Hornets mailbag: Free agents, Kelly Oubre’s status and more

Injured Charlotte Hornets forward Kelly Oubre Jr., left, jokes with center Nick Richards, right, prior to the team’s game against the Boston Celtics at Spectrum Center in Charlotte, NC on Monday, January 16, 2023.

Injured Charlotte Hornets forward Kelly Oubre Jr., left, jokes with center Nick Richards, right, prior to the team’s game against the Boston Celtics at Spectrum Center in Charlotte, NC on Monday, January 16, 2023.


The NBA trade deadline has passed. Two-thirds of the season is in the books.

It’s All-Star break time for the Charlotte Hornets and it came just as they were in the midst of a rarity: successive wins. They are still hovering near the bottom of the Eastern Conference and have plenty of questions surrounding them as they motor toward the finish of a disappointing season.

In this latest mailbag, we take a look at whether Kelly Oubre will return soon, which of the Hornets’ impending free agents will Charlotte look to re-sign, whether Kai Jones is going to get playing time soon and more.

Will we see Kelly Oubre back next Friday? – @BDiva85 via Twitter

It’s too early to tell. We won’t know for sure until the Hornets begin practicing in Minneapolis on Wednesday night in preparation for Friday’s game against the Timberwolves. Oubre has been shooting without his splint and the timetable for his return is closing in, so barring a setback over the coming days after the team resumes practice, Oubre should be available probably within the first week or so post All-Star break. It will depend on when all of the physicians and the Hornets’ training staff sign off on his recovery.

Do you expect Kai Jones to start finding minutes post All-Star break? Does this affect JT Thor’s playing time? — @Jgenovere via Twitter

I think that Kai will see some playing time eventually once Steve Clifford begins to start taking a deeper look at the Hornets’ youth on the front line. The Hornets view Jones as a center, but they’ve also given him minutes on occasion at power forward. So, if he were to see more minutes at power forward than, say, back up center then yes, it might affect JT Thor’s on court time. But that will likely hinge on matchups and what Clifford wants to see out of his backup center spot at that particular juncture of the season.

Among the expiring contracts, who do you see the Hornets hanging onto? Also, what’s happened to Théo Maledon? He seemed to contribute, but he vanished from the lineup. – @danjcava via Twitter

Two good questions, Dan. Tackling the first, if you believe general manager Mitch Kupchak, the Hornets have interest in re-signing many of them. PJ Washington is someone they want to bring back and Oubre has expressed his desire to stay in Charlotte in multiple conversations with the Observer. And with Kupchak suggesting there open to a reunion unless Oubre is either offered more money on the market elsewhere or things break down in negotiations, there seems to be a marriage on the horizon in the summer potentially. Nick Richards also someone they will likely look to re-sign and may have a good stretch here to finish the season to solidify his long-term status on the roster.

As for Théo, he is on a two-way contract, which means that he has to split his time between the Hornets’ G League affiliate in Greensboro and the main club in Charlotte. Because of the inordinate number of injuries the Hornets dealt with earlier this season, Théo was used more than anticipated. So, if he gets too close to the threshold, the Hornets run the risk of having to sign him to an outright NBA contract. That would mean shuffling roster spots and I’m not sure if that is something that they want to do with 22 games left in the season.

When do we actually start giving JT pivotal minutes to prove that he can actually run with LaMelo Ball, Mark Williams, Terry Rozier and PJ? Washington – @Brasxn via Twitter

This has been one of the things that has bothered Clifford this season because he knows it’s hard for JT to get going in the limited amount of minutes that he’s received. But as you mentioned, now with Jalen McDaniels traded to Philadelphia, it loosens up a crowded wing. And I would expect JT to start getting a little more playing time there as the season winds down because the Hornets do need to figure out how he can fit with a good portion of their starting unit, because his length could definitely be used when the Hornets are in need of defensive help.

They really miss Cody Martin on the wing and unless Martin shakes off his soreness, he won’t be available to cut into any potential minutes. That should — could? — open up more of an opportunity for Thor to see if he can shine.

Is James Bouknight going to get minutes? – @ColbyT211 via Twitter

You mean with Greensboro? As of now, that is the only place that he is going to be seeing time on the court. The Hornets want to see him play and they feel that Greensboro is the right spot for him at the moment. There currently are no rotation minutes with the main roster given Dennis Smith Jr.’s versatility and how much Clifford enjoys Smith’s defensive presence.

With that in mind, it’s going to be a while if at all before you see Bouknight on the court at the Spectrum Center. Perhaps toward the end of the season when maybe the Hornets are going ultra-young. But it’s hard to see a someone who has not played in the past 11 games and 19 of the last 20 cracking the rotation suddenly.

Roderick Boone joined the Observer in September 2021 to cover the Charlotte Hornets and NBA. In his more than two decades of writing about the world of sports, he’s chronicled everything from high school rodeo to a major league baseball no-hitter to the Super Bowl to the Finals. The Long Island native has deep North Carolina roots and enjoys watching “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” endlessly.
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