Friday night’s Charlotte Hornets victory over the Atlanta Hawks served as a brief crossroad for the Hornets’ recent trade history.
The Hornets trade as often as any NBA franchise. The Hawks’ starting center, Miles Plumlee, was acquired by the Hornets from the Milwaukee Bucks nearly a year ago. The Hornets gave up little in that deal – Spencer Hawes and Roy Hibbert – but the Hornets agreed to take on Plumlee’s contract, which calls for him to make $12.4 million this season and next.
The Hornets got out of that bad deal when the Atlanta Hawks agreed to take Plumlee as part of package that acquired now-Hornets center Dwight Howard. Howard had a spectacular game in Friday’s victory, finishing with 18 points, 15 rebounds and seven blocks.
The very good trade for Howard negated the very bad one for Plumlee. Which got me thinking, with the trade deadline looming Feb. 8: What would I rank as the five best trades since the NBA returned to Charlotte in 2004, and the five worst trades?
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The five best trades
5. Josh McRoberts (from Orlando) for Hakim Warrick: In McRoberts, the then-Bobcats solved multiple problems, adding a starting power forward and a desperately-needed secondary ballhandler. He was a key factor in the Bobcats qualifying for the playoffs in the 2013-14 season (before signing that offseason with the Miami Heat).
4. Jeremy Lamb (from Oklahoma City) for Luke Ridnour and a second-round pick: It took a couple of seasons in Charlotte for Lamb to find his way at the NBA level, but he’s now one of the top reserves on this roster.
3. Courtney Lee (from Memphis) for P.J. Hairston, two second-round picks and Brian Roberts: This was a deal with the Grizzlies and the Heat. Even as just a half-season rental (Lee signed the following summer with the New York Knicks), the Hornets got a starter-quality two-way player for the second half of the 2015-16 season, and gave up little. Lee was essential to the late surge to a 48-victory season.
2. Nicolas Batum (from Portland) for Noah Vonleh and Gerald Henderson: Batum was the connector-playmaker type the Hornets missed on when the Utah Jazz matched the offer sheet on Gordon Hayward. You can question whether the Hornets overpaid to re-sign Batum, but this trade was an “A” grade.
1. Howard (from Atlanta) for Plumlee and Belinelli: That the Hawks accepted so little in return demonstrates there wasn’t much interest around the league in acquiring the last two seasons (and nearly $50 million) on Howard’s contract. The Hornets’ record is disappointing this season, but Howard has been the rim-protector/rebounding/physical force this franchise hoped he’d be.
The five worst trades
5. Erick Dampier, Matt Carroll and Eduardo Najera (from Dallas) for Tyson Chandler and Alexis Ajinca: Essentially, the then-Bobcats traded starting center Chandler for the right to waive the remaining unguaranteed season on Dampier’s contract. Chandler and then-coach Larry Brown couldn’t coexist, and Chandler went on to help the Mavs with a championship. It was silly there wasn’t a better way to realize some value from Chandler, who had plenty of basketball left.
4. The 45th pick (from the Milwaukee Bucks) in the 2004 draft for the rights to center Zaza Pachulia: This was a prearranged deal attached to the expansion draft. Pachulia went on to a long NBA career, and is a starter this season with the defending-champion Golden State Warriors. The player chosen 45th, Bernard Robinson, lasted 2 ½ seasons on the Bobcats’ bench.
3. Tyrus Thomas (from Chicago) for Acie Law, Flip Murray and a future first-round pick: That last of four seasons of Thomas in Charlotte ended so badly that the Bobcats waived him under the amnesty clause (wiping him from their salary cap, but costing the franchise millions in dead money).
2. Plumlee (from Milwaukee) for Spencer Hawes and Roy Hibbert: There was a hint of desperation in this deal, after Hibbert’s knee was just too damaged to perform at center. The Hornets were lucky the Hawks were willing to accept the remaining tens of million on Plumlee’s deal.
1. Gana Diop (from Dallas) for Matt Carroll and Ryan Hollins: Coach Larry Brown had influence in making two brutal player-personnel decisions: Drafting D.J. Augustin over Brook Lopez and trading for a ridiculously overpaid Diop. He made all of 11 starts in five seasons in Charlotte. A half-dozen times, Diop told me he could be a great player if he ever got in great shape. It never happened.