Charlotte Hornets

Have we heard the final word on Kaminsky as a Hornet? If so, then, ‘Wooooooow’

Charlotte Hornets coach on Frank Kaminsky

Hornets coach James Borrego on little-used big man Frank Kaminsky, a possible buyout candidate.
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Hornets coach James Borrego on little-used big man Frank Kaminsky, a possible buyout candidate.

It won’t surprise me if Frank Kaminsky never plays again as a Charlotte Hornet.

I won’t go so far as to predict that, because Kaminsky getting released by the Hornets to sign elsewhere would likely entail him giving up some guaranteed salary, called a “buyout” in NBA-speak. A buyout seems like the logical next step after Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak didn’t find a suitable deal for Kaminsky before Thursday’s trade deadline.

Kaminsky, the No. 9 overall pick in the 2015 draft, is the fourth of four options to play center for the Hornets, five if you include the time power forward Marvin Williams plays there. Coach James Borrego doesn’t have a problem with Kaminsky’s effort, he just finds others -- Cody Zeller, Willy Hernangomez and Bismack Biyombo -- better fits.

It’s a given the Hornets won’t invest about $5 million in a qualifying offer to restrict Kaminsky’s free-agency next summer under rules of the contract he signed as a rookie. Kaminsky is well down the path of being a draft write-off and starting over somewhere else. So if he’d like to start looking for a new team now, before free-agency starts in July, exploring a buyout makes sense.

Frank Kaminsky-Bonnell.JPG
Charlotte Hornets center Frank Kaminsky was the No. 9 overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft. David T. Foster III

The only thing we know from Kaminsky about all this is a cryptic Tweet he put out shortly before Thursday’s trade deadline. It read, “Woooooooow,” only with even more o’s. No further explanation, but it’s reasonable to assume Kaminsky figured on the Hornets to trade him. No takers, apparently, would give up something the Hornets would take back to make that happen.

Kaminsky declined to be interviewed after practice Friday, before the Hornets flew to Atlanta for Saturday’s road game against the Hawks.

Kupchak sympathetic

During a conference call with Charlotte media Thursday evening, Kupchak was asked about the possibility of a Kaminsky buyout. Kupchak didn’t say that was in the works, but he certainly didn’t dismiss the idea. Kupchak said he understands if Kaminsky feels under-utilized, compared to how he might have anticipated this season going.

“So I’m open to any kind of a discussion with Frank or his representatives,” Kupchak said, adding he has a decades-long relationship with Kaminsky’s agents, Billy Duffy and Kevin Bradbury. . “Whatever needs to be addressed – if it can be addressed – it will be addressed.”

New coach, new agenda

Kaminsky has played in only one of the Hornets’ last six games, and that was nine minutes of garbage time after a game was decided in Boston Jan. 30. Except for a block of about a dozen games in November and December, when Borrego shook up his center rotation, Kaminsky has been mostly an afterthought.

The coaching change didn’t work in Kaminsky’s favor -- Steve Clifford was more vested in Kaminsky’s development -- but I’d say this was also about the passing of time. In his fourth NBA season, Kaminsky is no longer a developmental investment. He’s a big guy with a jump shot who is defensively limited.

Borrego moved him back to center, his college position at Wisconsin, after three seasons as an NBA power forward. I’d say that was a difference without a distinction. He’s still the same player, for better or worse.

Kaminsky had a public perception problem in Charlotte from the night he was drafted. Man, there were a lot of boos when the Hornets passed over Duke’s Justise Winslow to select him with a top-10 pick. The Boston Celtics also offered the Hornets some package of draft picks for No. 9, looking to draft Winslow. The smartest move would have been the Hornets selecting Kentucky freshman Devin Booker, who ended up going 13th to the Phoenix Suns.

End game

The way buyouts work, the player gives up some guaranteed money in return for being waived. Kaminsky makes about $3.6 million this season, and he certainly wouldn’t forfeit more than he and his agents are confident he’d make back signing elsewhere. Typically, the Hornets would grant permission for the agents to talk with other teams to gauge interest in Kaminsky before a buyout number is determined.

Would there be interest? I don’t know, but it’s easier for a big man to get an NBA roster spot at midseason than a guard, simply because 7-footers are harder to find. Injuries would work in Kaminsky’s favor, as far as finding a new gig.

The most important thing would be finding a team that might actually use him more than the Hornets have. Is such an NBA team out there right now? I honestly have no idea.

Rick Bonnell: 704-358-5129, @rick_bonnell

Rick Bonnell is a sportswriter/columnist for the Charlotte Observer. He has been in Charlotte since 1988, when the NBA arrived, and has covered the Hornets continuously. A former president of the Pro Basketball Writers Association, Bonnell also writes occasionally on the NFL and college sports.