It is hard to find a silver lining in times of turmoil and trial. This past weekend, the Charlotte Hornets' heart and soul was ripped out when Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was likely ruled out for the season after tearing his labrum last weekend in their first preseason game. A player like MKG is irreplaceable; his toughness and work ethic are second to none and a big reason why this team has had one of the best defenses in the league in the few years under head coach Steve Clifford. It's a good thing that Michael was able to hammer out his four year, $52 million extension before the injury occurred, but that kind of silver lining isn't reciprocated with a Hornets team now faced with trying to make the playoffs without one of their franchise players.
The NBA's Collective Bargaining Agreement has an exception for teams that lose players for significant periods of time. The Hornets can apply for what is called a Disabled Player Exception, an exception that allows a team which is over the cap to replace a disabled player who will be out for the remainder of that season, according to Larry Coon's Salary Cap FAQ. The exception amount is either the same as the Mid-Level Exception or half of the player's current salary, whichever is less. In this current case, MKG is set to make $6,331,404 this season, meaning that they're likely to earn a DPE of $3,165,702, approximately two million less than the non-taxpayer mid-level exception Charlotte is eligible for. This exception can be used to sign a player to a one year deal or as a traded player exception for a guy in the last year of his deal.
One small wrinkle that the Hornets may be able to exploit in this rule to get a higher DPE is the current Poison Pill Provision. If players are traded between the time they sign their extension and the time the extension kicks in, the traded salary becomes the average of every year of the extension and the last year of their rookie deal. MKG signed a deal that pays him $13 million on the dot each year, meaning that his value in any trade would be $11,666,281. If they would be able to use this value instead of half his current salary, then their DPE would equal the MLE of around $5.5 million.
In the summer, I wrote about possible options for the Hornets to sign with the mid-level exception, a useful tool to try and nab players on a mid tier kind of salary. The Hornets decided not to use it all, meaning that they still theoretically have that - plus any DPE they might get - to sign players. The huge difference lies in the fact that the DPE can be used in a trade, while the MLE can't. There aren't any players left as free agents that are worth dipping into their MLE for, so if the Hornets want to upgrade the roster, using the DPE as a trade exception would be an interesting route to explore.
With this in mind, here are some possibilities the Hornets could take a look at:
A few key things to remember when thinking about who the Hornets could use this exception on: the player has to be in the last year of their deal and the salary must fit into the DPE's amount plus $100,000. Finding players that not only fit those specific stipulations but also fit the Hornets' needs are going to be tricky. Foye is currently the starting shooting guard for the Nuggets but with the current rebuild that is going on in Denver, it wouldn't shock me if the Nuggets would give up Foye on the cheap, especially since he could leave in the summer. Foye is a small wing, but he has the potential to provide some floor spacing and creativity, plus the occasional wing defense when he is dialed in. If he doesn't prove himself worthy to start, he most definitely would be a more steady wing option than any of the others the Hornets have.
G, Miami Heat
Trading within the division is usually a pipe dream, but Chalmers is someone that the Heat are willing to deal to lower their tax bill, and the Hornets may be able to sneak in and nab him for a cut price. Chalmers was the starting point guard on the Miami Heat championship teams in 2012 and 2013, but with the addition of Goran Dragic midseason last year, the Heat shifted Chalmers to backup shooting guard. Even when he started at point guard, Chalmers played off the ball primarily with superstars such as LeBron James and Dwyane Wade carrying the majority of the lead ball handling duties. Chalmers is best suited to play off the ball and is a tight on ball defender who also is an above average three point shooter. This is a pretty ideal and realistic scenario for the Hornets.
SG, Orlando Magic
After bringing back Tobias Harris and drafting Mario Hezonja, the Magic all of a sudden have a glut of wings that will be looking for minutes along with Victor Oladipo and Aaron Gordon. That leaves Fournier, an above average shooter who has some off the bounce potential, the odd man out. He would come in and immediately be the best spot up shooter on the team and again, an upgrade over any of the other wing options that the Hornets currently have. If they are going to stick with the three point bombing that we've seen in the preseason so far, then he is the perfect fit to fill in for MKG.
The Harrison Barnes situation with the Warriors has an eerily similar vibe to the divorce of James Harden and the Oklahoma City Thunder back in 2012. Barnes, like Harden, has shown the potential to be a two-way superstar in this league. While he hasn't been that thus far in his short career, there are times where he flashes the ability to possibly be the second or third best player on a successful team. The problem for Barnes currently is that he is wanting that type of money but isn't even one of the four or five best players on a loaded Warriors squad. This seems all to familiar to the Harden scenario, a story that ended with the Thunder trading Harden to the Houston Rockets for what will go down as one of the worst trades in history.
Barnes would fit pretty well with not just Batum on the wing, but as a small ball power forward alongside Batum and MKG when he comes back in the future. Think of the defensive switching potential if you have those three defensive stalwarts 2-4, all capable of guarding four different positions? Barnes is also a lights out three point shooter who has the potential to create off the dribble and thrives in transition, a place where Batum and MKG also love to reside. Barnes represents a solution to all of Charlotte's main problem; three point shooting, wing depth, and a reliable player at power forward. He would not only be an upgrade in the short term and maybe propel them into the playoffs, but also a long term fixture as well.
All of the questions that you have with Barnes are the same questions asked about Harden in 2012. Harden was bottled up in a sixth man role, only able to showcase his skills over the course of 20-24 minutes a night. People wondered if he had what it takes to be a number one option, which he has proven he clearly can do. Barnes doesn't have quite the potential that Harden did, but there is definitely a scenario envisioned where Barnes gets traded to the right team with the right amount of minutes and touches for him to show that he is one of the best multi-tooled players in the league.
It doesn't sound like Golden State is willing to give in with Barnes to this extreme, but the NBA is so unpredictable that they should at least look into it. Maybe the Warriors get frustrated with extension talks to the point of accepting a package of the DPE and a 2016 and 2018 lottery protected pick package? Whether it is with Charlotte or another team, the Harrison Barnes situation is something to keep an eye on.
Should they look to acquire another player?
The Hornets have other options in the form of other assets they can use in addition to a possible disabled player exception. Marvin Williams has a nicely sized expiring contract plus they have an intriguing young asset in Cody Zeller. They could definitely move for a floor spacer; someone like Kevin Martin of the Minnesota Timberwolves would make sense. Even more ambitious, why not give the Boston Celtics a call about their ball hawking two guard, Avery Bradley?
There are still some downsides to doing this. The team has shaken up their roster just as much as any other team this offseason, and doing that again after training camp and right before the season starts could have negative chemistry ramifications. They're also slated to have monster cap space next summer, and if they traded for someone like Bradley or Martin, they would be cutting into that space in future seasons.
Charlotte has made it clear, however, that winning now is the priority. Trading for someone else may have its down sides but for a team as desperate as the Hornets have made themselves out to be, they may not have a choice but to make a gamble in MKG's absence. I think anyone's best case scenario for this team would be making the playoffs and re-signing guys like Nic Batum and Al Jefferson and running it back with the same crew in 2016. Adding someone to that mix would only increase those odds.
That is another reason why Barnes is such an interesting case for the Hornets. While Barnes may represent the highest of variances for this situation, he could also be the type of player that pushes the Hornets another step higher in the NBA pecking order. It would also make them a young and exciting destination for free agents in the summer when they will have cap space. Charlotte would more than likely have to give Barnes a massive extension, but they would still be able to bring back Batum and Jefferson over the cap and look to bring in players during the loaded 2017 free agent class (Barnes also played at the University of North Carolina, for whatever its worth).
The Hornets could also take the wait and see approach. Given the urgency they've brought upon themselves, however, that doesn't seem like an option.