It’s been a disappointing season for the Charlotte Hornets so far, who have racked up more losses than wins through the first four months. And just like every team that fails to meet preseason expectations, trade rumors are eagerly spreading their wings and flying across the internet, sometimes bringing facts or evidence with them, but just as often leaving silly details like salaries and trade restrictions at the door.
With the Hornets, Kemba Walker stands alone as the juiciest trade candidate, and why wouldn’t he? He’s an All-Star caliber point guard who would thrive in any situation thanks to improved 3-point shooting and a killer pick-and-roll game.
Walker could improve a large handful of teams looking for an extra boost, and Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post argues the Hornets should let him do so by trading him. Bontemps says trading Walker would be “the most prudent course of action” for Charlotte, considering both what the team has achieved on the court and the luxury tax that looms off the court. He details Charlotte’s financial future in more detail here:
Next season, the Hornets – as constructed – are guaranteed to be a tax-paying team. They have 10 players with guaranteed contracts making a combined $116.4 million. Add in the cost of their first-round pick — currently the N0. 9 selection, which would be about $3.6 million — and three minimum contracts (worth roughly $4.5 million), and the Hornets would already be more than a million into the tax.
Bontemps makes several inarguable points: the Hornets aren’t getting younger, they aren’t getting cheaper, and they aren’t finding the success they’d hoped for this season. To him, a Walker trade is the solution to that equation, and he offers a couple ideas, like this trade with the New York Knicks:
Say, for example, Walker was shipped to his hometown New York Knicks, along with Williams, for rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina, Joakim Noah and New York’s 2018 first-round pick. That would save Charlotte about $4 million next season while giving it an intriguing young point guard to install as Walker’s successor. It would also help Charlotte’s first-round pick move into the top five in the lottery, giving the team a chance to land a star in a top-heavy draft, as well as another pick in the middle of the round.
or this one with the Indiana Pacers:
For another example, the Hornets could try to work out a trade with the Pacers, who have rebounded nicely from Paul George’s departure thanks largely to the man they acquired for him, Victor Oladipo. A trade of Walker and Williams for Darren Collison, Al Jefferson, rookie forward T.J. Leaf and Indiana’s 2018 first-round pick would allow Charlotte to essentially wipe out the $29 million owed to Williams over the next two seasons (thanks to Jefferson’s non-guaranteed salary for next season). The move removes the need for Charlotte to worry about the tax, and it also would receive a rookie project in Leaf, a first-round pick and – again – a boost to its own draft pick’s status. The Pacers could pair Walker with Oladipo and Myles Turner, potentially becoming an interesting team in the East.
Trading Kemba Walker would be an enormous, franchise-altering decision, so naturally there are reasonable stances on either side of the issue. On one hand, Walker is an All-Star that’s currently getting paid like a sixth man. In most situations, that’s a contract you hold on and never let go of. It’s how the Warriors were able to amass the team they have (not saying Kemba Walker is Stephen Curry, just to be clear).
On the other hand, this roster is not the makings of an Eastern Conference contender, and so it makes little sense to pay the luxury tax just to fight for an eighth seed. A Walker trade could ease the financial burden facing the Hornets, and maybe even kickstart a rebuild. Whether that rebuild would be welcome is an entirely different discussion.