• Ken Cross

What Will the Hornets Do at the Deadline?


There is generally no idea where the Charlotte Hornets brass stands as Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline approaches. The Hornets have lost 12 out of 13 and have fallen from sixth in the Eastern Conference to tenth; yet, they are only a game and a half out of that eighth spot in the East.

The Hornets already traded Roy Hibbert and Steve Hawes to the Milwaukee Bucks for Miles Plumlee. It was a quizzical trade, to say the least, based on the fact that Milwaukee signed Plumlee for four years at $50 million last summer despite the fact that his NBA career so far is regarded as a general lack of production. The fact that Charlotte assumed that contract is even more of a question mark that Milwaukee inking him for that period.

Possibly the Hornets could look at trying to package Plumlee somewhere to unload his salary as well, but it is hard to think that he will be in Charlotte for the long haul as he isn’t an upgrade over Hawes and Hibbert. In fact, he costs more money than the aforementioned duo as he commands $12.5 million per year through 2020 and Hawes and Hibbert combined accounted for $11.4 million on the salary cap this season. Both of their contracts are up at the end of the season, so this trade will have minimal affects on the court or with the pen and quill.

There is no indicator that General Manager Rich Cho would add players to try to generate a playoff berth or that he would dump salaries with the idea of starting over. Kemba Walker, Nic Batum, Cody Zeller, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Frank Kaminsky are generally the players that the organization deems untouchable.

Charlotte needs a running mate for Walker who can score. Batum is averaging a career best 15 points per game this season and 7.1 rebounds, second best of his career. If the Hornets look to move in the direction of highly touted players such as Carmelo Anthony, Jimmy Butler, or Paul George, it stands to reason that to acquire any of those, the organization might say that Walker is the only player off limits. That won’t happen though because the Charlotte roster is generally role players and there aren’t enough there to trade for a superstar plus the team traditionally doesn’t pay for big money free agents.

A swap of some role players could be possible as Sacramento’s roster might be worth perusing with the latest trade of Demarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans. The players they could be interested in are probably Ben McLemore, Darren Collison, and Aaron Afflalo, but they are again role players. How about former NBA Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans or Langston Galloway (via the Kings trade with the Pelicans)?

Charlotte needs to give Walker some reprieve on the perimeter as his minutes are climbing and Collison or Galloway might make sense. The thing to watch is if Sacramento decides two sign and release their two newest guards. If that is the case, they could sign with any team other than New Orleans and the Hornets could save money on either if they are patient and wait for the release. Lou Williams of the Lakers is in his contract year and could be a possibility to play behind Walker or joint him in the lineup, depending on match ups.

Charlotte needs a scorer and a shot blocker in the post and either Robin Lopez or Taj Gibson of the Bulls and Brook Lopez of the Nets could be a possibility. Brook Lopez would be the most likely since he can score inside as well as go out on the perimeter to accentuate his three-point game. Kaminsky is similar, but is not as physical of a match up as either of the Lopez twins.

The 6-9, 225-pound Gibson’s athleticism might be a reason to take a chance and try to deal with the Bulls. He is shooting (52.1 percent) scoring (11.1 points per game), and rebounding (7.0) above his career averages this season and could add that scoring dimension to the paint.

As it stands now, the Hornets do not have a history of making a jaw-dropping trade deadline moves. This year feels like it will be the same. Cho says the Hornets have the pieces to deal if they can get value in return. If they stand pat, they need to get Zeller back into the starting line up with Walker, Kidd-Gilchrist, Kaminsky, and Batum. Then, maybe deal for that Kemba Walker back-up or the role player in the post that can help with scoring and rim-protecting; otherwise, a deal probably isn’t wise and will not make them appreciably better.

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