STEVE REED, AP Sports Writer
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Josh McRoberts is a free to play where he wants next season.
The Charlotte Hornets are hoping he’ll stay put.
McRoberts opted out of his contract with the Hornets on Wednesday making him a free agent, but general manager Rich Cho said the team hopes to bring back the 6-foot-10 power forward.
“He was a big part of our team and we definitely want to re-sign him,” Cho said at a pre-draft press conference at the team’s downtown arena. “He helped Kemba (Walker) and he helped Big Al (Jefferson). He’s such a great passer. He’s a connector to the team. And he’s a great teammate also. So we’re hoping we sign him.”
McRoberts, 27, was set to make nearly $2.8 million in the final year of his deal in 2014-15, but outperformed that contract.
He started a career-high 78 games last season for Charlotte and averaged 8.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game.
The Hornets went 43-39 last season and made the playoffs for the first time since 2010. Cho is hoping to keep the young core of the team together while still adding pieces to the mix this offseason.
They should have the ammunition to do that.
With McRoberts opting out of his deal, the Hornets are nearly $16 million under the salary cap and have the ninth, 24th and 45th overall picks in next week’s NBA draft.
Cho said that gives the Hornets a lot of flexibility.
“We’re going to have options to trade up, trade back, trade out (out of the first round), trade for a veteran, keep the pick — a lot of different options,” Cho said.
Cho said he’s already fielded a lot of calls from teams interested in trading for those picks. He points out that nine NBA teams don’t have a first-round pick and five teams don’t have any draft picks at all.
“We have been getting a lot of calls and making a lot of calls,” Cho said.
When it comes time to pull the trigger on a trade, Cho will be making the call.
He previously shared personnel decisions with president of basketball operations Rod Higgins. But Higgins stepped down last week after seven seasons with the team leaving Cho in charge of all personnel moves.
Cho said the key for the Hornets is finding a balance between developing their rookies and the temptation to add veteran players and quickly take the next step.
“The last thing you want to do sacrifice your long-term flexibility for a short-term gain,” Cho said.
But there is also pressure to win.
Charlotte never won a playoff game in the 10 seasons they were called the Bobcats. Owner Michael Jordan changed its name back to the Hornets earlier this offseason.
Despite being swept by the Miami Heat in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, Cho believes the Hornets are “not that far away” from winning a playoff series and advancing in the postseason.
Cho said the Hornets front office has been busy preparing for the draft, working out 64 players over the last couple weeks with more visits planned for next week. He said the team’s scouts have filed more than 3,500 pages of reports on potential picks.
“We’re ready,” Cho said with a smile.
NOTES: The Hornets have hired Steve Hetzel as an assistant coach to replace Bob Beyer, who left to join the Detroit Pistons staff. Hetzel was coach of the D-League’s Canton Charge.
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