Trades have always been the Charlotte Hornets’ most frequent and fruitful roster tool (at least since the NBA returned to Charlotte in 2004) and I see no reason why that would change under new general manager Mitch Kupchak.
Free-agency isn’t reliable on a regular basis (particularly in smaller markets such as Charlotte) and NBA teams tend to overpay for free agents. You can blow it with trades, too, but swapping existing contracts has tended to work better for this franchise.
So, naturally, when I asked readers on Twitter for some Hornets questions for this mailbag column, several of them were inquiries about possible trades.
So here you go with the questions and answers:
Q. If the Hornets wanted to move up in the draft, what pick could the Hornets get for a deal packaging Kemba Walker? Top 3? Top 5?
A. I think a top-5 pick in the draft is a reach as far as what Walker would fetch, despite his being a two-time All-Star, for multiple reasons:
This draft is five-deep as far as players with elite potential. I can’t see another team giving up the chance to draft a DeAndre Ayton or Luka Doncic (or a Mo Bamba, for that matter) to add Walker, as accomplished as he is. Walker is in his prime, but he is nearly 18,000 minutes into his NBA career.
Also, there is a technical factor at play here: Walker becomes an unrestricted free agent in July of 2019 and figures to get a huge raise above his current $12 million salary. The salary for a first-round pick is determined (as in depressed) by the rookie pay scale. The cost-certainty of four seasons on the rookie pay scale is very appealing to teams, compared to the uncertainty of re-signing Walker following next season.
Could the Hornets get a top-15 for Walker? Good chance. Top 10? Maybe. Top 5? Unlikely.
Q. Do you think the Hornets could go for any real superstar, like a Boogie (Cousins), to team up with Kemba and go big in Kupchak’s first season?
A. The Hornets’ player-payroll problems are serious. As things stand now, they will enter the NBA’s next fiscal year in July pretty close to the luxury-tax threshold. So it’s hard to imagine how they would be in position to bid for a major free agent this summer.
Q. Would you trade Nic Batum, Malik Monk and the 11th pick for Bradley Beal and matching salary from the Washington Wizards?
A. If I were Kupchak, I’d certainly listen if the Wizards made Beal available. The Hornets (then-Bobcats) could have drafted Beal in 2012, but instead used the No. 2 overall pick on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. (Beal went third).
A caution on the hypothetical deal you describe: The Hornets are in a fix right now to a large part because their roster is full of older, expensive players. If you gave up Monk and the rights to the 11th pick in this trade, you’d be losing two of the few young and inexpensive players on next season’s roster. So you’d better be sure Beal makes you significantly better now and in the future.
Q. Should the Hornets reach out to the Celtics about possible trades? The Celtics have two starters returning in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, which means two playoff starters would move back to the bench.
A. Of course, Kupchak should check to see what Celtics general manager Danny Ainge might do, in reaction to his seeming wealth of assets at small forward and point guard. But don’t expect anything like a distress sale.
Ainge said Monday, after the Celtics lost Game 7 in the Eastern Conference final, that he laughs at the notion he no longer needs Irving and Hayward, both injured for long stretches of this season. It’s true that wings Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, and to a lesser extent point guard Terry Rozier, proved their worth this season. But Ainge will feel no pressure to move any of them. He’s operating from a position of strength.
Q. Would a buy-out of Dwight Howard’s contract be an option if a trade partner is not found or would they ride out the season with him?
A. I think the most likely scenario is Howard being with the Hornets all of next season. If the Hornets aren’t in the playoff race in February, and Howard then asks for his release to be on a playoff team, I could see him giving up some salary to make that happen. But not a lot of salary. Either way, the Hornets’ financial obligation to Howard would expire going into July of 2019.
Q. What will become of Michael Carter-Williams and Treveon Graham (both free agents this summer)? They staying in Charlotte?
A. I’d say it’s less than 50-50 that either one is back, but a lot could change between now and the Hornets’ training camp in late September.
Graham showed in limited minutes (about 17 per game) that he has a place in the NBA, despite not having been drafted. He’s smart (a particularly quick learner) and tough and he showed 3-point range (41 percent on 97 attempts). But the Hornets have lots of guaranteed contracts for more skilled players at the wing positions, so I don’t see why Kupchak would view re-signing Graham as a priority. The market will show whether other teams do.
Signing Carter-Williams last July wasn’t a bad idea; a 6-6 point guard who plays above-average defense made sense (and still might) in theory. However, Carter-Williams was hurt a lot and his field-goal percentage was a career-low 33 percent.