The Charlotte Hornets making some sort of a trade-deadline deal is a February tradition.
Some acquisitions have been boosts (Josh McRoberts, Courtney Lee and Mo Williams). Some have been mediocre (Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour). Some have been flops (Miles Plumlee). But it’s the norm they do something, and this season’s deadline is Feb. 7.
Naturally, that has fans wondering what new general manager Mitch Kupchak is investigating, with the Hornets in contention for one of the last three playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. The Hornets don’t have one obvious short-term need on this roster, but both starting guards - Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb - become unrestricted free agents in July.
The possibility of losing Lamb this summer, with no compensation to the Hornets, leads off your questions for this week’s mailbag:
Q. Any chance of trading Lamb while his value is decent?
A. Based on his strong performance as a Hornets starter, Lamb figures to get a big raise over this season’s salary of about $7.5 million in his next contract. However, it’s questionable whether this close to free agency Lamb represents great trade value.
A team acquiring Lamb would also acquire his Larry Bird rights (allowing that team to exceed the salary cap to re-sign him). However, Lamb could sign anywhere as an unrestricted free agent.
To illustrate Lamb’s trade value, recall the Hornets acquired Lee from the Memphis Grizzlies in 2016 essentially for two future second-round picks. That compensation was pretty low because Lee was also nearing unrestricted free agency. ESPN front-office insider Bobby Marks said on Charlotte sports-talk station WFNZ this week that he questioned whether another team would give up a first-round pick for Lamb because of the situational risk of losing him after a few months.
Would it be worth it for the Hornets to lose Lamb the second half of this season for something less than a first-round pick? I doubt that makes sense.
Q. Word is the Hornets are looking at big men with the trade deadline approaching. If that is true, are they concerned about Cody Zeller’s recovery or is it simply to get better at the position?
A. There has been speculation out there about Detroit’s Andre Drummond or Memphis’s Marc Gasol. I don’t know how much interest Kupchak has in either of those options. I would be reluctant to assume that represents a pattern.
I have no cause to believe the Hornets are worried about Zeller’s recovery from a broken right hand. I think they miss Zeller and look forward to him being back in the lineup. With the exception of point guard, the Hornets could use help all over the roster, but I don’t think there is a special urgency regarding center.
Q. What current Hornets bench player would benefit most from a trade?
A. Excellent out-of-the-box question. The default answer would be reserve big man Frank Kaminsky, but I instead would say Dwayne Bacon. The abundance of small forwards and shooting guards has made it hard for Bacon to play much of late, and I don’t know that that will change anytime soon.
The Hornets acquiring rookie Miles Bridges was inevitably going to impact Bacon’s playing time, and there haven’t been injuries thinning the Hornets’ depth at the wing positions. I don’t think the Hornets are down on Bacon, but barring a trade or injury, there’s no obvious path for him to play soon.
Q. How do the Hornets get Anthony Davis?
A. Unless you have a time machine to go back and change the results of the 2012 draft lottery, I have no idea. The then-Bobcats went 7-59, the worst single-season winning percentage in NBA history, but received the second pick in that draft (it became Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) when Davis went No. 1. Now Davis wants off the New Orleans Pelicans, the team that got that top pick.
After 6 1/2 seasons in New Orleans, Davis apparently wants a trade to a team in position to contend the next few seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics the teams most mentioned. Even if the Hornets could work out a deal with the Pelicans, should they pursue one? Why give up major assets for at most 1 1/2 seasons of Davis wanting to be elsewhere?
Q. Is there any conceivable way for the Hornets to end up with Duke’s Zion Williamson?
A. I don’t know what that would be. The Hornets have already won 24 games this season, so even a complete collapse the rest of the way wouldn’t give them one of the worst records in the NBA. The price in assets the Hornets would have to give up to trade for Williamson’s draft rights could easily reach reckless extremes.
Q. What are the chances Hornets owner Michael Jordan is willing to go into luxury-tax territory to be competitive?
A. What’s your definition of competitive? Jordan has indicated he sees no sense in paying luxury tax for something less than a roster clearly primed to go deep in the playoffs. I think that’s a sensible approach. Would you rather they be the Washington Wizards, paying tax on a team struggling to even qualify for the playoffs?
I think this narrative that an NBA owner has to pay luxury tax to prove he is serious about winning is not only false, it’s dangerous. Jordan has taken financial risks in the past to pursue wins; a great example was using the amnesty provision in 2013 to waive Tyrus Thomas, facilitating the Al Jefferson signing. Jordan is not a cheap owner.
Q. If the Hornets get the eighth seed (the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference) and are eliminated in the first round, would that be considered a successful first season for coach James Borrego and the front office?
A. I’d give that a qualified yes. They missed the playoffs the past two seasons, so making it is progress. Some fans tell me making the playoffs is meaningless unless they can win a round. I disagree; I think the experience of playing in the postseason would be beneficial to the young guys such as Bridges, Malik Monk and Willy Hernangomez.
Q. Will Kemba’s jersey be retired when his career is over or do the Hornets have an aversion to retiring jerseys based on on-the-court accomplishments?
A. The Hornets retired Bobby Phills’ jersey years ago following his untimely death while playing in Charlotte. While the Hornets have honored Dell Curry, Muggsy Bogues and Glen Rice as part of this season’s celebration of 30 years of the NBA in Charlotte, no other players’ numbers have been retired yet.
I would retire Curry’s No. 30 before I’d retire anyone else’s jersey, but certainly Kemba has done enough already to end up with a No. 15 hanging in Spectrum Center.
Rick Bonnell: 704-358-5129, @rick_bonnell