The Charlotte Hornets season that seemed too good to be true turned out to be just that once injuries hit. Players constantly being in and out of the lineup along with natural regression has lead to the Hornets being a little more what we thought they were. Good enough to make the playoffs, but any more than that might seem like a little much.
This isn't to say that Hornets have played bad. Far from it. They're right in the middle of a playoff race while spending most of the season without Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Al Jefferson, and the entire roster has really stepped up. Kemba Walker has played like an All-Star with Nicolas Batum making a case himself right next to him. Honestly, the argument can be made that Batum is the Hornets most important player and if it weren't for the injuries he would have made the All-Star game himself. Of course, no good team is complete without their role players and Charlotte has gotten some huge performances out of their's. Jeremy Lin and Marvin Williams have both stepped up when needed and the Hornets are better because of it.
Yet, despite all this, Charlotte could probably use a trade of some sort. Something that could push them over the edge and get them into the second round or maybe even the Eastern Conference finals. That's easier said than done though with a lot of teams looking to do the same during a very interesting trade deadline. The cap keeps going up and teams are more likely than ever to make moves. This leaves a team like the Hornets in a position where they're going to have to give up something of real value if they want to get a decent return. This gives the Hornets a short list of Jeremy Lamb, Cody Zeller, maybe Al Jefferson, Lin, and Williams.
All of those players, outside of Jefferson, have had very solid seasons and could be a piece that another team would want to look at so they can increase the talent levels of their team. Zeller, Williams, and Lin in particular have all been fantastic and would be great additions on any team. Lamb is an interesting case because he just signed a new contract so any team that gets him won't have to worry about an opt out at the end of the year, unlike a player like Lin that might be looking for a pay increase this summer. However, Lamb has spent most of his career not meeting expectations so teams are probably going to be hesitant to take him on without some other pieces involved.
Jefferson on the other hand is a curious case. The Hornets value what he does and probably want a decent return for him, but he's an expiring contract. Teams aren't going to give up that much for an expiring contract with a summer full of cap space approaching. If someone really wanted Jefferson that bad they could just wait until the offseason and offer him a contract then. There's also the possibility that the Hornets don't want to move him at all unless a deal that's too good to pass up on comes along.
Which is what leads to the real question regarding the Hornets as the deadline approaches. What exactly is their role going to be at the deadline? They have a lot of nice pieces that could help teams, but nobody spectacular enough to garner interest on their own except in maybe a few small deals. However, Charlotte won't be looking for small deals they want something that's going to help them get better. For example, if they traded Cody Zeller for Markieff Morris it would arguably make them better, but is that going to put Charlotte clear out of the second round? Unlikely, but what if that deal was part of a much larger deal?
Let's say that Dwight Howard is getting traded to Phoenix and the Suns need to clear out cap space so they call up Charlotte and say they'll give them Morris for Zeller. Meanwhile Houston sends Phoenix K.J. McDaniels and Howard along with some other moving pieces most likely. Is this trade going to happen? No, because there's no way that either of those teams can give Houston the proper return for Howard, but that's not the point. It's Charlotte's role in the trade that matters, because that's likely going to be how they operate at this deadline.
When a team like the Hornets have pieces that can sweeten up a deal, or clear out some cap space for someone else, teams are going to call them up to help out with their larger trades. This might be the role that the Hornets choose to play during this upcoming trade deadline. Swapping around role players with the goal of making themselves better, and taking advantage of larger trades that are happening.
Of course, that's not the only way for Charlotte to approach the deadline as we've seen them make small trades in the past with big benefits. Josh McRoberts showed up for nothing more than Hakim Warrick's contract, and Gary Neal's time with the team was short lived but he did provide some solid play in the second half of Charlotte's playoff run. So small trades can lead to big returns if done properly.
It all depends on how the Hornets choose to maneuver themselves this deadline. They can choose to focus on themselves, but piggybacking onto other trades has the potential to net them better returns. They just need to put themselves in the right spot.