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Where do the Hornets stand in the Donovan Mitchell trade race?

The Hornets were listed as a team to watch in Mitchell talks once again.

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Utah Jazz v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

A few weeks ago, it was reported that the Charlotte Hornets were one of the teams involved in talks for Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell. However, ever since Summer League ended, things have gone quiet. But Shams Charania of The Athletic just dropped a new update, and the Hornets were once again mentioned.

“The Knicks and Jazz had a fresh trade conversation within the past week about potential packages for Mitchell, according to sources. There is no traction between the two teams on a deal, and no Mitchell trade is imminent for the Jazz, sources said. The Charlotte Hornets and Washington Wizards are also among the teams pursuing Mitchell, those sources said,” Charania reported.

The New York Knicks seem to be the very clear frontrunner to get a deal done, but the Hornets shouldn’t be counted out. In fact, it could be argued that the Hornets have the better potential package for Mitchell, especially considering who’s making the deals out in Utah.

It’s been well-documented that Terry Rozier and Danny Ainge have a great relationship. They share a birthday, and Rozier once said that Ainge is always the first person to message him when the clock strikes midnight. And seeing as Rozier would almost certainly have to be involved in any potential Mitchell trade, that past relationship could play a part in the deal.

That being said, the Knicks do have the advantage of being able to offer more draft picks. But that’s not the real question. The real question is, how many picks will the Knicks be willing to offer? When would they balk? Let’s take a look at the best offer each team, including the Washington Wizards, could hypothetically offer.

Hornets best package:

Terry Rozier, PJ Washington, James Bouknight, Kai Jones, 2023 first (via DEN), three first-round picks, three pick swaps

Knicks best package:

Evan Fournier, Cam Reddish, Obi Toppin, Immanuel Quickley, 2023 first (via DAL), 2023 first (via WAS), 2025 first (via MIL), four firsts, three swaps

Wizards best package:

Kyle Kuzma, Rui Hachimura, Corey Kispert, Vernon Carey Jr., three firsts, three swaps

Now, keep in mind that each of those three trades includes nearly every single pick each one of those teams could possibly offer. It’s extremely unlikely that any of the three teams is willing to give up all of their draft capital through 2029. However, that’s where the Hornets could make their play.

How many of their (roughly) seven firsts will the Knicks be willing to give up in a deal? Looking at the package Utah received for Rudy Gobert, it’s clear to see that Ainge values draft picks. But at what point would he rather take Charlotte’s package of picks and players rather than New York’s massive haul of picks? How many picks would New York have to withhold?

And perhaps even more importantly, which team would Ainge rather have picks from? If the Jazz are trying to capitalize on pick value, which team does Ainge believe will be better moving forward? Would a core of LaMelo Ball, Gordon Hayward, and Mitchell be better or worse in the long run than Jalen Brunson, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, and Mitchell? From Utah’s perspective, they would want to make the deal with the team they believe will be worse.

But the real question is, how interested should the Hornets be?

After failing to make it out of the Play-In Tournament for two straight seasons (in embarrassing fashion at that). Adding Mitchell to the roster would certainly upgrade the team around Ball, and considering neither Bouknight nor Jones played a core role for the team last year, the team’s depth wouldn’t be too affected, either.

The proposed trade for Mitchell listed above would create a rotation somewhat similar to this:

PG: LaMelo Ball

SG: Donovan Mitchell

SF: Cody Martin

PF: Gordon Hayward

C: Mason Plumlee

B: Kelly Oubre Jr.

B: Jalen McDaniels

B: JT Thor

B: Mark Williams

B: Bryce McGowens

While that rotation may look a bit thin, it’s not dissimilar to the one Charlotte is already working with. The only difference would be replacing Mitchell with Rozier, adding Washington to the starting lineup, and throwing the two young prospects to the end of the bench. Does that offset the addition of a star of Mitchell’s caliber? That’s a serious argument.

But again, it’s all a matter of opinion. At this point, it looks like the Knicks are going to lead trade discussions for Mitchell, but if they balk at meeting Ainge’s asking price, the Hornets should be ready to talk.