It’s finally here, folks. The NBA trade deadline is at 3 p.m. today.
For many teams, the NBA trade deadline is a day like any other. If you do your homework and plan carefully, you’ll seldom be forced to make an impulsive move at the last moment in an attempt to change your fortunes.
Smart teams will prey on foolish ones, coaxing them into giving up misused assets for loose change and pocket lint. Teams that are simply unlucky — say, their star is out for the season — are not excluded from predatory teams like the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers.
The Charlotte Hornets, on paper, appear to be a team that could be preyed upon if they’re intent on making a move.
Here’s what to expect today.
The Hornets sit at 11th in the Eastern Conference with a record of 24-32, 2.5 games back of the eighth-seeded Detroit Pistons. A month ago they were in contention for homecourt advantage in the first round, but a combination of injuries to key players — Cody Zeller, most notably — and a sudden and unexpected lack of intensity has seen them plummet through the standings.
The team figured they could get by with Spencer Hawes and Roy Hibbert manning the backup center spot but found both options to be underwhelming, eventually flipping the duo to the Milwaukee Bucks for Miles Plumlee. Unfortunately, Plumlee is out with an injury now. And with Zeller out as well, Frank Kaminsky has become the Hornets’ de facto starting center.
Mixed bag, that. Ultimately not good.
When the Hornets are healthy, their starting lineup is awfully good. It’s their bench that has given them problems all season, which has led to calls from fans to make a major move before the deadline.
Jeremy Lamb and Marco Belinelli have each dealt with injuries and even when healthy have proven to be inconsistent at best. Hornets head coach Steve Clifford has been reluctant to shake up his lineups to address this, however, leaving some question marks about the team’s younger players like Christian Wood and Treveon Graham.
You’d think that with the team losing like it has, Cliff would try something new. But nope. We as fans have no idea if that’s because Cliff believes they’re bad players or if he’s simply stubborn about playing “his guys”.
Either way, the fact that we’re having this conversation at all makes it clear that the Hornets need to address their bench in some way. Which begs the question: What are they looking for, anyway?
We know the bench is bad, but what specifically needs to be addressed?
Well, nabbing a good backup point guard would be nice. Cliff loves him some Ramon Sessions and in a pinch, Brian Roberts, but neither player has been all that great this year. Ramon’s defense leaves a lot to be desired, and his spotty shooting can lull the bench unit into a funk from time to time. Roberts — I love him, for the record, and hope he signs on as a coach when he eventually retires — is past his prime and here for reasons other than what he can do on the basketball court.
The Hornets signed Ray McCallum to two 10-day contracts, but he’s yet to see any playing time whatsoever. Not sure why. Again, the team is losing. Why not take a leap of faith?
General manager Rich Cho made a strong push for former Los Angeles Lakers guard Lou Williams a couple of days ago but found the asking price to be too high. Williams was eventually traded to the Houston Rockets for Corey Brewer and a first-round pick. Lou would’ve helped the Hornets’ bench score consistently and likely would’ve pushed them back into the playoff race.
So yeah, the Hornets need a backup point guard.
They could also use a tweener who brings energy. Marvin Williams aside (and I’m ignoring Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, whom Cliff hates playing at the four), the Hornets do not have a player who can switch between the three and four.
That’s been problematic when they play teams with bigger wings or quicker fours.
The bench tends to fall into stagnant halfcourt offense, too, so anyone who could bring consistent energy that unit would be welcome. Cliff likes playing Batum and MKG with three bench guys for that very reason.
So, what do the Hornets have, anyway?
Let’s get one thing out of the way — Kemba Walker is untouchable.
Aside from him, however, I’d wager Cho is listening to offers on everyone. That isn’t to say he’s looking to turn this roster over, but rather that he’s not married to this team in its current form and is willing to make changes to improve it.
Jeremy Lamb and Frank Kaminsky are the Hornets’ most intriguing assets, as they’re young, on reasonable deals, and haven’t shown much consistency in teal and purple. The Hornets are probably not shopping them, but I imagine Cho’s quick to include them in any feeler he sends out to other GMs.
The team would likely part with MKG and Zeller if the right offer came along, but chances are they don’t plan to move either of them if it can be avoided. They’re part of the Hornets’ core right now.
Marvin Williams is an interesting case. He’s in the first year of a four-year deal that pays an average of $13.6 million per year. He’s a bit of a luxury for the Hornets, as Williams today is a player that helps a contender solidify their roster rather than a piece you simply try to make the playoffs with. The Hornets and fans love him, but I’d wager neither would hesitate to send him out for a budding young player or a couple of picks.
The Hornets have plenty of assets and a decent amount of flexibility with them. Unfortunately, each asset has a very specific role on this team and would need to be replaced.
My guess is that if the Hornets trade anyone, it’s someone like Roberts or Belinelli, not Batum or MKG.
Look, I don’t expect the Hornets to do much of anything.
Maybe they send out Roberts for some cash and a heavily protected second-round pick or something of that nature, but don’t expect them to do anything big. The Hornets are 2-15 in games Zeller missed this season, suggesting that if he were healthy, the team might have a winning record right now.
Cho’s a smart guy. He won’t make a move for the sake of making a move. I believe he wants to see this roster out. If things don’t work out this season, the Hornets have a lottery pick and the offseason to fix it. If they make the playoffs, awesome.
But yeah, keep an eye on your phone today but there’s no need to be glued to it. I’d be shocked if the Hornets make a major move.
Now watch Cho blow this whole thing up to make me look dumb.