My buddy, Tim Bontemps, caused a bit of a fuss in Charlotte recently.
Bomtemps covers the NBA nationally for the Washington Post. He wrote a column -- an opinion piece -- suggesting the Hornets consider trading point guard Kemba Walker this season, when his value would be greatest. Tim’s premise assumed the Hornets (18-25) are in for another rebuild, and that Walker might not be cool with re-signing in the summer of 2019 if that were the case.
Bontemps’ column somehow morphed in the Hornets’ discussion into a “rumor” the front office would look to move Walker before the Feb. 8 trade deadline. Are there any legs to this? That one tips off this week’s Hornets mailbag:
Q. Do you expect Kemba to be traded by the deadline?
A. No, I don’t. Coach Steve Clifford couldn’t have looked more surprised when that came up last Friday, during his media availability attached to his return from medical leave. Not that Clifford has anything like final say over transactions, but he’s operating under the walking orders the Hornets are still focused on reaching the playoffs, not starting over.
The only qualifier I would put on that is the Hornets are always active at the trade deadline, and there is no one on the roster -- including Walker --who is so good the franchise would just laugh and hang up the phone if another team made an inquiry.
Q. Do all the national trade rumors affect how the front office deals with Kemba? Do they try and extend him or do anything to cater to him in hopes of keeping him happy?
A. Again, this Kemba stuff is more fan chatter than a “rumor.” As far as placating Walker, I don’t know that is necessary. A strong Kemba trait is loyalty. He loves Charlotte, and now considers it home. He’s never been an unrestricted free agent, so I’d guess he’d want to explore what’s out there the summer after next, but I’m around him all the time and I’ve never seen or heard any indication he doesn’t want to be here.
Q. How would you view the Hornets at the trade deadline? Buyers, sellers or standing pat?
A. Based on their history, there is a fourth option: Looking for a small, surgical deal that could make them better over the last 30 games of the regular season. There’s a long track record of those deals, notably Courtney Lee, Mo Williams and Josh McRoberts.
Q. How would you sum up Malik Monk’s rookie season so far?
A. That he’s a 19-year-old kid with potential as a scorer and still lots to learn about NBA defense before he’s ready to be a steady in the rotation. I think there were unrealistic expectations for his rookie season because he was such a high-profile college player. If this was baseball, he’d spend most of his rookie season pitching at the AA or AAA level. As Clifford notes, losing the summer to that ankle sprain really hurt his preparation for this season.
Q. Has the G-League investment (starting the Greensboro Swarm) proved to be what the Hornets organization wanted?
A. I have no reason to think otherwise. It’s now common in the NBA for a team to own a G-League franchise in close proximity. The Hornets have two two-way players -- big man Mangok Mathiang and point guard Marcus Paige -- in Greensboro. The Swarm has also been handy to send some injured veterans (Michael Carter-Williams and Julyan Stone, for instance) out to get some competitive run.
If you are looking for a G-League franchise to be more than that, i think you have unrealistic expectations.
Q. Can the issue of our backup point guard be resolved at the trade deadline?
A. Maybe. I get it that fans think Carter-Wiliams is underwhelming behind Walker. However, Clifford thinks the importance of Carter-Williams’ defense is under-appreciated. Also, the Hornets are close to this season’s threshold to pay the NBA luxury tax. That would factor into any decision about making a trade.
Q. Do you think the Hornets will try and trade Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and move Nic Batum to small forward?
A. Nope. Clifford has long said Batum is better suited to guard shooting guards than small forwards (although he can do both). Weakening the Hornets’ starting unit defensively is something Clifford would fight against doing.
Q. Did the job Stephen Silas did filling in for Clifford make him a good head-coach candidate?
A. If the last month doesn’t enhance Silas’ resume, then I don’t know what would. Silas had coached a handful of NBA games before, while working for his father, Paul. The distinction about this stint is Silas was in charge of an NBA team for an extended period. As he described, there is a huge difference between coaching NBA games and coaching an NBA team (running practice, dealing with players’ egos, allotting time to problem-solving).
Bonnell: 704-358-5129: @rick_bonnell