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The Hornets should try to swing a big trade this summer

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After staying pat at 12 in the draft lottery, the Hornets will need to look elsewhere to improve the team immediately.

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Charlotte Hornets Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The Charlotte Hornets were not blessed by the ping pong balls on Wednesday night, so their pick stayed pat at 12. With Kemba Walker’s impending free agency and the team spinning its wheels for three years running, the team needs to shake things up. There isn’t room to make a free agent signing, so trades are the only clear avenue to quickly improve the team.

This is the team’s cap situation going into the summer (not accounting for cap holds; see bottom of post for color codes):

If the Hornets intend to bring back any of Jeremy Lamb, Frank Kaminsky, or Kemba Walker, their cap holds will push the team over the cap before they can even entertain the idea of signing someone. If Kemba signs a max contract (he should), that’ll put the Hornets a smidge over the luxury tax. They’ll have to get creative, but there are a couple targets out there that make sense.

The first- Kevin Love. The Hornets have already been linked to the Cavaliers forward, so there’s a good chance they’ll revisit those discussions this summer. The trade will likely center around a Nicolas Batum for Kevin Love swap for salary purposes, with draft picks and maybe a young player like Malik Monk as a sweetener. Something like this:

Hornets receive: Kevin Love
Cavaliers receive: Nicolas Batum, Malik Monk, 12th overall pick

If Mitch Kupchak wants to try to milk this trade for a little bit more value, he could see if the Cavs will also include the 26th pick in this draft while the Hornets throw in pick 36. That’s probably pushing it, so we’ll leave it out for now.

If that trade goes through, this is what the Hornets will be looking at from a salary perspective (assuming Walker re-signs):

The Hornets can get under the luxury tax by waiving and stretching Bismack Biyombo. Doing so will take the $17 million he’s owed next season and divide it across the next three seasons.

That move puts the Hornets comfortably under the luxury tax, but they’ll only have ten players on the roster (with two second round picks incoming). They could use the mid-level exception to sign someone, but that probably won’t get them a quality player.

Instead, they could bring Jeremy Lamb back on a deal similar to the one Marcus Smart signed with the Celtics last summer. This contract comes out to roughly four years, $53 million with 8% bird raises.

This moves puts the Hornets in the luxury tax, but it’s not by much. One season that close to the tax isn’t a killer, though they will have to go a bit further to fill out the roster with close to minimum level deals. They’ll also have until the end of the season to get below the tax should they need to.

If Mitch Kupchak wants to start the season off under the tax, there’s an option that involves an old friend of the Hornets.

Former Hornets General Manager Rich Cho was recently named vice president of basketball strategy for the Memphis Grizzlies. The Memphis Grizzlies have a player that is exactly what the Hornets need in this situation.

Avery Bradley has a similar deal to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marvin Williams, but his deal is only guaranteed for $2 million if he’s waived on or before July 3rd. The Hornets can attach a second round pick (preferably one in the future) to one of those two players in exchange for Bradley, who they can then waive and save a bunch of money. Since MKG doesn’t seem to be in the team’s plans, we’ll use him for this example.

Hornets receive: Avery Bradley
Grizzlies receive: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, future 2nd round pick(s)

The Hornets would only have 10 players at this point and would need to fill out the roster with their second round picks and minimum level signings. Before those acquisitions, the roster would look like this:

PG: Kemba Walker, Tony Parker, Devonte’ Graham
SG: Jeremy Lamb
SF: Miles Bridges, Dwayne Bacon
PF: Kevin Love, Marvin Williams
C: Cody Zeller, Willy Hernangomez

There obviously isn’t a lot of depth there, but there’s enough top end talent to make Charlotte a legitimate playoff team. If they play the market right, they could find a solid veteran or two for depth at very little cost. There are always a couple players that fall through the cracks.

This whole offseason can be done based on a similar target that the Hornets have also been linked to- Andre Drummond. I mean, the players mentioned in that Tweet are the ones we already used in the Love trade. How convenient is that?

Acquiring Drummond instead of Love would change some of the players in the later moves, but the same process could be used. For example, it’d make more sense to send Cody Zeller to the Memphis Grizzlies for Avery Bradley so the Hornets aren’t completely stripped of their depth at power forward. The end result would look like this:

Both of these scenarios should put the Hornets comfortably in the playoffs. They’ll sacrifice some depth and long term assets, but that’s often the cost of doing business when trying to move up the NBA ladder.

Color code for charts: Red=team option, green=player option, blue=unguaranteed salary, yellow=dead cap