The NBA trade deadline is Thursday, and many want to know if the Charlotte Hornets will do something by then.
The better question might be, should the Hornets do something?
Naturally, considering the Hornets’ track record of deals this time of year, fans asked me a lot of questions regarding the trade deadline. That tops this week’s Hornets mailbag:
Q. If you were the Hornets general manager, what would you do before the NBA trade deadline?
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A. I’d explore every potential deal, but I’d do it from the point of view that this roster isn’t broken. While there isn’t enough collective talent right now to contend — and that must be addressed over time — there is a legitimate NBA player both starting and backing up each of the five positions.
That hasn’t necessarily been the case the past two seasons in Charlotte.
Tony Parker signing as the backup point guard made a big difference. Malik Monk is progressing at shooting guard. And rookie Miles Bridges provides depth at multiple frontcourt positions. All that has raised the bench from a weakness to a strength.
Typically, the Hornets have made a deal at the trade deadline and typically that has been a smaller, surgical move to fill a gap. Examples: Courtney Lee to mitigate Michael Kidd-Gilchrist being injured, or Mo Williams to fill in for Kemba Walker. With center Cody Zeller close to a return from a fractured right hand, there is not some obvious gap to fill.
The Hornets’ “need” isn’t at a specific position, it’s to find a second-best player to Walker better than anyone else currently on the roster. Deals of that magnitude tend to happen more in the off-season than at the February deadline. So in the absence of something obviously advantageous falling in their laps, maybe this will be the February when they don’t make a move.
Q. Do you expect the Hornets to use the $7.8 million trade exception they received in the Dwight Howard deal in any way?
A. General manager Mitch Kupchak said in discussing the Howard trade that he saw that trade exception as a significant tool. They have access to it through early July.
If it comes into play, it’s more likely after this season, so that ramifications count against the 2019-20 salary cap. Every roster decision the Hornets make right now is influenced by how close they are to that luxury-tax threshold. They could still use that trade exception around the time of the draft, when teams are often receptive to all kinds of transactions.
By the way, I checked with ESPN front-office insider Bobby Marks, and that trade exception would have to be used in a vacuum. For instance, the Hornets couldn’t combine it with Jeremy Lamb’s $7.5 million salary to acquire a player with a $15 million salary.
Q. If the Hornets trade Frank Kaminsky, what would you expect to get back? (This assumes he’s not part of a package).
A. I would be mildly surprised if Kaminsky is traded this week other than as part of a package for this reason: I don’t think he’d bring back much compensation, so he’s probably more valuable as big-man depth with the Hornets so clearly in a playoff race. I’d rather have Kaminsky now than a second-round pick later.
Q. Any hints of Parker getting into coaching?
A. I think he’d be a good one for many reasons: His sophisticated understanding of strategy, his assertive and direct personality and his instant credibility with players. The question is more whether someone with so much money wants to put up with the hassles and time demands of coaching. While Parker loves basketball, he’s eclectic enough that I could see his second act being all sorts of things in an entrepreneurial manner.
Q. Would you see Marvin Williams going into a coaching or front-office role once he’s done playing?
A. Williams has talked about how his young daughter really misses him when he’s away. When his current contract is up after next season, I could see him retiring and chilling a while just to be a dad.
Down the road, I think Williams would be an asset to a front office. He is analytical in a way that could make him a strong talent-evaluator. He’d be a good teacher, too, but I wonder if he’d want the time commitment that goes with coaching, after so many grueling years as a player.
Q. Assuming the Hornets finish the regular season as the seventh or eighth playoff seed in the Eastern Conference, who would be a better matchup for them: The Milwaukee Bucks or Toronto Raptors?
A. The data pool isn’t good in this regarding the Raptors this season: The Hornets have played them only once so far, and that was an early-season blowout loss in Toronto. But the Hornets have been so competitive with the Bucks this season, that would have to be the answer.
The Hornets are 1-2 against the Bucks; they came back from a huge deficit in the season-opener to nearly win, then won the second game in Charlotte. They led the Bucks for much of the recent game in Milwaukee, forcing the Bucks to go to a small lineup to match up. The Bucks dominated the fourth quarter, but that was a strong road performance.
Q. Now that he’s two-thirds of the way through his first season as Hornets coach, what would you see as James Borrego’s strengths and weaknesses, not relative to the team’s talent level?
A. I like that he’s self-confident enough not to be derivative in strategies and player rotations. Also, he keeps players on the fringe of the rotation engaged. As Bismack Biyombo told me recently, when he wasn’t playing he still felt Borrego was transparent and fair-minded with him. Players remember that and tell their peers. That can pay dividends later.
On the other side of that ledger, I wonder sometimes if defense is as much of an imperative for this team as it once was.