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A case for trading Kemba Walker

The Charlotte Hornets are staring at years of mediocrity if they keep Kemba Walker.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Charlotte Hornets Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Under no normal circumstances should any team want to trade their lone All-Star. However, if the Charlotte Hornets hope to be anything other than a borderline playoff team in the next five to seven years, then they must seriously consider trading Kemba Walker.

The Hornets are in one of the toughest situations in the NBA, thanks in part to the spending spree over the course of the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons. Charlotte re-signed Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to a four-year, $52 million extension, Nicolas Batum to a five-year, $120 million extension, Marvin Williams to a four-year, $54.4 million extension, and Cody Zeller to a four-year, $56 million extension. They are now limited to any future cap flexibility when it comes to signing free agents or bringing in other players via trade.

The Hornets have an old, expensive roster that is struggling just to make the playoffs. In fact, of the top thirteen most expensive payrolls in the NBA, the Hornets are the only team to not be in playoff contention at the moment. Oh, and Kemba Walker, the team’s best player, is expected to cash in on a major payday once his contract expires in 2019. He isn’t even the fifth highest player on the team. Re-signing Walker would put the Hornets well into the luxury tax. And that’s assuming Kemba Walker re-signs. To put it simply, it may not be worth it or just flat-out fair for the Charlotte Hornets management to pay an immense amount of money for a roster that is not even playoff worthy in a conference that is considered weaker than its counterpart.

Despite his verbal commitment to the Hornets, it’s unclear whether Walker will return to Charlotte following the 2018-19 season. He loves the city of Charlotte, and he’s even building a house in town. Neither guarantees he will return; however, especially when plenty of teams will be able to offer something Charlotte simply cannot now or in the immediate future: A possible championship run.

There are some legitimate concerns about trading Walker, but there is an answer to each.

Will people still attend games if Walker is traded? Let me answer this question with a question, then proceed to answer that question. Did fans stop coming to games when the Hornets had an NBA record-low win percentage? Nope. In fact, according to ESPN, an average of only 600 more fans is attending games this year than they were in 2011, the year in which Charlotte fielded the abysmal 7-59 Bobcats. Charlotte has only made the playoffs three times in the new Hornets era (2004-2018), and yet interest for the team has steadily grown from the worst point in franchise history until now.

Another major concern is drafting. If the Hornets didn’t draft well during the previous rebuild, why should they be expected to draft well in a new one? This question is pretty baseless considering nearly every team has a list of picks they regret. The Charlotte Hornets have suffered from picking the wrong types of players at the wrong time. For instance, in 2015, instead of picking the high-upside Turner or Booker, the Hornets had their eyes set on the NBA-ready Frank Kaminsky. However, as demonstrated with the recent selection of Malik Monk, it seems Charlotte is now leaning toward picking the player with the highest upside. Front offices can get it wrong, but they can also learn.

The Hornets are going nowhere fast. It’s a pretty long stretch to believe that the Charlotte Hornets could make a playoff run. If they do in fact re-sign Walker, they very well could be sentencing themselves either the first-round playoff or failed playoff run every year for the next five to seven years.

The Charlotte Hornets are too old for a team to commit to long-term. The following is a chart showing the Hornets’ starters’ age, as well as their contract length.

Hornets Starters

Name Years left Money per year
Name Years left Money per year
Kemba Walker 1.5 $12 million
Nic Batum 3.5 $25 million
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist 2.5 $13 million
Marvin Williams 2.5 $14 million
Dwight Howard 1.5 $23 million

As you can see, this is not exactly the team you would think develops into something much more than they already are. The next time the Hornets will have cap space is the 2019 offseason when Dwight Howard, Walker, Jeremy Lamb, and Frank Kaminsky become free agents. Combined, they all currently make $47 million. Assuming current production does not fall off, Walker would most likely be given the max contract. This contract could be worth up to $30 million with an 8 percent annual raise. This means he will be given a raise that is almost the equivalent to Dwight Howard’s current deal, which is a lot of money. Not to mention, given the signs of said contract, Walker may be in Charlotte until he is well into his thirties. I’m not sure about you, but I am not confident that a 33-year old undersized point-guard will be as productive as the same 27-year old guy.

The Hornets will also be forced into making a choice on sixth-man Jeremy Lamb the same offseason. If Lamb continues his current production (14 points, five rebounds, two assists), he might be able to land a contract worth up to $15 million. Frank Kaminsky will also be in for a raise as well. Assuming the Hornets let Dwight Howard walk, they may end up paying more for three players (Walker, Lamb, Kaminsky), than they did for all four entering the offseason.

Williams may be able to keep his production up as of now, but he certainly will not be getting any better. MKG has really found his mid-range shot this season (which is great!) but once again, how much can he build off of what he already has in his arsenal? Then, there’s Batum, who is not showing signs of improving after what will likely be two consecutive seasons of regression.

I’m not saying Kemba has to be traded before the deadline, but trading him along with a bad contract before the 2018 NBA offseason is over can help the Hornets start over. Depending on what/who Kemba is traded with (ex: Nic Batum, Marvin Williams, MKG), you could see either a greater or lesser return. If Charlotte were to start a rebuild, the money on the books won’t necessarily matter, so long as the team doesn’t go into the luxury tax.

While I don’t necessarily expect Walker to be moved before the deadline, but I believe he should. It will obviously prompt a rebuild that could last for many seasons on the, but it is best case scenario for the Hornets to build through the draft and become contenders in the future. There is the chance that Charlotte manages to get themselves right back into the situation they’re currently in. However, I’m willing to take that chance.