It’s well established the Charlotte Hornets won’t have much room below the NBA’s luxury-tax threshold to improve the roster this summer.
What smaller, more surgical things could new general manager Mitch Kupchak do to improve the talent base? For instance, could Seth Curry, who grew up in Charlotte, be of help off the bench?
That was one of the questions I received from Hornets fans this week for a mailbag column:
Q. What are your thoughts on the Hornets possibly signing Seth Curry? I think he would be a good fit, considering his 3-point shooting.
A. Curry, younger brother of Golden State Warriors star Stephen, was not selected in the 2013 draft after a college career at Liberty and Duke. He signed a two-year contract with the Dallas Mavericks in 2016 that looked like a prime opportunity for playing time. But a stress reaction in his left tibia cost him last season. He’ll be coming off surgery when free agency starts in July.
A player who has shot 43 percent from the NBA 3-point line obviously has value. The challenge for Curry is he’s 6-foot-2, which is not an optimum height for a player whose skill set suggests shooting guard.
If I were Seth, my top priority would be finding my best chance for steady minutes because he’s never really had that at the NBA level. With Nic Batum, Malik Monk, Jeremy Lamb and Dwayne Bacon on this roster, are the Hornets that team?
Q. Do the Hornets still have the mid-level exception, and which free agents might be a good fit for that price?
A. They would have access to the mid-level exception. There are different amounts associated with the midlevel, based on whether the league projects the Hornets to finish next season above the tax line. As far as throwing out free agents who might make sense for the Hornets, it’s so hard to say until we know what the Hornets are doing with the 11th pick.
A macro factor to keep in mind: A lot of teams will have limited cap flexibility this summer, which could reduce the bidding for free agents once the stars’ situations are resolved. ESPN front office insider Bobby Marks mentioned recently this could be an off-season when trades become a bigger factor in how teams address needs.
Q. I’ve seen (Alabama point guard) Colin Sexton slipping to the Hornets in multiple mocks. If Sexton becomes a Hornet, you think a Kemba Walker trade is more likely?
A. I don’t think drafting a point guard at No. 11 would affect the Walker situation much. Maybe the front office would feel better about making a move, knowing a young alternative is in place, but I strongly doubt Kupchak would trade his best player based on a rookie’s presence.
Q. Percentage chance that Kemba is traded by the NBA draft?
A. 28.34 percent. I may be off by a hundredth of a percent either way.
Q. Thoughts on trading a veteran wing, such as Jeremy Lamb or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, to a contender for a late first-round pick?
A. The challenge in such a deal is finding a contender willing and able to take on the remaining guaranteed salary on a veteran contract. Otherwise, the Hornets would have to take back guaranteed salary that could be a hindrance.
Q. If (European pro) Luka Doncic falls out of the top 3 in the draft, should the Hornets try to trade Kemba for a pick to draft Doncic?
A. The problems are how they’d get in position to draft such a player and how Doncic’s International status could complicate things.
I’ve written before I doubt a team would trade a top-5 pick for Walker, and you probably need a top-5 pick to believe you’d have a chance at Doncic. Also, if other teams pass on Doncic it’s probably because he’s sending out signals he’d stay in Europe rather than immediately sign in certain markets. Would that be a complication in Charlotte?
Q. I seriously doubt this would happen, but let’s say LeBron James wants to play for the Hornets: What moves would make this happen?
A. I think it’s inconceivable James would push for a move to the Hornets. If he leaves Cleveland, it would be for a ready-made title contender or at least for a place such as Los Angeles, where other opportunities (such as the entertainment industry) would be appealing.
But if James wanted to come here, it would no doubt have to be some sort of a sign-and-trade. The Cavaliers would be cooperative in that process if they were getting young players and draft picks to aid in the next rebuild. You wouldn’t interest them in older, expensive guys, unless we’re talking about expiring contracts (like Dwight Howard).
Q. What legacy, if any, does Steve Clifford leave behind?
A. Clifford took over a 21-61 wreck from Mike Dunlap’s one season as an NBA coach. Clifford played a significant role in Walker’s ascendency to All-Star status. He also established a culture of trust and accountability with the players that didn’t exist when he arrived.
Q. Is there more value in the Hornets staying put in the draft or in trying to trade down to add a pick (either low first-round or high second)?
A. There are examples of teams trading down and doing well by the strategy (the Boston Celtics ending up with Jayson Tatum and another asset a year ago, for instance). But generally, exchanging draft quality for quantity is a better strategy in the NFL than the NBA.
That’s intrinsic to the difference in the two sports: Football has 22 starters, plus a slew of specialists. Basketball teams are typically about the top seven players.
Q. Do you see new coach James Borrego moving Kidd-Gilchrist to the bench and starting Dwayne Bacon at shooting guard or small forward?
A. I think who starts is a much bigger deal to fans than it actually matters to the process of winning and losing in the NBA. However, I am curious how Borrego will use Kidd-Gilchrist, who plays above-average defense, but is limited in the ways he can score.
Bacon has potential beyond what you’d typically expect from a player chosen 40th overall. He deserves a shot to be part of the rotation.