Cody Zeller has been with the Charlotte Hornets for his entire career, and by no means should he be slandered. He’s led the team in rebounding for two years straight and is currently the longest tenured Hornet on the roster, fully embracing the culture of Buzz City.
That being said, there’s a youth movement going on in Charlotte. Zeller currently makes $15.4 million and is the second oldest player on the team. With his contract being up after this season, why not trade him and try to get something in return? What teams would want a guy like Zeller, and more importantly, what could the Hornets get back?
Hornets Receive: Gary Harris, PJ Dozier, 2022 1st Round Pick (Lottery Protected)
Nuggets Receive: Cody Zeller, Malik Monk
Before completely disregarding this trade because it includes Monk, just think about it for a moment. Monk has continuously gotten worse and worse each year in terms of efficiency, and the suspension last season could have been the last straw. Obviously if he has a bounce back year this trade would need to be re-worked, but for the sake of the trade let’s say Monk has another down year.
The Nuggets lost Mason Plumlee and Jerami Grant this offseason. While they did bring in JaMychal Green as a solid replacement for Grant, they are now left with no backup center. In terms of general statistics, Zeller and Plumlee had pretty similar seasons last year. Zeller put up 11.1 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 1.5 assists a game and Plumlee averaged 7.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 2.5 assists a game. While the Nuggets would lose some defense in terms of going from Plumlee to Zeller, getting Zeller would be better than having no backup center at all.
Harris has had a rough couple of years shooting the ball, and with Michael Porter Jr. taking a leap, he could be seen as dispensable. He also makes a lot of money ($19.6 million) for the next two years which the Nuggets could be eager to get off of. As for Dozier, he played some solid defense in the playoffs last year for Denver, but is definitely someone they could live without.
As fantastic as Gary Harris' defense was on Mitchell with 13 seconds to go, I can't get over what he did to Clarkson right here. His closeout looks like it's in fast-forward. pic.twitter.com/y1dSzKugyq— Mike Singer (@msinger) September 2, 2020
Looking at this from Charlotte’s perspective, it’s low risk, high reward. They’re losing Zeller and Monk, who in this theoretical world would have had a bad season, but both are expiring contracts that could be flipped into some sort of value. While Dozier would be a decent flyer to take a chance on for the sake of defense, getting Harris would be the real value here. He’s had a rough couple of years, but the fit with the Hornets would be perfect.
Charlotte has three main guards on the roster in LaMelo Ball, Devonte’ Graham, and Terry Rozier - none of which play particularly great defense. Putting Harris in that lineup essentially gives the Hornets a safety net, as he’s one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. Shooters shot only 33.3% from 24+ feet when guarded by Harris last season, and as a whole defenders shot only 40% against him on the year.
People also forget how solid Harris can be offensively, too. Jamal Murray took over as the focal point at guard a couple years back and Harris just kind of fell to the wayside in Denver’s offense. Back in the 2017-18 season he averaged 17.5 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.9 assists, and 1.8 steals per game while shooting 48.5% from the field and 39.6% from deep. Combine those shooting numbers with his defense and the Hornets would have the perfect shooting guard to pair with whichever point guard they choose to start.
Hornets Receive: Kris Dunn, Tony Snell, 2022 1st Round Pick via OKC (Lottery Protected)
Hawks Receive: Cody Zeller
*This trade would have to be done near the trade deadline as both Dunn and Snell were recently picked up by the Hawks and cannot be traded yet.
First things first, this trade would only really benefit the Hawks on two conditions. First off, they would have to prefer Rajon Rondo as their backup point guard behind Trae Young, deeming Dunn as less valuable to them. Secondly, they would have to believe that they are in the position to compete in the next couple of years. They have Bruno Fernando on the roster as a backup center right now, but if he doesn’t develop quick enough they would be in need of someone to back up Clint Capela.
By adding Zeller, they get a nice veteran center to come off the bench. A second unit of Rondo, Kevin Huerter, Cameron Reddish, Danilo Gallinari, and Zeller sounds great. He’d fit in perfectly on their roster and could sign a team-friendly deal at the end of the year to move forward with them.
Monk can't bring the ball up against Kris Dunn. Really impressive defense. pic.twitter.com/8E2CsLhmaq— Stephen Noh (@StephNoh) November 18, 2017
Then for the Hornets, this brings to Charlotte a similar need as the previous trade idea did - defense. Snell is being dealt purely for the sake of matching salaries and the pick is a great asset, but Dunn is the star of this deal. Dunn is one of the best defensive-minded guards in the entire league, finishing second in the NBA in steals per game last season (2.0). He was also second in the entire NBA in defensive box plus/minus* (3.1) behind only Giannis Antetokounmpo (4.1)… the Defensive Player of the Year. For context, here are the defensive box plus/minus numbers for both Hornets’ point guards last season:
Terry Rozier: -1.2 (150th in the NBA)
Devonte’ Graham: -2.1 (181st in the NBA)
Although Dunn is only 6’3” and naturally a point guard, there’s no reason the Hornets couldn’t slide him over to the shooting guard position to play with their young point guard rotation. The only concern with Dunn is his lack of a jump shot, but with all the great shooters in Charlotte, the defense he brings will surely overshadow any struggles he has shooting.
The idea with these trades is clear - bring in some defense to play alongside Ball, Graham, and Rozier. The Hornets have some solid offensive players, but trading an expiring contract for some defense would be perfect for this team’s youth movement moving forward.
*Defensive box plus/minus - A box score estimate of the defensive points per 100 possessions a player contributed over a league-average player, translated to an average team.