The NBA trade deadline is Thursday at 3 p.m., and few NBA teams need an energy infusion more than the Charlotte Hornets.
The Hornets (24-32) have gone 1-10 over their past 11 games as they limp out of the All-Star break and onto a six-game road trip that starts at Detroit Thursday night and then meanders all over the western part of the United States.
In 2016, the Hornets and general manager Rich Cho made a significant move at this exact point of the season. For a couple of spare parts, they acquired shooting guard Courtney Lee.
Lee was a short-term rental and is already gone,having signed with the Knicks last summer. But for three months he was a huge part of Charlotte's late-season push in 2016 with solid defense and occasional 3-pointers.
Charlotte needs something like that again.
It’s possible the Hornets will be involved in some sort of move between now and 3 p.m. Thursday, in large part because that's what the Hornets do. They trade. They always seem to be trading or else on the verge of trading. They haven’t won a playoff series since 2002, but they sure can make a phone call. And maybe they really can get somebody who could bring instant energy like Sacramento point guard Darren Collison.
Here are three reasons, though, why the Hornets probably won't be able to pull off a deal as effective as the one that brought Lee to Charlotte:
1. Too many bad contracts. Most of the Hornets’ best players (Nic Batum, Marvin Williams, Cody Zeller, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) are locked into big deals now. So are some of their very questionable players (Jeremy Lamb, Miles Plumlee). All-Star point guard Kemba Walker is the one important guy who is underpaid by NBA standards, making about $12 million a year, but Kemba also better be the one guy on this roster who is untouchable. You don't trade away your best player and the heart of your team.
2. What assets can the Hornets trade? Draft picks would be the most logical one, but I'd hesitate on giving away any first-rounders unless the guy in question is a major difference-maker. The Hornets’ 2017 first-round pick might well be a top-10 selection, as this team no longer looks like a playoff squad.
Second-year forward Frank Kaminsky is a young asset who doesn’t have a big contract and is coming off a 33-point performance at the NBA's Rising Stars Challenge last weekend in New Orleans. But would the Hornets really give up on him this early in his career? MKG has some value as a defender and seems to be a possibility, but he hasn't had a great year and makes $13 million a year.
3. The Hornets already made a big trade, remember? Acquiring Plumlee this month might not have moved the needle in terms of wins and losses. In fact, things only got worse, but it sure moved the balance in team owner Michael Jordan's bank account toward the red numbers.
Plumlee is in the first year of a four-year, $50-million deal, and the Milwaukee Bucks had to be ecstatic to dump that contract. How Cho decided to assume that sort of debt to get Plumlee -- who has a strained calf that will keep him out at least a couple of weeks -- is beyond me. But he did, which leaves Charlotte far less wiggle room to make a big deal.
The bottom line: Even if the Hornets can pull off a trade before 3 p.m. Thursday, it won’t be a blockbuster.
The cavalry isn't coming. And until the Hornets can squeeze more out of the guys on the current roster, the wins won't be, either.