December 15 is an interesting date in the NBA calendar. This marks the day where a majority of the contracts that were signed this past summer can now be made available for trades. By this point in the season, teams are about a third of the way into their schedule and will have an idea of which direction their outlook is going.
For the Charlotte Hornets, the vibes could not be any higher. It is safe to say that Charlotte has exceeded their preseason expectations by a wide margin. The Hornets sit at fourth in the East at 14-9 and the seventh best point differential in the NBA. They've been outstanding on both sides of the ball, falling in at fifth in offensive deficiency and sixth in defensive efficiency. All of the early indications point to this team meeting their goal of being a playoff team.
Charlotte was not quiet at all on the trade market this past summer. They went out and took a chance on an expiring contract in Nicolas Batum, who has been the Hornets' best player this year. Underrated and under used guys such as Jeremy Lin and Jeremy Lamb have been able to break out in their new roles with the Hornets, giving them some much needed shooting and playmaking.
Winning feels good and once you get a taste of it, you want more. That's what makes the NBA so great, the competitive nature that drives the teams, for better or for worse, to making decisions that can alter their future.
It was no secret in the summer that the Hornets were focused on the here and now. Jobs may have been on the line and nobody knew what was going to happen after a miserable 2014-15 campaign. The pressure to make the playoffs was there, and the front office made the moves they felt necessary to put them into that position. So far, it looks like it has all paid off.
I don't think that anybody would be naive enough to think that this run means the Hornets are a title contender by any means. They may not be at all this season. But taking the step towards relevancy is a part in the process towards contention. In order to make another leap and get into the top tier of serious contenders in the Eastern Conference, the Hornets will have to make another deal to infuse more talent into the roster.
Based on what happened over the summer, the Hornets aren't shy in making moves that they feel will give them an upgrade. The only first round picks that they have available to trade from here on out are their own first round picks, and given the team's success, I wouldn't plan on those picks being very high. If they want to make a deal, their best assets will be the players that they have on their roster.
Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
This category is reserved for players who you wouldn't trade under any circumstance. There haven't been five small forwards in the league better than Batum this year, who is in line to be named to his first All-Star team selection this season. The Hornets took a gamble on Batum, giving up 2014 first round pick Noah Vonleh and steady wing Gerald Henderson just to have one year of Batum on the roster. Not only has Batum made the trade look like a steal for the Hornets, but he has been the best player on the team this season, averaging 17 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game while also shooting 39.1 percent from 3.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist may be out for the season, but he is still vitally important to this Hornets organization. Kidd-Gilchrist is one of the best defensive players in the NBA and is the heart and soul of the team's energy and passion. The team just extended him in the fall, making a trade for him not only difficult due to the Poison Pill Provision in the NBA's Collective Bargaining Agreement but also unlikely.
NO, BUT THANKS FOR CALLING
Jeremy Lamb, Jeremy Lin, Kemba Walker, Cody Zeller
In this category, you have the players that it would take a lot to trade for since these guys have been key contributors to the Hornets' success this season.
Lamb is enjoying his first breakout season in the league after being buried on the Oklahoma City Thunder bench his first three years. After locking up an extension last fall, Lamb has gone on to be the Hornets' leading scorer off the bench, averaging 12 points and 4.7 rebounds on 47.8 percent shooting. He has killed coming off of screens and pouring in points against second units for this Hornets squad.
Just as equally important has been Lamb's bench partner, Jeremy Lin, whose playmaking has been a nice boost to the Hornets' roster. After being in tough situations in Houston and Los Angeles the last three seasons, Lin has thrived in the backup point guard role that Charlotte has given him. Lin is averaging 10.7 points, 2.8 assists, and 2.8 rebounds per game off the bench, making his two year, $4.3 million deal he signed this offseason looks like one of the best bargains from the summer. For a player with that type of production on that low of a deal, you aren't going to be able to pry him away from the Hornets for cheap.
