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Charlotte Hornets

Hornets mailbag: Why picking up Malik Monk’s $5.3 million option made sense

 

Two-plus seasons into his NBA career, former lottery pick Malik Monk has yet to start an NBA game. Barring major injuries, there’s no reason to assume that will change anytime soon.

Despite his underwhelming NBA résumé, the Charlotte Hornets chose Friday to exercise a rookie-scale contract option, guaranteeing Monk about $5.3 million for next season. Some fans asked me if that’s wise.

That leads your questions for this week’s Hornets mailbag:

Why pick up Malik Monk’s option?

Obviously, Monk — the 11th overall pick in the 2017 draft — has been a disappointment so far. That he is playing behind Dwayne Bacon, the second-round pick from the same draft, says as much about what Monk has failed to provide as it does about Bacon’s improvement.

But deciding whether to exercise a one-year contract option is about more than just a judgment on the player. It’s about circumstance, it’s about cost. And in this case, it’s about potential trade value.

A $5.3 million guarantee isn’t a huge price to kick the can down the road, particularly with the Hornets in rebuild mode and with the player payroll lightening considerably after this season. General manager Mitch Kupchak has said they won’t be in the free-agent market in the summer of 2020, regardless of cap space.

Also — and potentially this is important — ESPN front-office insider Bobby Marks advised me Monk would have more trade value with next season locked in than he would had the Hornets not exercised the option.

While it might be hard for rookie P.J. Washington to keep up this pace, what do you see his stats ending up this season?

Washington followed up a 27-point debut with a 10-point, 10-rebound double-double against the Minnesota Timberwolves. This demonstrates the different ways Washington is already contributing.

He makes 3s, he posts up. He rebounds productively. He can guard all three frontcourt positions. Nic Batrum put it well when he described Washington as the “21st century” NBA power forward.

He’s going to have setbacks — all rookies do, particularly as the scouting catches up to their skill sets, and defenses become more attuned to what to limit. By season’s end, if he averages 15 points, shoots 43 percent from the field and 35 percent from 3-point range, and averages six rebounds, he has had a terrific rookie season.

Is it worth my time to watch another Hornets game this season?

I don’t know what your time is worth, but put it this way: If you only view entertainment value based on whether your team wins or loses, it’s going to be hard for the Hornets to make you happy.

However, if you affix your expectations to a team committed to youth, a fast tempo and taking a lot of 3s, they’re sure worth stopping for a quarter or two when you’re channel-surfing.

How sustainable do you think this style of play is?

I don’t think they’ll frequently take 44 3s, as they did in the opener. That was partially a function of how poorly the Chicago Bulls got out defensively on the shooters.

But the coaches constantly reminded the players over the summer and throughout training camp of the math: That a 3-pointer and a shot at the rim are the most productive ones and that a mid-range shot sure isn’t.

This is the direction of the league as a whole, and coach James Borrego is a big believer in consciousness of shot value.

Should the Hornets look to acquire a young center prospect this season, given they don’t play Willy Hernangomez or Bismack Biyombo?

Biyombo started Friday against the Timberwolves, but that was as a fill-in for Cody Zeller, who missed the game with an excused personal absence. Neither Biyombo nor Hernangomez played in the opener.

The answer to this question is as much what the Hornets can do as what they should do. They are a bad, expensive team that will not pay luxury tax this season. So there isn’t a lot of salary-cap flexibility to pursue a young center right now.

I think eventually you will see Washington play some small-ball center. He’s obviously not ideal center height at 6-7, but there are matchups he can handle.

Can fans expect the Hornets to trade Biyombo, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Hernangomez at any point this season?

Biyombo makes $17 million this season and Kidd-Gilchrist makes $13 million. I doubt other teams would see acquiring those salaries as appealing, relative to what they would provide off the bench. It’s quite possible that letting those contracts expire at the end of this season would be more beneficial to the Hornets than taking on contracts off other roster if they extend beyond this season.

Hernangomez is different, in that he makes $1.7 million this season, the last on his contract. So if another team wanted to give him an extended audition, it wouldn’t be hard to fit him onto a payroll. If the Hornets could get back a second-round pick without taking back salary, I’d think they would listen.

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