The Charlotte Hornets – even in the midst of a dismal 14-23 season – go as point guard Kemba Walker goes.
He leads the team in scoring with 21.4 points per game, but more than that, he’s the Hornets’ emotional leader. When he missed a few games earlier this season with a shoulder contusion, teammates said the lack of energy without him was palpable.
More than that, he’s steadily improved since being the No. 9 overall pick in 2011, fresh off a national championship with Connecticut, and last season was rewarded with his first All-Star nomination. He hasn’t been quite that good this year, but still he was been the Hornets’ most important player.
So, should they trade him?
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It sounds crazy at first, when you recognize how important Walker is to the Hornets, but Tim Bontemps, The Washington Post’s NBA writer, explained why it might not be as ridiculous as it seems.
Bontemps’ two major arguments in favor of the Hornets trading Walker are:
▪ Charlotte is precariously close to the luxury tax, and while that cost is understandable for contending teams, it makes no sense for a lottery group.
▪ Walker is unlikely to re-sign with the Hornets when his current contract expires in 18 months, and so the team is best served trading him now while it can recoup some value.
First, the issue of the luxury tax.
“Perhaps (team owner) Michael Jordan would be fine paying the tax for the first time if he were in the same position that another first-time taxpayer, Wizards owner Ted Leonsis, finds himself,” Bontemps wrote. “With a team that seems positioned to battle for a top-four seed in the East for the next few years, one that features an All-Star backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal that’s already signed through the majority of their primes.
“But that’s not where the Hornets are. Charlotte likely will enter next season with an aging, expensive roster.”
It’s true. As Bontemps explains, the Hornets, as currently constructed, will almost certainly be over the luxury tax threshold next season, with $62 million devoted to an aging trio of Marvin Williams, Dwight Howard and Nic Batum.
Because that win-now team was been unable to... well, win now, Bontemps argues the Hornets are better trading Walker away and getting a head start on the rebuild they surely have coming.
“By making a move like this, there would be pain for Charlotte,” he wrote. “Walker is a terrific player and an easy guy to root for, and the team would go from hoping for a playoff spot to staring at a long rebuild. But these are the kinds of decisions that teams like the Hornets are going to face.”
Some potential destinations for Walker? Bontemps proposes the Knicks and the Pacers as possible trade partners.
Offer Walker and Williams to New York in exchange for rookie guard Frank Ntilikina, Joakim Noah and New York’s 2018 first-round pick. While the Hornets would clearly drop in the standings, they’d have another young player to build around, plus two lottery shots in the upcoming star-studded NBA draft.
Or send Walker and Williams to Indiana for Darren Collison, Al Jefferson, rookie forward T.J. Leaf and Indiana’s 2018 first-round pick. Again, the Hornets end up with no tax issues, a younger piece to build with, and another valuable draft pick.
Trading Walker seems ridiculous when you consider his impact for the current Hornets. But looking at the logistics of the move, considering the team’s current predicament and impending future? Well, it might make more sense than Hornets fans would like to admit.