Charlotte Hornets

Charlotte Hornets mailbag: Is 7-footer Frank Kaminsky ‘horrendous?’ Nah.

Charlotte Hornets 7-footer Frank Kaminsky needs to improve defensively and raise his shooting percentage to reach his NBA potential.
Charlotte Hornets 7-footer Frank Kaminsky needs to improve defensively and raise his shooting percentage to reach his NBA potential. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

In what seemingly should be a slow week on the NBA calendar, things got very interesting Friday when ESPN first reported four-time All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving wants a trade off the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Irving reportedly no longer wants to be LeBron James’ sidekick, despite the Cavs’ three consecutive trips to the NBA Finals. Instead, the former Duke player wants to be the focal point of another roster.

Should the Charlotte Hornets get into the bidding for Irving? They already have an All-Star point guard in Kemba Walker. Also, would the Hornets have sufficient assets they’d be willing to deal for Irving that the Cavs would accept as fair compensation?

That’s one of the questions readers submitted for this week’s Hornets mailbag. On to the topics:

Q. Why on Earth are we keeping Frank Kaminsky? He’s horrendous.

A. “Horrendous” is way too harsh in reference to forward-center Kaminsky’s first two seasons as a Hornet.

He was drafted ninth overall in 2015. There have been some huge successes out of that draft (top pick Karl-Anthony Towns with the Minnesota Timberwolves and fourth pick Kristaps Porzingis with the New York Knicks). There have also been big disappointments (fifth pick Mario Hezonja with the Orlando Magic and eighth pick Stanley Johnson with the Detroit Pistons).

The 7-foot Kaminsky is neither a star in the making, nor a bust. He averaged 11.7 points and 4.5 rebounds last season. He needs to shoot better (40 percent from the field and 33 percent from 3-point range) to be an optimum “stretch 4,” a power forward with 3-point range. His defense is poor, and he knows that.

It works against Kaminsky that two of the players taken after him – 13th pick Devin Booker with the Phoenix Suns and 11th pick Myles Turner with the Indiana Pacers – have been so good. I thought Booker would have been a great pick for the Hornets and wrote about him a lot before that draft.

Kyrie Irving
Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving has reportedly asked for a trade. Would the Charlotte Hornets have assets the Cavs would find appealing in trade? Chiang Ying-ying AP

Q. Any realistic chance the Hornets trade for Irving?

A. The Hornets should certainly call the Cleveland Cavaliers, now that it’s out that Irving, the former Duke point guard, has requested a trade. Kemba Walker is the Hornets’ best player, but it’s incumbent on this front office to explore possibilities. That is owner Michael Jordan’s charge to the basketball operations staff.

The problem is whether the Hornets have the assets the Cavs would accept for Irving, a four-time All-Star. Obviously, Walker would have to be in the offer. After that, if I were the Cavaliers, I’d ask for Cody Zeller and rookie Malik Monk, plus multiple first-round picks, and expect the Hornets to take back a bad contract.

Is Irving sufficiently better than Walker that the Hornets would do all that to acquire him? Questionable.

Q. What is the ceiling of an NBA team that revolves around Kemba?

A. I think Kemba is one of the 50 best players in the NBA, and he plays a crucial position. I also think, at 6-1, he’s close to maxing out his potential. He would be the second- or third-best player on a contender.

Q. Starting lineup: Kemba, Monk, (Nic) Batum, Zeller, (Dwight) Howard. MKG running the second wave?

A. I doubt either Monk or Zeller is in the starting lineup for the opener, barring injuries. Monk is small for a shooting guard at 6-3 and was not a particularly strong defender at Kentucky. Initially, at least, he seems a better fit with the second unit, alongside 6-6 backup point guard Michael Carter-Williams.

Dwight Howard figures to be the starter at center. Zeller hasn’t demonstrated the shooting range to play primarily at power forward, so I think he’s better utilized at center off the bench. I won’t be surprised if Zeller finishes games, considering Howard’s track record as a foul shooter.

I think it still makes sense to have Michael Kidd-Gilchrist guard the opposing team’s top wing scorer to start each game.

Q. (Coach Steve) Clifford has been historically averse to playing rookies. What kind of role do you see Monk and Dwayne Bacon having?

A. The biggest problem with the Hornets last season was a weak bench. So Monk (who missed summer league with an ankle sprain) and Bacon (who played well in Orlando) should get opportunity as rookies. One caution: Monk played only one season of college basketball, so no telling yet whether he is physically and mentally ready to play against NBA veterans.

Q. Will the Hornets have more players in the preseason, with the NBA adding two-way contracts?

A. The new collective bargaining agreement allows each of 30 NBA teams to have two designated “two-way” players, who will spend most of the season with that team’s G-League affiliate (for the Hornets, the Greensboro Swarm).

Based on Clifford’s history, I doubt this will add bodies to any great extent to the preseason roster. Clifford’s priority in the preseason is getting the rotation players ready for the opener. Exploring developmental players is more a summer-league agenda.

Q. Thoughts on which uniform the Hornets should designate as their home uniform, given the NBA’s new policy?

A. The NBA will no longer ask teams to play most of their home games in white uniforms.

The Hornets don’t have to designate a home uniform preference for the season. The NBA’s announcement said the home team can decide between their options for each of the 41 home games.

Q. Are Clifford and (general manager) Rich Cho on the hot seat if this team doesn’t make the playoffs?

A. I would think so after the Hornets traded for Howard’s contract, which will pay him more than $23 million each of the next two seasons. That suggests a win-now urgency. The Eastern Conference is diminished by the departures of stars Jimmy Butler (Chicago to Minnesota), Paul George (Indiana to Oklahoma City) and Paul Millsap (Atlanta to Denver).

Barring significant injuries, this roster is sufficient to make the playoffs for the third time in four seasons. And possibly win a playoff series for the first time since the NBA returned to Charlotte in 2004.

Bonnell: 704-358-5129: @rick_bonnell

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