The Charlotte Hornets are calling it quits and looking for a full on rebuild after failing to build around their All-NBA point guard Kemba Walker.
Before Hinkie and The Process glamorized being bad for half a decade teams would actually try to turn their fortunes around on the back of a single player. If you landed a blue chip prospect you worked as quickly as possible to find them talent and veteran leadership and to get them into the playoffs before their rookie deals even ended.
Without luck, taking advantage of another GM in some one-sided trades, a miraculous Summer Free Agent signing, or finding gems in the draft teams hover in no mans land. Between the 6th seed and the 10th seed a franchise will regularly end up with a slew of bloated contracts, no real shot at a title, no major college prospect, and a front office that will now atone for every misstep on a 24-hour news cycle until the next major step forward can begin.
This is the predictable trap that many teams end up in after spending time as a cellar dweller and why “tanking” is no longer a single season effort, but one designed to clear off nearly any basketball talent above a certain age or dollar amount, and try to land as many lottery talents in as short a period as possible. Just look at Phoenix or the Atlanta Hawks, this style of tanking is about to come to Charlotte and that will color the kinds of trades that they’ll be looking to make.
- Jordan Clarkson $11.5M (3 years)
- Julius Randle $4M (1 year)
- Luol Deng $17M (3 years)
- Nic Batum $22M (4 years)
- Kemba Walker $12M (2 years)
Lakers assets to push it over:
- 2018 2nd Round Pick via Denver
- 2019 2nd Round Pick via Chicago
- 2020 1st Round Pick
- Larry Nance Jr.
- Josh Hart
- Ivica Zubac
The headline here probably wouldn’t even be the Lakers picking up an All-Star caliber player, or cutting ties with Julius Randle before his big pay day. Lakers managing to trade Luol Deng might overshadow anything else even the long-term plans of giving up on adding two max free agents this summer.
The Lakers make this trade because Kemba is actually a solid fit next to Lonzo in the backcourt. With an exceptionally low usage rate of only 17% Lonzo doesn’t need the ball in his hands to operate and even looks uncomfortable in the half court at times. The Lakers want him to develop there, so giving him the crutch of Kemba has the potential to slow his learning there, but then again it could provide a mentor that evolves Lonzo’s game faster.
The Deng for Batum swap is bound to leave a bitter taste in both teams mouths. Charlotte sheds a few million and shaves an extra year off at the overpaid forward spot, but in terms of production they actually get worse. Deng hasn’t played or practiced since the first few weeks of the season. This is part of the strategy for a successful tank though; not only do you intentionally give away your best guys, you must replace them with bad players who take up salary.
Batum is still the same Swiss Army knife he’s always been, but his shooting has been down, and his paycheck is way, way too high. Surprisingly he doesn’t seem to get in the way of either an addition of Paul George or the development of the Lakers other Swing/Wing players like Kuzma and Ingram who both like to shoot and score in the paint and sharing the floor together actually makes sense in Luke’s borrowed Pace and Space system. There will be a slight glut but plenty of opportunity in Walton’s bench-heavy rotations. The issue that the Lakers will run into in regards to their grander designs is who’s going to play Center? They won’t have money for Demarcus Cousins so they’ll have to step down a tier in Free Agency, find the talent within (Nance, Zubac or T. Bryant) or as a last resort re-sign Brook Lopez.
The assets that Charlotte would be getting, Julius Randle and Clarkson are middle-tier. Clarkson’s deal is re-tradeable to any team looking for a bench scorer. Randle’s value is also somewhat depressed because of his impending Restricted Free Agency. The question though is who is really going to give him the money? If they can work on an extension that lands somewhere in the $15M range even if Randle isn’t part of the long-term plans in Charlotte he becomes an asset to flip down the line.
The Lakers also have some sweeteners that push the deal over, some young guys like Josh Hart who’s shown he belongs in the league, has a man’s body and is locked in at $1M for the next 4 years along with some picks that Charlotte might covet more than anything else.
