How should Jeremy Lamb becoming an unrestricted free agent in July affect roster or playing-time decisions the Charlotte Hornets make this season?
I got a question along those lines, and I think it’s a good topic. For all the attention Kemba Walker’s free-agency appropriately draws, Lamb’s contract expiring is also an issue. Particularly with Lamb becoming a starter on a regular basis for the first time as a Hornet.
So, on to the mailbag ...
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Q. With Lamb being in the last year on his contract, should the Hornets be trying to get Dwayne Bacon more minutes? They’d see what they have (in Bacon) if he’s a cheap replacement on the wing.
A. I could definitely see a scenario where what Lamb draws on the open market in the summer of 2019 is more than the Hornets could justify paying him in a situation where they have depth at shooting guard and small forward. Certainly, the $1.6 million Bacon makes next season is less than what Lamb will make.
Hornets coach James Borrego wants to find ways to play Bacon, but to use Borrego’s term, there is a “logjam” of players good enough to be in the rotation at the wings. I don’t think you force the issue of Bacon’s development in reaction to Lamb’s possible departure — particularly when you are competing for the Hornets’ first playoff spot in three seasons.
Finding Bacon minutes might correct itself over the course of an 82-game season. The Hornets have been very fortunate so far with injuries — not one player has missed an entire game. Eventually, injuries will move other players into the rotation, and Bacon is the player Borrego would look to play more, based on how he performed in Friday’s game in Philadelphia.
Q. Will the Hornets be buyers or sellers at the February trade deadline?
A. Assuming they stay on their current trajectory — in contention for one of the last three playoff spots in the Eastern Conference — I’d see them more likely trying to add a piece than dump a salary, but so much could change between now and then.
The Hornets have an open roster spot against the NBA maximum (15, plus two two-way contracts), so they have flexibility some other teams don’t. However, I can’t see the Hornets crossing the luxury-tax threshold for a roster that would probably be maxing out by winning one round of the playoffs. So if they do make trades, they’d probably be smaller, surgical deals that don’t significantly increase player payroll.
Q. Should the Hornets go after Carmelo Anthony if the Houston Rockets waive him?
A. I don’t think so. If Anthony is struggling to adjust to a non-starring role with the Rockets, then why would a similar situation with the Hornets be a better fit? Also, as mentioned above, the Hornets already have an abundance of wing players. Sure, Anthony can play small-ball power forward, but that’s one of the things rookie Miles Bridges does. Eating into young players’ opportunities seems counter-productive, unless you’re extremely confident Anthony would make a huge impact now, the way Tony Parker has.
Q. Who do you think was the better Hornets backup point guard: Parker this season or Jeremy Lin in 2015?
A. Apples and oranges, in that Lin is bigger and stronger than Parker, so he was well suited to defend opposing shooting guards, but Parker’s calming value to the entire second unit has been huge.
The difference in the two was also situational: In Charlotte Lin was looking to reestablish his NBA career, and was rewarded with a big contract from the Brooklyn Nets. Parker is close enough to the end of his NBA career that he can apportion more of his attention to mentoring and teaching teammates, which could be particularly valuable to rookie Devonte Graham.
I would say Parker, because I could argue he’s second only to Walker right now as far as the player the Hornets would have the hardest time replacing in the short run. But Lin was very good the one season he was here.
Q. Excluding Walker, which Hornets players would have the most perceived trade value?
A. I’d guess it would be Bridges or Malik Monk, in that they are emerging talents still controlled by affordable rookie-scale contracts..
But to answer your question thoroughly, I bet some contenders would be happy to get Parker on his current contract ($5 million this season, a $5.25 million team option next season), now that he has proven he is healthy again.
Q. Do you see Frank Kaminsky getting traded?
A. Kaminsky being inactive for Sunday’s road game against the Detroit Pistons was a reminder he appears extraneous. I have to believe some other team would give the Hornets a future second-round pick (assuming the Hornets would take back a salary comparable to the $3.6 million Kaminsky makes this season).
The question that must be posed is whether it’s worth giving up center depth. Big men in the NBA are comparable to linemen in the NFL — right about the time you trade your depth, you might start getting other big men hurt. It’s a lot harder to find a capable big man in the G League than a shooting guard or small forward. So keeping Kaminsky around as injury insurance could be the best course.