The Charlotte Hornets are sliding again. Yes, COVID absences and other issues are clear factors, but the fact remains - Charlotte is struggling to remain consistent. Lucky for them, the Eastern Conference remains wide open, but if something doesn’t change soon, they run the risk of being on the outside looking in come playoff time.
As crazy as that sounds with how well the Hornets started the season, their defense is simply atrocious. They desperately need to figure things out on that end of the floor if they want to make a run at the playoffs. Past that, their defense needs to improve in the long run if they hope to be a Finals contender with LaMelo Ball at the helm.
There are plenty of teams looking to be sellers at the deadline this year, and Charlotte may be wise to make a move. Obviously, a player who plays quality defense should be at the top of their list. The only issue is, the Hornets don’t really have anybody to match salaries with.
PJ Washington barely makes any money, Ish Smith doesn’t have a ton of value, and it would be nearly impossible for the Hornets to match salary if they only traded their rookies. As crazy as it may sound, the two players that would probably make the most sense to trade are Charlotte’s two top veterans - Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier.
With the team trending in a younger direction, and with the elevated play of Ball and Miles Bridges, the need for Hayward and Rozier has declined. Both are quality players who have a lot left in the tank, but trading them in favor of defensive-minded guys could be in the best interest of the team. Neither Hayward nor Rozier is horrendous on defense by any means, but finding someone who is a specialist on that end would be ideal.
One idea which would make sense financially would be to send Hayward to the Portland Trail Blazers for Robert Covington and Jusuf Nurkic. Portland would be giving up two key pieces on expiring deals in exchange for a borderline All-Star who could help Damian Lillard push for a title run. While the Trail Blazers are already terrible on defense since both Covington and Nurkic are on expiring deals, trading them now could be in their best interest. As for Charlotte, this would clear up a ton of money for them ahead of this offseason.
As for Rozier, trading him to a team that needs an extra ball-handler/scorer would make sense. This includes teams such as the Denver Nuggets, Dallas Mavericks, or Minnesota Timberwolves. If the price of Ben Simmons drops, that could be a possibility, too.
All-in-all, the Hornets need to make improvements on the defensive end. While they could choose to gut their young core, trading some veterans on larger contracts may be more beneficial. Winning now is important, but with their core being so young, planning for the future should take priority.