The data sample is small so far, but the productivity is striking. We can’t draw a conclusion yet, but certainly we can pose the question:
Will acquiring center Dwight Howard prove to be the best trade in Charlotte NBA history?
The original Hornets, the expansion Bobcats and the new (rebranded) Hornets cover a span back to 1988, minus the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons, when George Shinn’s team had moved to New Orleans, and the Bobcats hadn’t started playing.
Charlotte NBA teams have totaled 66 trades, based on transactions published in the Hornets’ media guide. It all started when the original Hornets acquired Kelly Tripucka from the Utah Jazz. The most recent was acquiring the draft rights to rookie Dwayne Bacon, plus cash, from the New Orleans Pelicans in June.
They have dealt away a Hall of Famer (Alonzo Mourning, to Miami) and a lock to be a Hall of Famer (the draft rights to Kobe Bryant). Howard, 31, is in his 14th NBA season, and already has the credentials to someday be enshrined in the Hall in Springfield, Mass.
Trading is in this franchise’s DNA, particularly at the annual February deadline. There’s a reason general manager Rich Cho has the fan nickname “Trader Cho.”
So far, Howard has been spectacular. In eight games before Friday’s matchup with the Spurs in San Antonio, he averaged 14.1 points, 14.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. He played more than 32,000 NBA minutes prior to this season, but there is nothing about how he’s performing to suggest he’s slowing down.
In fact, if he can maintain those numbers and the Hornets have a winning record the first half of the season, Howard could be selected for the All-Star Game (in Los Angeles in February) for the first time since 2014, when Howard was a Houston Rocket.
Give and take
No trade can be evaluated strictly by what a team receives; what that team gives up is just as relevant.
For instance, the Hornets acquired one of the better players in franchise history, small forward Glen Rice, in 1995. But to do so, they gave up arguably the best player in franchise history in center Mourning.
A big part of why Howard could be the best trade in franchise history is the Hornets gave up very little to the Atlanta Hawks. Marco Belinelli was a solid reserve last season. The other player sent to Atlanta was big man Miles Plumlee, who did next to nothing for the Hornets last season. Worse yet, Plumlee’s contract guarantees him $12.4 million this season, and the same sum each of the next two.
Howard is expensive at $23.5 million this season and next, but the Hornets needed his rim protection and his rebounding. Any scoring he provides is a bonus.
The Hawks gave up on Howard after a single season in his hometown Atlanta. Why would the Hawks accept so little in return for moving Howard?
Supply and demand. Only a couple of NBA teams made an offer, a league source confirmed. That seemingly speaks to Howard’s recent reputation for being high maintenance. He is on his third team in as many seasons (Houston, Atlanta and Charlotte).
If Howard was difficult to work with in the past, there’s been no evidence so far of that with the Hornets. Before the home opener against the Hawks, Howard called speculation he was a bad teammate in Atlanta “stupid.”
“I don’t know what happened to him at other stops, but since he’s been here he’s been aces with us,” Hornets forward Marvin Williams said recently. “He likes to have fun, and there’s nothing wrong with having fun. Dwight takes his job just as seriously as the next person.”
This might be a classic case of the right place at the right time. Howard has a productive history with Hornets coach Steve Clifford from when Clifford was an assistant with Howard in Orlando and Los Angeles.
As former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy said before calling a Hornets preseason exhibition for ESPN, this is a time for “self-reflection” for Howard, as to his legacy.
Also, Hornets owner and NBA icon Michael Jordan reached out to Howard as soon as the trade was completed. That left a major impression.
“He just told me to be who I am, and lay everything out there every night,” Howard said of Jordan’s message.
NBA trades are complicated, in that most teams are over the salary cap, so salaries must approximately match for deals to be approved under the collective bargaining agreement.
Active as the Hornets have been in the trade market, most of their better deals have been more surgical than what you’d describe as a blockbuster: Adding a quality veteran (Josh McRoberts, Courtney Lee or Mo Williams) at the deadline, or adding a young talent in need of development (Jeremy Lamb).
Seldom do big men with Hall of Fame resumes go on the market. For Howard, there weren’t many suitors.
But so far, there’s been abundant production in Charlotte.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell