Charlotte Hornets

Hornets fans ask: Any veterans who can be traded? Miles Bridges breakout season?

If the questions I got for this week’s Hornets mailbag are indicative, many of you are thinking about the February trade deadline already.

I wouldn’t get excited about the trade market.

The pattern in those questions is the expectation — at least the hope — that Hornets’ general manager Mitch Kupchak can turn one of these expensive, expiring contracts into an asset, such as a future draft pick or young player. I don’t thing the chances are strong, and if Kupchak does pull something off, the return probably won’t be big.

Your questions:

Of the high-priced veterans on the roster, who has the highest trade value? Is there a market for any of them?

The Hornets have three players in the final season of large contracts: Bismack Biyombo ($17 million this season), Marvin Williams ($15 million) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist ($13 million). Of those three, I’ve long thought — and still do — that Williams would be the most appealing to other teams.

That does not necessarily mean a contender would give up a first-round pick or a quality young player to acquire Williams for one season. More importantly, the Hornets would have to gauge what they’d have to take back, as far as a contract, to balance salaries in a trade.

Trade-deadline deals are hard to make because contenders typically are well above the salary cap, often in luxury-tax territory. They can’t just absorb $15 million salaries without moving equivalent salary off their caps. What a lottery-bound team must take back, as far as salary, is generally unappealing.

I would guess if there was a big market for Williams or another Hornets veteran, a deal would have happened before training camp began. If a trade happens during the season, it would probably be for limited compensation, like a second-round pick.

Will this be a breakout season for Miles Bridges?

It depends on your definition of “breakout.” I think he’ll be a starter and a solid player. I doubt he’ll be the Hornets’ leading scorer or its top player this season.

I think it was wise by Borrego to switch Bridges from small forward to power forward. There is not a huge difference between those positions, but small forward requires Bridges to chase smaller, sleeker players defensively. I would rather see Bridges match brawn with bigger guys than deal with a quickness deficit.

Bridges’ play the last 20 or so games last season was much better than the prior 60; not just his numbers, but his recognition and poise. He passed better and defended better, which reflect adjusting to the faster decisions in the pros.

Bridges said one of his goals is to shoot 38 percent from 3-point range. That’s lofty, after shooting 32.5 percent as a rookie. Three-point reliability, particularly from the baseline, is a job requirement for the modern NBA power forward, so it should be a priority.

What’s the point of playing MKG, (Nic) Batum, Marvin and Cody (Zeller)?

In essence, this question is, “If the Hornets are rebuilding, why not just sit all the veterans at the end of the bench and forget they exist?”

It shouldn’t work that way, and it won’t

It’s one thing for coach James Borrego to lean toward youth on close playing-time calls. It’s another to ignore performance. Minutes don’t automatically make players better, particularly if they aren’t earning those minutes in practice and games.

Borrego said as much last week during a media luncheon: That you can’t create a culture of competition if the players, whether young guys or vets, don’t feel their performance is factored into who plays.

By the way, Zeller shouldn’t be lumped into that group. Granted, he’s been hurt a lot the last two seasons, but he’s this team’s best center, and six seasons isn’t aged for an NBA center.

Say the Hornets shock the world and win 35 games this season. Is that good or bad?

Excellent question that requires some nuance to answer: Exceeding expectations, as far as record, wouldn’t be counter-productive if it reflects sustainable improvement.

If Dwayne Bacon, Bridges, Malik Monk and PJ Washington are all significantly better NBA players at the end of this season, that’s important whether the Hornets win 15 games or 35.

You hear the inevitable argument about losing chances in the draft lottery when a bad team wins too much. I think the NBA draft pool these days is less reliable than that reasoning reflects. The days when Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing entered the draft as virtually finished products are ancient history.

I don’t think Borrego or Kupchak will take shortcuts to win a few extra games this season. So I wouldn’t worry about them paddling water too well.

What will it take for the Hornets to attract free agents?

Kupchak told the Observer in September that spending big on free agents wouldn’t be part of the team’s plan anytime soon. i think that’s a realistic approach. Charlotte isn’t an automatic destination for free agents, the way Miami (Jimmy Butler), Los Angeles (LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard) and New York (Kyrie Irving and Kevin Garnett) are.

The Hornets would be appealing to an impact free agent only as the result of years of good drafting and trading. San Antonio isn’t a destination city in the NBA, but the Spurs successfully recruited LaMarcus Aldridge in the summer of 2015 as the result of a great organization and an appealing roster.

That’s the model if the Hornets are ever going to be a significant factor in free-agency.