During the previous summer, Kai Jones went from being a highly-touted talent whom the Charlotte Hornets were working with to being a significant burden. The Hornets, who are always dealing with controversy, were taken aback when Jones announced on social media a month ago that the franchise wouldn’t move him.
Many NBA fans questioned Jones’ mental health since they couldn’t understand where he was coming from on anything and because he kept switching topics during a live stream. As the weeks passed, the Hornets’ big man continued to rage on social media, engaging in confrontations with fans and disparaging other players in the league.
Jones posted on social media that he wanted to be traded from the Hornets after they opted to keep him out of training camp and prevent him from being around the team. Charlotte made the decision to forego the 2021 first-round selection two days later.
With his prospects across the league looking scarce as a result of the “liability” moniker he gave himself, Jones, who was once seen as the Hornets frontcourt’s future, is now ready to enter the free agent market. Due to his agility and length when he initially joined the league, Jones had the potential to be a unique player, but he never really earned the opportunity to establish himself.
Will a different club gamble on the 22-year-old?
Given what they had to give up to get him a few years ago, the Hornets truly lost out on the chance to build a high-flying big man.
Kai Jones’ price the Hornets had to pay
The Hornets have the 11th overall first-round selection going into the 2021 NBA Draft. They used this pick to choose James Bouknight, a guard who, like Jones, hasn’t yet established himself as a rotational player for this squad. The Hornets made a trade with the New York Knicks after realizing they could add more value as the draft went on.
The Hornets sold their 2024 first-round pick to New York in exchange for Kai Jones’ draft rights and the 19th overall pick of the Knicks. However, due to top 18 protection in 2022, top 16 protection in 2023, and top 14 protection in both 2024 and 2025, this selection moved to the Big Apple with certain safeguards attached. The choice will change into two second-round picks in 2026 and 2027 if it hasn’t moved by 2025.
The Knicks used this pick they acquired from Charlotte to acquire Cam Reddish from the Atlanta Hawks before to the trade deadline during the 2021–22 season. Along with past first-round selection Kevin Knox, the Hornets traded their 2024 first-round pick to Atlanta.
The Hornets’ draft selection, which was initially acquired in exchange for Jones, did not stay in Atlanta for very long before it was moved again the following summer. The Hawks gave the Spurs, who still own the rights to this draft choice, their first-round pick in exchange for All-Star Dejounte Murray from the San Antonio Spurs. The first-round pick will be given to San Antonio if the Hornets eventually reach the postseason in 2023–24.
The initial deal the Hornets and Knicks struck even went beyond New York’s acquisition of Reddish from the Hawks in 2021. Reddish’s tenure with the Knicks was brief since this past season, in a transaction including Josh Hart, he was moved to the Portland Trail Blazers. Overall, the 2021 draft night transaction that sent Jones to the Knicks in exchange for Hart and a 2025 second-round selection was a huge success for them.
The Hornets lost a first-round selection as a result of missing out on the opportunity to develop Jones. Charlotte’s sole consolation is that this selection has strong protections, which means they may not lose any first-round selections for the following two years. At the same time, this would imply that the team isn’t having any luck and keeps missing the playoffs.
Charlotte is now going through a difficult period as Jones represents the organization’s most recent failed endeavor.