The 2020 free-agency class will be one of the weakest in recent years, and Drummond is likely to be the big prize (assuming Anthony Davis, Draymond Green, and Mike Conley all stay with their current team/exercise their player option). The Hornets were rumored to be looking for help at the center position last February, most notably Marc Gasol. The need is still there as it becomes more clear that Cody Zeller isn’t the answer in the middle long-term, coupled with Bismack Biyombo becoming a free agent this summer and playing a limited role in the meantime.
Some Hornets fans might view PJ Washington as the answer at the five, but he isn’t strong, aggressive, or good enough (yet) to be the anchor in the paint and direct traffic from the back of the defense. Right now, PJ is a small-ball four, but Drummond can be that paint anchor while also offering historically-good rebounding numbers, scoring at a fairly-efficient rate, and no longer showing complete ineptitude at the free throw line.
Personally, I think it would be wise for general manager Mitch Kupchak to wait it out and see how willing Detroit is to part with Drummond via trade. Right now, he’s playing some of the best basketball of his career — averaging per-game numbers of 18.6 points, 16.8 boards, 3.1 assists, 2.1 blocks and 1.6 steals on 54% from the floor and 69.4% from the line — and I highly doubt the Pistons are looking to trade their second-best player before Blake Griffin gets his legs back under him after missing time due to injury.
Assuming he does become available in a trade, which is no guarantee, I don’t think it would take as much as people on the outside might think. Drummond is going to test the free-agent waters, and some team is going to try to out-bid the Pistons. This is a weak free-agent class, and teams get desperate. Some combination of Biz, Marvin Williams, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s contracts would match Drummond’s, and throwing in a pair of second-round picks, a protected future first, or a young-ish player might be a strong-enough offer. If I’m Kupchak, I start with Biz/MKG/Boston’s 2020 second/Brooklyn’s 2021 second, and my best offer is something like Biz/MKG/Willy Hernangomez/Lottery-protected 2022 first. Anything more than that, and it’s worth waiting until the summer and running the risk of being out-bid for him (it’s rumored at least one team might offer him the max) or him staying in Detroit.
Of course, there’s always the doomsday scenario in which Charlotte trades for Drummond and he leaves this summer anyway, but that trade is worth the risk if all the team loses is expiring contracts and low-value draft picks. Keeping Drummond in the fold with this young core accelerates the rebuild. Imagine a Devonte’ Graham/Terry Rozier (or Monk)/Miles Bridges/Washington/Drummond lineup in crunch-time? Delicious.
Kupchak has stated that the team plans to rebuild through player development and “savvy trades,” and this could be his opportunity to do so if the price is right. The Hornets have a better record at this point than both fans and the team itself expected, and Drummond would help with their league-worst rebounding percentage and 23rd-ranked defense. They’d be just bad enough to get a lottery pick and still have a chance at a really good prospect in a deep 2020 draft, while being just good enough to draw in fans and get national media attention with players that are fun to watch like Graham, Washington and Drummond. In the biz, we call that “The Sweet Spot.”
If the price is right, I say go for it, Mitch. If not, wait until the summer and go after him then. Perhaps he could move Batum in the summer to free up even more space since he’ll be an expiring contract at that point. Either way, anything but James Wiseman as the Plan A is fine with me. Let me know what you guys think, too. Charlotte’s “transition” is much more fun than I thought it would be.