Kemba Walker is also enjoying the best season of his career, averaging 18 points, 4.7 assists, and 4.1 rebounds per game on career highs in field goal percentage (45.2) and 3-point percentage (39.6). Walker is in the first year of his extension that he signed in the fall of 2014, showing that the Hornets are committed to him long term if they were willing to give him a long term deal. Given his improvement into one of the East's best point guards this season, it is hard to dream of a scenario where the Hornets would want to move on from him.
Zeller's stats won't pop out at you in a box score, but he has probably reaped the most benefits from the new free flowing offense that head coach Steve Clifford has implemented this season. Zeller is a bouncy big man who is constantly cutting and diving to the rim. He never stops going when he is on the floor, always wreaking havoc on the glass and on defense. He has thrived as the team's starting center recently, and is averaging eight points and 4.8 rebounds on the season. Zeller is in his third season and will be up for an extension next summer, making him an intriguing long term piece for this team. Unless he is the centerpiece of a deal for a big star center, I don't see why Charlotte would trade him.
Frank Kaminsky, Marvin Williams, Spencer Hawes
Kaminsky was the team's first round selection this past June, being taken ninth in the draft by the Hornets. He has been solid for the Hornets, delivering on his reputation of being a sharp shooting big man. Kaminsky is averaging 5.3 points on 41.7 percent from 3 so far in his young career, adding to the much need shooting the Hornets got this summer. Kaminsky may very well be Charlotte's most interesting asset in a trade given his young age (22), his small contract, and that he is just a rookie. His ability to stretch the floor and move the ball in the halfcourt would fit perfectly just about anywhere in the modern NBA, which could entice teams to try and trade for him. The Hornest shouldn't shop Kaminsky by any means, but if the Hornets are looking for a significant upgrade, Kaminsky would probably be the starting point of any discussions.
Williams has stepped up his game big time this season, shooting 44.3 percent from the floor and 36.3 percent from 3. He has started every game at the power forward spot for Charlotte this season and is averaging 10 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. In terms of efficiency, Williams may be having the best season of his career and is a big part of Charlotte's success this season. With that in mind, Williams' value may be at an all time high. He will be 30 next summer when he will also be up for a new contract, and the Hornets may not want to clog up their cap space in order to overpay for what Williams did in one season. They have other guys on the roster that can replace his power forward minutes, so he wouldn't be missed a ton. That being said, the Hornets have been just fine with Marvin and shouldn't be looking to trade him by any means.
Hawes' value to the team this year has gone past the box score. He seems to be gelling and fitting with the team and has become one of the leaders in the locker room. He is a goof ball who seems awkward at times, but he is a willing passer and screener. Those things fit perfectly within Coach Clifford's offense and even if he doesn't always shoot well from the floor, his intangibles have still made an impact. Given the nature of his contract, however, the Hornets shouldn't feel extremely tied to him should some team come calling.
Al Jefferson, P.J. Hairston, Brian Roberts
Al Jefferson's situation is the gigantic elephant in the room for this team. For the past two seasons, Jefferson has been the centerpiece of the Hornets team, leading the team in scoring and rebounding each of the last two seasons. This year hasn't been the case, with Jefferson's numbers being down to 13.7 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, both the lowest since his second season in the league. He has missed time due to an injury and is also facing a five game suspension from the league for substance abuse. His low post game hasn't been the best suited for the Hornets' high pick and roll, ball movement offense and with the success that this team has had, he might not be a part of this team's future anymore. It wouldn't be surprising if the Hornets looked to get some value out of Jefferson before he has the chance to leave in free agency next summer.
Hairston has had an up and down season that began with the news that the team wasn't going to pick up his third year option. Despite his numbers not being very enticing, Coach Clifford has kept Hairston in the starting lineup thanks to his improved defense. Hairston should be able to stick in this league as a rotation player somewhere, and there are teams out there that need someone with his skills. The Hornets are limited to a very small amount they can give him next summer since they declined his option, and they could maybe pry a second round pick or two from a team in need of some depth.
