Marvin Williams, Bismack Biyombo, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Nicolas Batum, and Cody Zeller.
Those are the players on the Hornets’ roster that qualify as “veterans” in my eyes, and all but Batum and Zeller have expiring contracts in the $13M-$18M per year range that come off the books this July. Zeller is a valuable piece to the Hornets and the city of Charlotte as a whole, while Batum just kinda stinks, and why would a team take on a contract with two years and over $50M left on it without Mitch Kupchak giving up draft assets? They wouldn’t, and Kupchak won’t be trading away picks. Batum and Zeller will be Hornets through the Feb. 6 trade deadline.
Marv, Biz, and MKG are a totally different story. Not only has the fanbase been clamoring for a trade involving one/two/all of those guys, but Kupchak has acknowledged his need and desire to improve the team via “savvy” trades more than once. There are the Andre Drummond rumors that re-surface every now and again. There’s James Borrego’s refusal to play Marv/MKG big minutes despite their skillsets including things the Hornets are either bad at or want to do more of (bad; rebounding, do more; shoot threes). The plan has seemingly been laid out for the Hornets to be active sellers at the deadline this season.
But what if they just... don’t?
We can conjure together every trade machine gem that we’d like to between now and then, but ultimately it falls on Kupchak to decide whether or not the assets they receive are worth it in the long-term (important to view everything in this lens during a rebuild). Since most of Charlotte’s trade bait hits free-agency this summer and they don’t fit into the franchise’s future plans, they’re not re-signing here anyways. Marv and Biz, especially, deserve to play out the twilight of their careers with a chance to win a ring.
If the Hornets aren’t swinging trades left and right, what are their options? Well, it’s very plausible for them to just do nothing at all. On top of owning their own first-round pick every year from now until 2025, the Hornets are in possession of two extra second-rounders in each of the next two years (Cavs’ and Nets’ in 2020, Clippers’ and Nets’ in 2021). The team’s draft cupboard is anything but bare, and there’s no reason for Kupchak to send away a veteran(s) that is not only valuable on the floor, but also in the locker room. People forget that you can’t just throw a dozen 18-to-23-year-olds on an NBA court and tell them to have at it. The stability and level-headedness of someone who has been through it as an NBA player is valuable for the development of younger guys. If the Hornets traded away their vets strictly for future draft capital, we would be in for a really rough ending to 2019-2020.
I’m not saying the Hornets shouldn’t ship anyone out, but I certainly am not saying they should just for the sake of doing so. Marv, Biz, and Cody all play varying levels of “meaningful” minutes on most nights and contribute. The Hornets would need to fill those holes with something, were one or more of them to get traded, and it’s unlikely they’re getting any young player or player of equal skill-level back in exchange (operating on the assumption Kupchak isn’t dealing for older players on large conracts, fair assumption imo). It’d probably be a second-rounder or a fellow veteran contract, perhaps one that doesn’t come off the books until July 2021. A lot of people on the world wide web seem to think that the Hornets could recoup a first-rounder/prospect in exchange for any of these players, but I truly do not see a world in which any of the Hornets’ current assets are worth that much. No team is giving up its first-round pick — even in what’s considered a weak 2020 draft — for players over the age of 30 that most likely won’t be on the team in a few months. Marv, Biz, and MKG are surely NBA-level players, but they don’t move the needle in the way that a competing team’s GM is looking for when they have to part with serious draft capital. I’d consider it a win if Kupchak got some second-rounders and/or a struggling prospect that needs a change of scenery (Mo Bamba, anybody?) for any of these contracts.
If I had to rank the vets in order starting with the most-likely to be traded and ending with the least, I think it’s this; MKG, Marv, Biz, Cody, Batum. MKG has barely played this year after being a starter for the high majority of his career, and considering his two best skills are among the Hornets’ two biggest issues (defense and rebounding), there’s gotta be a reason as to why. I would presume it’s to keep him healthy while still giving teams some film to look at. He’s also the cheapest of the bunch at $13M, so it’ll be easier to match his contract with others’. I think the Rockets could use a player like MKG to defend LeBron James and Anthony Davis in the playoffs, but after the Russell Westbrook trade, they have little to no assets to trade away. Marv and Biz are 2a and 2b because they’re the mid-level deals that teams can match their undesirable contracts with. The Hornets aren’t going to be free-agent players this summer, and if they decide to take on another Batum-like deal, that’s the one case where I could see Kupchak getting a first-round pick back in return; but it’s also unlikely, since 2021’s free-agency period is what most teams are gearing up for and the best player available this summer is Andre Drummond. When it comes to Cody, I highly doubt he gets traded this winter since he’s one of the better players on the team, but when his contract is expiring next year, he could be a really hot name on the market. He does a lot of the nitty-gritty work that championship teams need someone to do. And, we all know the deal with Batum. If Kupchak can convince a team that it’s worth taking on $50M while also giving an asset away for an 8-minute 0/1/2/0/0 0-2 FG box score, then give him GM of the Year.
This ended up being a lot longer than I thought it would be when I opened my laptop and started rambling, but I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Let me know what you guys think, too. It might not be a bad idea to keep the chemistry strong and ride out this season with what they have, and then let the vets pick their next destination in a summer where they might get paid more than they should (which is fine, I love to see players get richer) while also allowing the front office to fill out the roster to their liking. Either the draft pick will improve, or it’ll stay about where it is now, because as their recent games have demonstrated, the playoff dreams are just about gone. Plus, they have Cleveland’s second-rounder which will probably be like 31-35. No matter what happens, the rebuild is going swimmingly thus far, and Kupchak would be wise to keep things on the same path as they are now.