LAS VEGAS – Now 10 days into the NBA’s free agency period, most of the business that has needed to be taken care of is in the books. But of those who have yet to secure a new contract for next year, the best of the bunch is pretty clearly Hornets big man P.J. Washington.
And according to those with knowledge of the situation, it is possible that will stay that way.
There has been some progress on a new contract for Washington in Charlotte, but there is still a gap between the sides. Washington would be willing to sign the qualifying offer, a source told Heavy Sports, if that gap can’t be bridged, and take his chances on unrestricted free agency in what should be a richer market in 2024.
Back on June 28, the Hornets took the expected step of offering Washington a qualifying offer of $8.5 million, which made him a restricted free agent. It’s a rarely taken step, but Washington could simply sign that offer, make $8.5 million next season and become an unrestricted free agent next season.
Washington Had Career High in Scoring
That would be a surprising outcome for Washington’s free-agent journey, and there is still a chance the Hornets could move more in Washington’s direction as July wears on.
Washington showed himself to be worthy of a raise last season, when he averaged a career high 15.7 points as he saw increased opportunities as Charlotte fought through injuries to stars LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward. Star forward Miles Bridges, too, missed the entire season after he pleaded no contest to a domestic violence charge.
Washington played a team-high 73 games and 2,380 minutes last year, and in four NBA seasons, showed himself to be an effective stretch-4 who can also play some center. He has shot 36.6% from the 3-point line on 4.8 attempts per game in his career. Washington was the 12th pick of the 2019 draft out of Kentucky.
Washington suffered a late-season ankle sprain on March 31, but he had his best game of the season just before that, scoring a career-high 43 points on 16-for-24 shooting, with six rebounds and five assists, in a win over Oklahoma City.
Ownership, 2024 Landscape Could Push Hornets to a Deal
There are a few factors that could push Charlotte to get a bit more generous with Washington in the coming days or weeks.
One is the qualifying offer signed by Bridges, who remained a restricted free agent despite missing all last season. Bridges was seeking in excess of $20 million per year from the team, and it was clear that the Hornets were not going to go that high to retain him.
Bridges will be an unrestricted free agent next summer, too, and having both him and Washington enter 2024 unsigned could put the team in a difficult position. While there was a limited amount of cap space available this summer, especially with the new collective bargaining agreement coming into effect, there will be more to spend next summer.
That could make both bridges and Washington even more expensive for the Hornets.
Another factor, too, as a source pointed out: The Hornets could soon have a new owner once Michael Jordan’s shares in the team are transferred to the group led by Gabe Plotkin and Rick Schnall. Having just dropped $3 billion to get the Hornets, they figure to be more willing to spend for an up-and-coming 25-year old like Washington.