Roberts was a player that was a figure in the Hornets' rotation last year but hasn't been a fixture at all this season, averaging a career low in minutes and points per game. Teams that are in need of a backup point guard could come calling for Roberts, who can add some shooting and secondary ball handling to a team's second unit.
Tyler Hansbrough, Troy Daniels, Aaron Harrison
These three players haven't played much this season, despite the potential promise that they brought. Hansbrough has seen spot minutes, Daniels' shooting hasn't been consistent, and Harrison probably isn't quite ready to have a role in the NBA quite yet. If any of these guys were to be moved, it would be to add salary in order to make contracts match.
The Hornets probably aren't actively shopping anyone, as there haven't been any reports to indicate that they are. They have a nice ecosystem going on right now and any player that is brought will have to be able to fit in to what they've been successful with on both ends of the floor. Adding talent is enticing, however, and here are a few names that might be on the market that Hornets could try and ask about.
This has been the hottest name as of recently, with Dwight reportedly unhappy in Houston with his second fiddle role to superstar James Harden. Dwight at his peak is a rim rolling, shot blocking fiend, one of the five best centers in the NBA. His ability to roll hard to the rim and finish combined with his presence on defense has been the pioneering of the NBA's evolution for the center position.
Howard hasn't been as great this season, which could be a sign that his age and injuries are going to start being a factor for him going forward. He is averaging 13 points, 12 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game, solid numbers but not the elite level that we are used to with Howard. There is also the issue of Dwight's contract, which is worth around $22 million for this year and has a large player option for next season that he will almost certainly opt out of.
The Hornets could use a rim protector since Zeller is the only player who normally gives them that. Howard can't move like he used to, but the Hornets play a conservative system that wouldn't require any intense movement for him. He can drop back and wall up the basket to prevent any teams from scoring in the paint. Trading Al Jefferson, Marvin Williams, and a protected first round pick for Howard would make sense but do the Hornets really want to sacrifice long term cap flexibility and locker room chemistry on a rapidly aging 30 year old who hasn't had the best reputation for getting along with teammates?
Morris has seemingly always been rumored to be on the trading block, dating back to this summer when the Phoenix Suns upset him by trading away his brother. Morris has struggled to get minutes this season and has seen his stock plummet, averaging 11.4 points and 5.2 rebounds on 38.6 percent shooting.
Morris would be an awkward fit with the Hornets, even if he was playing at his best. He tends to wander in the mid range and hold the ball at the elbows when he catches it. He likes to catch the ball with his back to the basket, face up, and then make a move, normally shooting rather than making a play. The Hornets' new offense is all about ball movement, and Morris could clog that up. When he is playing at his best, however, he is extremely good and is arguably an All-Star when he has his head on straight. Players like that under the eight million dollar per year salary that he has don't come around often, and with his value as low as it is, he might be worth a call.
This is probably the name that makes the most sense of all the players that might be on the trading block. Despite a dip this year, Martin is a career 38.5 percent 3-point shooter and would be able to provide even more spacing on the wing for this Hornets team. His contract does run past this year, however, and Charlotte is slated to have lots of cap space in the offseason that they may not want to give up for just a marginal upgrade. Martin would give them depth, but it isn't the type of move that would put them up another level.
SHOULD THEY MAKE A MOVE?
For now, it would probably be best for Charlotte to use their cap space next summer as they're asset to add talent to the roster. This is a team and organization that is on the rise and will have an attractive coach, city, owner, and young core to try and lure free agents. Building around a team of Batum, Walker, Lamb, Zeller, and another young draft pick or free agent is a great recipe for building towards the future.
All that said, don't count out this front office's drive and motivation to be a contending team. They've shown in the past that they will do whatever it takes to be better now. With that type of pressure put on themselves, anything and everything is on the table.