Charlotte Hornets guard Nic Batum’s five-year $120 million contract sure draws a lot of attention.
I received several questions about Batum this week from readers for a Hornets mailbag. Also, inquiries about Kemba Walker’s future, the 2018 draft and the coaches. Here are some answers:
Q. Is there any way to restructure Batum’s contract to help against the salary cap, the way NFL teams do?
A. Not the way NFL teams do. It’s important to remember the vast majority of NFL player contracts are not fully guaranteed. In the NBA, the vast majority are fully guaranteed. Batum’s remaining money – about $75 million – is guaranteed. The only way you could finagle would be to waive him and stretch the remaining salary over more seasons. Why would you waive Batum for that purpose?
Q. Do you think we can get a lottery pick if we were to trade Kemba Walker and tag Batum’s big-money contract onto a trade?
A. Highly unlikely. If a team is willing to take on Batum’s remaining contract, it would almost certainly have to send back one or more contracts onto the Hornets’ payroll. If you got a team to relieve some of your salary-cap problems, you’d be asking a lot – probably too much to make a deal – to get a lottery pick as well.
Q. Which is more likely to happen: Batum coming off the bench next season or Batum being traded?
A. I don’t understand this drumbeat for Batum to be a reserve. He adds size defensively and adds a ball-mover to complement Kemba as a score-first point guard. If they feel the need to trade him to get some salary-cap relief, that’s understandable. But if he’s here, he should start and play major minutes.
Q. Do you get the sense that next season is either make the playoffs or Kemba walks? Could the new general manager keep this roster together for next season and if Kemba leaves, let that trigger a rebuild?
A. I think you could see a roster next season with not significant change, more because it could be hard to move several veteran contracts without taking on worse options. However, I think it’s important for the next general manager to have a heart-to-heart with Walker soon as possible. The worst of all alternatives would be losing him in unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2019 for no compensation.
Q. How much longer will this Michael Kidd-Gilchrist process continue? It seems clear he will never be a wing scorer, so what do we do with him?
A. His contract has two more seasons at $13 million each. You’re right, he’s never going to be a prolific scorer or a 3-point threat. But I think fans often are too dismissive of Kidd-Gilchrist’s value as a defender, both in the individual and team sense.
If Kidd-Gilchrist scored 23 points a game but was a complete disaster as a defender, I think he wouldn’t take nearly as much criticism as he does for being this team’s top defender, but limited offensively.
Q. Do the Hornets plan to go with "best player available" this draft, or will they draft for a position of need?
A. That’s impossible to predict, when they don’t yet have a general manager at the top of the basketball operation. But for what it’s worth, here’s what I think when a team is drafting late lottery: Unless the choices are close in absolute value, go with the better player.
Q. Does Malik Monk’s progress at the backup point guard spot change the focus of the draft to another position to supplement the roster?
A. I don’t think the coaches know nearly enough yet about Monk’s fit at point guard right now to declare him the backup, and potential heir apparent to Kemba. I still think depth at point guard is this team’s greatest area of need, but that doesn’t mean I’d reach for a point with the lottery pick.
Q. Would Steve Clifford be willing to revamp his assistant coaching staff as a caveat to staying on? Fresh eyes approach?
A. While I certainly understand the question, with the recently makeover on the Carolina Panthers’ staff, I don’t think Clifford would be asked to do that. Associate head coach Stephen Silas is highly valued and the other assistants do a great job with individual skill development (shooting specialist Bruce Kreutzer, for instance, gets rave reviews). This isn’t like an NFL staff, where two coordinators make major decisions on game plans.
Q. Would it make sense for the Hornets to make a play for Kawhi Leonard?
A. Of course it would, if he’s available. And I’d think the Spurs would be interested in Kemba Walker. Clifford was saying Monday post-game how Gregg Popovich has praised Walker’s on-court savvy. However, prying Leonard from the Spurs would take a lot of trade currency. Do the Hornets have enough, if the Spurs make him available?