Charlotte Hornets fans are naturally real curious about the NBA’s Feb. 7 trade deadline.
How could they not be? Since the NBA returned to Charlotte in 2004, this franchise has been about as active as any in the league as traders. I remember owner Michael Jordan saying he viewed trading as the most reliable use of cap space because by acquiring a veteran on a preexisting contract, you have both a resume of NBA performance and clarity on salary and contract length.
When I asked on Twitter this week for mailbag questions, I definitely sensed interest in possible direction concerning Mitch Kupchak’s first trade deadline with the Hornets.
Q. Will the Hornets be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline?
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A. As of right now, I’d see them more motivated to improve the roster than acquire future assets. But that could definitely shift, and the rest of December plays a role.
The Hornets play five consecutive home games starting Wednesday against the Detroit Pistons. By Jan. 1, they will have already played 21 of their 41 games at Spectrum Center. So this is an important span regarding the playoff chances of a team that is 4-8 on the road.
If they were to fall out of playoff contention in January (which is unlikely in the Eastern Conference), I could see Kupchak looking to get something back for free agents-to-be such as Jeremy Lamb or Frank Kaminsky.
As far as acquiring a player, it’s advantageous that the Hornets have an open roster spot, so they could, for instance, deal a future second-round pick for a player. However, they are close enough to the luxury-tax threshold (about $3.4 million below the line) that they likely wouldn’t take on a lot of salary.
Q. Do you think they will trade Lamb for draft picks?
A. Only if their record the next few weeks is dreadful. Borrego moving Lamb into the starting lineup has been a big success so far. I think you owe it to Borrego in his first season to let this play out as far as chasing a playoff spot; even if that risks losing Lamb in the summer to free-agency without compensation.
Q. What would be your inclination on whether the Hornets could make a Bradley Beal trade?
A. That it’s a remote possibility the Washington Wizards give up Beal, particularly in the near future. He’s probably their most valuable commodity in terms of talent relative to contract. The Hornets reacted appropriately to talk that the Wizards might break up their core by inquiring about Beal’s availability. But for the Hornets and any other NBA team, acquiring him was unlikely and the compensation would be huge.
Q. Why can’t the Hornets land a star player via trade or free agency?
A. Depends on what your definition is of a star. They successfully recruited center Al Jefferson a few years ago, and he had an All-NBA season. They convinced Gordon Hayward to sign an offer sheet that the Utah Jazz matched. They got Tony Parker, a future Hall of Famer, to leave San Antonio late in his career, but while he was still physically able to impact games.
So they have landed, or made their best attempt at landing, stars. Superstars are different. How many other franchises outside the sexy markets (Los Angeles, New York, Miami) have attracted a superstar in his prime?
Q. While I realize Malik Monk needs improvement defensively, I think he’s more disruptive on that end this season. He’s getting more deflections and steals and seems more engaged there. Has coach James Borrego encouraged him to play the passing lanes more?
A. I don’t think Borrego is any more conscious of the value of deflections than his predecessor, Steve Clifford. I agree that Monk seems more engaged at the defensive end this season, as you would naturally expect from a player in his second season.
Borrego is holding Monk accountable for consistent defense; just like Clifford last season, when Borrego doesn’t see what he expects from Monk defensively, it is reflected in Monk’s minutes.
Q. Why is Bismack Biyombo never active for home games and why is Willy Hernangomez not getting many minutes?
A Once Borrego decided on Lamb as the starter at shooting guard, I thought the biggest minutes-distribution issue for this team would be center play. Cody Zeller has established himself as the starter. Beyond that, there is little difference in absolute value between the three alternatives as Zeller’s backup.
Kaminsky, Biyombo and Hernangomez have different skill sets. As Kupchak said after the Biyombo trade in July, it was quite possible that center minutes would be fluid throughout this season, and be partially dependent on matchups. There has been an element of that and also an element of Borrego going with the hot hand.
Kaminsky made the most of opportunity a couple of weeks ago when Hernangomez sprained his ankle. Accept this circumstance for what it is: Center-by-committee.
Q. Is winning a division banner worthy, even if it ends up translating to a sixth or seventh seed?
A. The performance of Southeast Division teams has been pretty bad so far. Keep in mind that winning a division means little or nothing these days in the NBA. The Hornets never said that was a goal. But getting into the playoffs after missing them the previous two seasons is. These players don’t perceive themselves as a team that should be missing the playoffs.
Q. Thoughts on Borrego’s long-term viability as an NBA head coach?
A. I’m impressed so far by his conviction to do things his way, to not just default to conventional or derivative approaches. An example: I found it interesting when he said he guards against being “reactionary” to opposing lineups in his rotation decisions. That doesn’t mean he disregards scouting, but he wants to make the other coach respond to his moves, whether that be playing Kemba Walker and Parker together or playing Marvin Williams as a small-ball center.
He knows some of this stuff won’t work. But he isn’t going to talk himself out of experimentation.