Charlotte Hornets fans, you asked some great questions.
I solicited Hornets questions on Twitter this week, with the NBA draft approaching June 22. The Hornets hold the 11th and 41st overall picks. After the draft, the Hornets will turn to summer league in Orlando and free agency.
Their salary-cap situation is such that the Hornets likely can’t be big players in free agency. So trades, something this franchise does frequently, might be a prime option in getting the Hornets back to playoff contention following a disappointing 36-46 record.
Your questions were thought-provoking. Hopefully, I got to the ones of most general interest. Here are my thoughts:
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Q. What player do you want with the No. 11 pick (realistically)?
A. I wouldn’t pick one favorite player a week out from the draft, because it’s so hard to gauge who will be gone in the first 10 picks. But I think depth was the Hornets’ biggest flaw last season, and point guard depth as much as any position. So, if there’s a guard available who can crack the rotation as Kemba Walker’s backup, that would fill a clear need. Failing that, a combo guard, such as Donovan Mitchell, who has the tools to be a superior defender, makes some sense.
Q. What was the general thinking behind trading for (Miles) Plumlee’s contract, given his lack of production in recent years?
A. I was surprised they made that trade, considering the huge contract they inherited and Plumlee’s limited role with the Milwaukee Bucks. I think the trade spoke to the urgency to again make the playoffs. In fairness, Plumlee’s injury precluded a decent sample size of what he can do.
Q. Do you think the Hornets will trade Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist this summer? And do you think they’ll bring Josh McRoberts back?
A. McRoberts picked up his player option for next season with Miami, and his injury issues since leaving the Hornets are considerable. I don’t think any player on this roster is untouchable in trade, but I’d be wary of trading Williams, a leader in so many ways. MKG still isn’t back to where he was before his shoulder injuries.
Q. I see the backup point guard free-agent market as blah. Do you see them just picking up (Ramon) Sessions’ option and trying again next season?
A. I think the likelihood of Sessions being back is less than 50-50. If they use the No. 11 pick on a point guard, it’s probably a foregone conclusion his team option is not exercised.
Q. Would it be possible to trade Plumlee and Williams, so we can make room for potentially adding (Stephen) Curry in a year?
A. I don’t think there is any chance Curry would leave the Golden State Warriors for the Hornets anytime soon. The situation with the Warriors is ideal, and they can pay him considerably more than other NBA teams. So, building a strategy around that hope seems more like a fantasy proposition.
Q. Charlotte has lots of long-term contracts and $80 million on the books three years out. How important is cap space for improvement?
A. You’re right that they have big financial obligations. Also keep in mind that Walker would be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2019. Cap space is always valuable, not just in free-agency, but also in facilitating trades. Teams with substantial cap space at the February trade deadline can really take advantage of other teams’ problems.
Q. Will MKG on offense ever become as good as Kawhi Leonard-lite, or is his ceiling Tony Allen/Dennis Rodman?
A. I don’t think Kidd-Gilchrist will ever resemble Leonard as a two-way player. But it’s important he makes enough jump shots so teams don’t feel emboldened to leave him defensively.
Q. What position are they going to play Frank (Kaminsky)? Cody (Zeller), Frank and Plumlee all seem like better centers than power forwards.
A. I agree that Zeller and Plumlee are more natural centers than power forwards. I don’t think Kaminsky is a center more than he’s a power forward at the NBA level. The issue with Kaminsky is becoming a more efficient defender.
Q. How far away from a perennial playoff team do you think the Hornets are? Given our inability to sustain success, what is changing to create belief?
A. If you anticipate a quick fix, I think you’ll be disappointed. Coming off a 48-victory season in the summer of 2016, they made sure Nic Batum and Williams were back. If those are moves that should be undone (and I don’t automatically think so), it will be complicated.
Q What do you think about the free agent Mario Chalmers? Good Kemba backup?
A. Chalmers is 31 and is coming off a serious Achilles tendon injury. That is a buyer-beware situation, particularly if you expect him to play 20 or more minutes per game.
Q. Kemba Walker is in his prime and on an extraordinarily valuable contract. Should the Hornets look to trade him? If so, what could they get in return?
A. Your second question is a factor in answering the first: Unless you got great value – a star at point guard who is under contract beyond next season – why give up an All-Star at a crucial position? As you described, Walker’s contract is sure team-friendly. Be wary of messing with success.