Potential is a hell of a drug, and sometimes tanking teams can’t wean themselves off of it. That looked like the case when Phoenix turned down the Kyrie Irving for the #4 overall pick (Josh Jackson) and Eric Bledsoe. Kyrie is carrying Boston to the #1 seed in the East while Jackson is having a statistically disastrous season (at least offensively) and Bledsoe’s public trade demand netted Phoenix a protected (non-lottery) 1st round and 2nd round pick.
But now might be the time to cash in for Phoenix. Without loading up their balance sheet for too long.
- Tyson Chandler $13M (2 years)
- Greg Monroe $17M (1 year)
- Marquis Chris OR 2018 1st Round Pick
- Kemba Walker $12M (2 years)
- Dwight Howard $23.5M (2 years)
This deal cuts over $18M from the Hornets cap sheet going forward while giving them a 21-year-old prospect that’s locked in for a few years. Chriss has shown highlights and a ton of potential but he’s a frustrating player for fans who see his mistakes as glaring and obvious, he’s also dealing with a hip injury that may preclude him from being involved in any deal.
Charlotte could ask instead for Phoenix’s own 2018 1st which currently sits at #8 and Phoenix could counter with a package of Milwaukee’s and Miami’s 1sts instead. They’ve got a ton of flexibility in regards to picks and that’s just the 1st round in 2018. The second round they’ve got another four picks. No NBA team has every drafted and added seven players from a single draft to a team so they are bound to make a move of some kind. This seems like a pretty good opportunity for more than a base hit but less than a home run.
The fit between Kemba and Booker is pretty similar to that of Kyrie but Kemba needs the ball a little less and passes a little bit more. With Booker’s range, size, and potential you have to be very careful not to screw up who you pair with him in the back court and a score first PG with league average shooting from three might not be the right move.
Kemba despite his size though is a good defender and you could ask him to worry less about scoring and help more on that end of the floor without trying to pair Booker with a defensive Point Guard like Patrick Beverly. If the experiment doesn’t work out, you’d have a year to find Kemba a new home for probably similar compensation in the form of a pick and an expiring.
Dwight Howard to Phoenix mirroring another part of Shaq’s career will be a fun anecdote but he would actually do well with the lineup of shooters and pace that Phoenix has and he’d be their best Center by far. Overall this trade doesn’t put Phoenix on the path to Title Contention but landing the 8-10th pick and having a little extra money for free agents won’t do that either.
#3 Cavs and #2 Jazz
The Cavaliers aren’t trading for Kemba Walker. That would be too disruptive to chemistry and if IT gets fully healthy the difference between the smaller point guards isn’t that massive. Instead you have too look at what they’ve been in search of since July.
- 2018 Nets (CHA)
- Iman Shumpert (CHA)
- Channing Frye (UTH)
- Derrick Favors
- Jeremy Lamb
- Dante Exum
- Joe Johnson
- Derrick Favors
- Michael Kidd Gilchrist
- Kemba Walker
- Channing Frye
- Kemba Walker
- Jeremy Lamb
- 2018 Nets Pick
- Joe Johnson
- Iman Shumpert
- Dante Exum
A bit of shuffling around of bad deals but instead of worrying about offloading the more egregious deals like Howard and Batum- Charlotte instead focuses on bottoming out, picking up a young player to test drive for a few months, and getting an extra pick in the the 2018 draft. Exum has shown some potential and while he seems like a throw in, could end up being a long-term piece for the Hornets. They’ll have the right to match any deal, but the market for Exum is probably very low and he might just take the Qualifying Offer which will give the Hornets plenty of time to evaluate the 21-year-old. On paper it might seem like a mistake to part with Lamb now, but his value is maybe the highest it’s been and his name isn’t being passed around as a target yet.
