sure want to be here.”

In his first 46 contests this year, Bridges averaged a career-high 21.5 points. He recorded back-to-back 40-point games earlier this month for the Hornets, who have a 15-43 record but have won five of their past seven games. Aside from his scoring abilities, the former Michigan State star is averaging career-highs in minutes (37.3), rebounds (7.4) and steals (1.1).

Off the court, Bridges’ legal troubles are starting to dissipate. On Feb. 14, a prosecutor dismissed three criminal charges connected to a separate domestic violence case against Bridges because of “insufficient evidence” and inconsistent victim statements, court documents show. The team declined to comment on the dropped charges.

The Hornets are now in a position where new majority owners Rick Schnall and Gabe Plotkin can sign Bridges to a new contract if they see him being in the team’s future. Charlotte, however, is yet to hire a replacement for general manager Mitch Kupchak, so it’s unclear what direction a new GM will take with the roster.

Multiple league outlets have estimated that Bridges could receive a $100 million contract in the offseason.

Given Charlotte’s decision at the trade deadline to part with Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward and PJ Washington in exchange for a new cast of bench pieces, the team’s management seemingly chose LaMelo Ball and Brandon Miller as key pieces to build around.

Keeping Bridges would give the Hornets a formidable trio to build around as they try to return to the postseason for the first time since 2016.

“His effort every night he plays is remarkable,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said of Bridges in a recent press conference. “This guy has always played minutes. He’s playing 38, 39 minutes every night. He plays the whole first quarter, the whole third, and he gets like three and a half minutes of rest in the fourth and the second. That’s it. And yet, he never asks to come out, and he plays every dribble. There just aren’t many guys who can do what he’s doing.”