The NBA trade deadline is at 3 p.m. EST on Feb. 18, just days after All-Star Weekend and right around the time Al Jefferson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist are expected to return for the Charlotte Hornets.
The Hornets have battled injuries all season long, and while fans of other teams will be quick to tell you their team's had no better luck and that great teams transcend injuries, it's had a profound impact on the Hornets' ability to jell as a team on both ends of the floor. Here's a quick list of missed games: Kidd-Gilchrist (46), Jefferson (27), Jeremy Lamb (8), Nicolas Batum (8), Cody Zeller (6), and Spencer Hawes (6). Perhaps worst of all is that many of those missed games overlapped, leaving a deep-when-healthy Hornets team looking shallow.
The Hornets currently sit at 22-24, good for the ninth seed in the Eastern Conference. When healthy-ish, the Hornets have looked like a playoff team capable of impressive bursts of offense and sequences of excellent team defense. Unfortunately, they haven't been healthy often. The four-man lineup of Kemba Walker, Batum, Marvin Williams and Jefferson has only appeared in 17 of the Hornets' 46 games. That's not a good look.
But if all goes well, we should see that lineup plus Kidd-Gilchrist in a few weeks.
Still, seldom does a team feel so comfortable with its identity that it doesn't explore the trade market. General manager Rich Cho is undoubtedly making calls around the league to see what's out there and how he can improve the Hornets.
But should the Hornets be willing to make a move when they've yet to see this team healthy and together? We asked our writers for their thoughts.
Unless there's interest in Al Jefferson, the Hornets should probably stay pat as far as selling the main pieces of the team.
Someone offering anything of value for the expiring deal of Marvin Williams might sound interesting. However, there has to be some sort of line. In my opinion, it would be best not to potentially sabotage one of the franchise's few playoff runs since the inception of the Bobcats. The young core to which we have committed (Kemba, MKG, Jeremy Lamb) needs to get accustomed to Hornets playing winning basketball.
That being said, the team's ceiling probably is a first round exit so there's no need give up assets blindly chasing anything more. Our most important post-season runs are a couple of years away and it's necessary to build towards them. Trades on the margins can be explored, however, there’s no need to throw away first rounders if the intention is short-time help.
All in all, possibilities of transactions have to be approached with the model of the long-term in mind.
The Hornets absolutely should make a move if it is possible to improve their defensive rebounding and interior presence. The return of players like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Al Jefferson will be nice, but I'm not convinced it will be a cure-all to the team's biggest problems.
The goal for this season has been playoffs or bust, and in a much improved Eastern Conference, the Hornets will need all the help they can get to ensure they make the postseason.
If the opportunity is there for the right deal, why not make a move? I expect to hear the Hornets' name thrown around many rumors when the trade deadline nears.
I certainly think GM Rich Cho is always looking, like always…he’s looking RIGHT NOW, but I think they’re already getting more talent back with the return of MKG and Big Al than they would be able to get back in any trade. Assuming MKG is full strength, and by all accounts he is, that is about as big a boost as you can expect to get to your lineup outside of a blockbuster trade.
And I don’t think the Hornets necessarily have the trade pieces to participate in a mammoth exchange, nor do they want to make one at this time. So I think sitting tight now makes sense. That’s not to say there won’t be any trades, but I think unless someone is really willing to give back some young talent or juicy draft picks for Al the core of this team remains.
The Hornets haven't been known to make big moves at the deadline during the Rich Cho era, and I wouldn't expect that to change. Small, calculated trades (Josh McRoberts, Gary Neal) worked out well in the short term and most importantly, had no negative effects long-term (unless you count not resigning McRoberts. *sigh*). The trades themselves addressed a need without sacrificing a key asset, so if any move is made, it should be of that nature.
That said, the Hornets probably won't have to make a deadline day move. If MKG and Jefferson are both back and healthy, and the rest of the roster is healed up after time off during the All-Star break, then the Hornets should be deep enough at every position. Sure, they could find upgrades at certain positions, but unless something significant falls on the table (and no, trading for Brook Lopez or Joe Johnson is not significant) then it makes sense for them to let this trade deadline pass by.
Making a move for someone while preserving cap flexibility would be ideal. That sounds pretty obvious, seeing as that's what every team wants to do ideally, but the Hornets are an interesting case this summer. They are going to want to bring back Nic Batum and probably Jeremy Lin as well, and they'll have to dip into their cap room to do that.
Cody Zeller will also be up for an extension next summer, which will cut into their 2017 cap room when the cap explodes again to $108 million. I wouldn't give up any draft assets either because if they end up clogging their cap by bringing back players that have contributed in large ways this season, then the only way to add depth is through the draft. That means the types of guys they should be looking for are guys on an expiring contract that they can get on the cheap. Those types of players don't really move the needle, so making a trade probably isn't likely or practical for the Hornets.
Here’s a thought exercise: think of the most positive possible move that the Hornets could make at the deadline. Nothing of the "Brian Roberts to Cleveland for LeBron" variety, but a trade another team would possibly make. Maybe Kemba gets shipped out to a team wanting to get younger for an older point guard who has Kemba’s shooting ability but is a much better passer. Or maybe Jefferson gets traded for another player who’s just as dominant in the post, but is more versatile. Or maybe P.J. Hairston gets swapped for another underachieving prospect who finally puts it all together as soon as he reaches the Hornets. Something like that; a trade that represents a pure upgrade for this season.
Now consider that the hypothetical trade above is, while possible, still very unlikely even for Trade God Rich Cho. If a trade is to be made this season, it won’t be of the pure upgrade variety. The Hornets would have to get worse at one thing in order to get better at another. In previous deadlines, this has worked— Mo Williams, Gary Neal, and Josh McRoberts all filled a role that was desperately needed.
For this year’s team? That probably won’t be the case. This is the most well-rounded I’ve ever seen the Bobcats/Hornets, and as a result, there isn’t one aspect of the game the team is miserably failing at. While the Hornets have areas of weakness, none of them are making or breaking games. A marginal upgrade at one position (say, Hawes gets swapped for a better defensive forward who doesn’t have much range) is probably going to be the best attainable trade the Hornets could make this season, and there’s no guarantee it would add to their win total.
The Hornets could certainly use some reinforcements right now, given all the injuries they’ve suffered, but there’s likely no way to pick up a legitimate short-term asset without giving up something in return that costs them some long-term stability. I’d be in favor of making a small trade involving role players that aren’t considered long-term pieces (assuming the right offer is on the table), but anything bigger than that would probably not result in a playoff series win this season, and would almost definitely damage their long-term plan.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments!