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Charlotte Hornets offseason preview: 4 moves team must make to return to the playoffs

For the second consecutive season, the Charlotte Hornets were blown out in the Eastern Conference play-in game.

This time, it came in a 29-point loss to the Atlanta Hawks with star forward Miles Bridges displaying the same frustration that had to be on the minds of every Hornets player.

Following a 43-39 regular season and their sixth consecutive non-playoff campaign, there are a few moves the Hornets must make in order to return to the postseason. We check in on those in previewing the Charlotte Hornets offseason.

Related: Top 2022 NBA free agents

Charlotte Hornets must add defensive stopper in NBA free agency

charlotte hornets sign robert covington
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Currently slated to be north of $18 million over the cap, Charlotte won’t be able to go big-game hunting in free agency. It is also going to have to potentially match a large contract offer from another team to impending restricted free agent Miles Bridges.

The good news? It does have the $10.62 million non-taxpayer mid-level exception to use. General manager Mitch Kupchak and Co. must use said exception on someone who provides elite-level defense.

Charlotte finished the regular season No. 20 in Sportsnaut’s NBA defensive rankings. It yielded a whopping 114.9 points per game. Los Angeles Clippers forward Robert Covington and Brooklyn Nets wing Bruce Browns are two players that could be within Charlotte’s price point.

Related: 2022 NBA mock draft, full 2 rounds

Charlotte Hornets add a big in the 2022 NBA Draft

charlotte hornets draft mark williams
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Slated to pick in the back end of the lottery once again, the Hornets need to go need over best-player available. They did not do that last June by selecting guard James Bouknight No. 11 overall. This isn’t to say Bouknight won’t be a good player moving forward. Rather, it’s all about need.

Mason Plumlee is a fine veteran center. But he’s not a game changer in the true sense of the word. Adding someone like former Memphis center Jalen Duren could make sense in the lottery. However, former Duke standout Mark Williams would be our selection. He excelled big time in the NCAA Tournament — averaging 3.2 blocks per game. That type of defensive presense in the low-post could help Williams make an instant impact as a rookie.

Related: Ideal Gordon Hayward trade scenarios from the Charlotte Hornets

Charlotte Hornets trade Gordon Hayward

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Dallas Mavericks
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Recent reports suggest that the injury-plagued Hayward could be looking for a change of scenery. From Charlotte’s perspective, this might actually work well for the team. They have fellow wing Kelly Oubre under contract for next season. And in reality, Oubre and Hayward provide pretty much the same thing on the court.

Set to count north of $62 million against the cap over the next two seasons, Hayward won’t be easy to move. In reality, Charlotte might be better served going with rotational pieces in a Hayward trade. Perhaps, the Dallas Mavericks make sense with Davis Bertans and a defensive-minded Dwight Powell being Charlotte’s targets in a hypothetical trade.

Charlotte Hornets re-sign Miles Bridges

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

A lottery pick back in 2018 out of Michigan State, the 24-year-old Bridges posted three ho-hum seasons to open his Hornets career before breaking out big time during the 2021-22 campaign. It’s going to lead the impending restricted free agent receiving a ton of interest this summer.

Short of another team offering Bridges a max contract, Charlotte has to do everything in its power to match any offer. Even if said offer comes in at north of $25 million annually, the Hornets simply can’t afford to lose their star young forward.