The main piece here is the Nets pick. It will take a decent amount to pry it from Cleveland who would covet the addition of a young cheap productive player whether or not LeBron stays or goes. Jeremy Lamb is worth half the value of the Net’s Pick, and that’s why Derrick Favors fills in the rest of the value. Unfortunately, like the Judgment of Solomon, there is only one Nets pick and it can’t be split in half by the Jazz and Hornets. Despite owning two first round picks in 2018, the Cavs can only trade one due to owing their 2019 1st Rounder to the Hawks (Ted Stepian Rule applies).
Sending out the expiring contracts of Derrick Favors, Joe Johnson and Exum isn’t a huge loss, but The Jazz would be rolling the dice on MKG hitting value over the remaining 3 years on his deals. The bonus here is obviously finding a backcourt partner for Donavon Mitchell. Some Jazz fans may not like the idea of Kemba because at 27 he might be a little too old for the rest of their core, but their core isn’t as young as a lot of teams going through rebuilds and he would be a pretty big upgrade over Rubio. Utah gets an All-NBA guard without having to bottom out, escapes any trepidation about how much to pay Exum, and has good young players at four out of five positions.
In the end the players that Charlotte is receiving will mostly be coming off the books and they’ll get a decent pick from the situation while becoming terrible enough to contend in Tankathon 2018. Cleveland gets two productive players who fill in major weaknesses: rebounding, toughness, defense, three-point shooting, and youth in their backcourt for the price of one 1st Round Pick. For the Cavs marching towards the post-season both Lamb and Favors will be able to contribute right away (a must) and despite somewhat pedestrian counting stats their advanced stats and the types of players they are make this trade work. It also helps that the Cavs now have some flexibility and production in guys that aren’t making max money and are below 30.
#1 Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets have managed a very watchable rebuild. They’re worst season in the last decade still produced 30 wins. It’s easy to call this basketball hell, never being bad enough for a top pick, never being good enough to contend in the playoffs. But their four-year playoff drought has given them a team that’s perfect to retool into a win-sometime-soon, a flexible situation that gives them good mentorship, a reasonable cap, no outgoing 1st round picks, and some vets on pre-cap-boom contracts that are a step above “serviceable”.
- Emmanual Mudiay $3M (2 years)
- Wilson Chandler $12M (2 years)
- Darrell Arthur $7M (2 years)
- Denver 2018 1st, 2018 2nd (Worst of Portland or Sacramento)
- Michael Kidd-Gilchrist $13M (3 years)
- Kemba Walker $12M (2 years)
- Michael Carter Williams $2.7 M (1 year)
This deal isn’t the best for Charlotte because if they can’t add a third team to take Chandler and Darrell Arthur opts in to his Player Option you end up selling Kemba for a possible non-lottery pick and a prospect who’s stats are all over the place, and may not really pan out.
However that’s the worst case scenario. With the same trade, they might be able to land a late 1st from a contender or at least a couple of 2nd rounders for Chandler, Arthur might decline his PO, and Mudiay could continue his slow progression into a 3 and D guard with the size for either the 1 or the 2 spot while picking up a first rounder, but at least for this year this puts Charlotte into prime tanking position.
The Nuggets make a very low-risk maneuver to round out their “something old, something new, something borrowed” roster and make a push to get into the playoffs this year. The additional salary of MKG isn’t going to hurt them with the score of options that they’ll be looking at. The picks they’ll be giving up wouldn’t change the franchise the way a long-term addition of Kemba can, but they’ll just be praying that Kemba’s prime is longer than most short PGs and Mudiay doesn’t blossom into a full on two-way guard. Flexibility has carried the Nuggets this far, and another big shakeup in 2019 that would cut out all the vets to focus on their youth doesn’t get disrupted at all. Again, like Phoenix the Nuggets are going to have to be cautious with any pairing they make with Jamal Murray who’s even young than Booker and already rising fast. But this would be the team that would be thinking about the possibility of flipping Kemba for the kind of pick, prospect or player that Mudiay and Chandler couldn’t get.