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Hornets building through guards

LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier at Hornets Media Day

CHARLOTTE, NC- SEPTEMBER 27: LaMelo Ball #2 and Terry Rozier #3 of the Charlotte Hornets pose for a portrait on Charlotte Hornets Media Day in Charlotte, North Carolina. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images)

NBAE via Getty Images

NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Hornets didn’t specifically seek to get so loaded at guard.

Devonte’ Graham improved a ton. So did Terry Rozier. LaMelo Ball – the No. 1 player on my drafted board – slipped to the No. 3 pick last year. Malik Monk returned from his drug suspension and finally found his groove.

But when James Bouknight – the No. 7 player on my board – slipped to No. 11 in this year’s draft, Charlotte did the right thing and picked him. Bouknight is far from certain to succeed in the NBA. There was a steep drop from the top prospects in this draft, and Bouknight didn’t rate in those top tiers. But self-created scoring is such a valuable skill, and Bouknight has it.

At that point, the Hornets had to decide who in their oversaturated backcourt would be a keeper. Ball and Bouknight, obviously. Beyond that?

Charlotte gave Rozier a four-year, $96,258,694 contract extension. I’m leery of paying someone coming off a career season a year in advance. But Rozier has a longer track record of improvement, and the Hornets were right on him once when everyone doubted them. That earns some benefit of the doubt.

Operating from a position of strength, Charlotte signed-and-traded Graham, a restricted free agent, to the Pelicans for a lottery-protected 2022 first-rounder that now appears more likely to convey as two second-rounders. Not needing to pay someone as good as Graham for a limited role as backup point guard, the Hornets signed Ish Smith ($4.5 million salary followed by an unguaranteed season). Charlotte also didn’t extend a qualifying offer to Malik Monk, allowing him to leave for the Lakers as an unrestricted free agent.

With that cap flexibility opened, the Hornets addressed their frontcourt.

They signed Kelly Oubre (two years, $24.6 million with $17 million guaranteed). He should thrive in transition playing with Ball.

Charlotte also moved up 20 slots in the second round for taking Mason Plumlee’s contract from the Pistons. Plumlee should help the Hornets at center. They got outscored by 276 points with Bismack Biyombo on the floor last season – the worst plus-minus for anyone on a postseason team.

Primarily, though, Charlotte wants to go smaller with P.J. Washington as the nominal center. The Hornets also got a couple more-athletic project bigs in the draft – trading a fairly tightly protected future first-rounder for No. 19 pick Kai Jones and getting No. 37 pick J.T. Thor from the Plumlee trade.

No. 56 pick Scottie Lewis was Charlotte’s fourth draft addition. That’s a deep infusion of young talent, welcome for a team building around 20-year-old Ball.

The Hornets look a little better in the short- and long-term – but not dramatically so on either.

Offseason grade: C+