The Charlotte Hornets are among the most overlooked teams in the NBA this season, but they have actually been on a bit of an upturn of late. They are fresh off back-to-back wins against the Sixers and the Timberwolves. As such, they now sit in 4th place in the Southeast Division and 13th place overall in the Eastern Conference. Much of their dismal play has been due to injuries, most notably to LaMelo Ball, Gordan Hayward, and Cody Martin. Looking ahead, this team won’t make the playoffs. Still, it might make sense for them to improve their roster in the hopes that they would be in a strong spot during the 2023 offseason. Here we will look at how the Charlotte Hornets’ most realistic trade target after the first month of the 2022-23 season

Yes, of course, it’s still quite early in the 2022-23 NBA season, but with their current 6-14 win-loss slate, the Hornets have to start thinking about the future. This means they need to find ways to clear more cap space to go after marquee players in the next off-season. It also means collecting more draft assets that they can turn into quality players or parlay into more deals in the summer.

Again, we’re looking at a team that is near the bottom in several key statistical categories. The Hornets are among the least efficient teams in the NBA right now. Maybe the only thing they do really well is rebounding, as they pull down 45.9 boards per game (5th overall). Beyond that, however, there really isn’t much to write home about. And then with Ball and Hayward missing a ton of time, the Hornets have been forced to rely on Terry Rozier and Kelly Oubre for their offensive punch. Clearly, that hasn’t been going too well.

With these in mind, it stands to reason that the Hornets should keep building for the future. Tank for Victor Wembanyama? Maybe. Acquire a key player they can eventually include in a future deal. Why not? How about more draft picks? Sure.

Here we will look at the Hornets’ most realistic trade target after the first month of the season.

Russell Westbrook and a Future Draft Pick from the Los Angeles Lakers

We won’t see Miles Bridges this season. We also won’t get to see Hayward and Ball for long stretches. Despite a roster that, at full strength, can be quite competitive in the East, the Hornets have fallen by the wayside. At one point, they were the worst team in the conference. And though now they’ve gained a bit of momentum, we all know their winning run won’t last very long.

At this point, perhaps the wisest course of action for Charlotte is to really go out of its way to free up more cap space and add to its draft stock for the years to come. Again, this team, given its current challenges, just won’t make the postseason. They’ll be very fortunate to even finish near the top 10 in the Eastern Conference. They have a few hefty contracts they should really consider letting go of, and it would do well for them to get at least one future draft pick back.

One possible trading partner for the Hornets could be the Los Angeles Lakers. Remember that the Lakers are lagging behind the Western Conference. They are sitting in the 13th spot in the West, and they’ve also had to deal with a slew of health issues. Remember that with LeBron James not getting any younger and Anthony Davis very likely missing more time at some point this season, the Lakers would need at least one starter-caliber player who can step up when needed.

That’s where Gordon Hayward, Kelly Oubre, and even Mason Plumlee enter the conversation.

Keep in mind that Hayward is already 32 years old, and he carries a $30 million contract. Charlotte also certainly appears to prioritize rebuilding for the future rather than contending in the present. This means they won’t have much need for Hayward. Even more importantly, by dealing Hayward’s contract, they can save somewhere in the vicinity of around $30 million next summer.

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Kelly Oubre, meanwhile, is averaging a career-high 19.6 points per game as of this writing. He is another player on whom executives are keeping an eye. Take note that Oubre is nearing the end of his deal and will be an unrestricted free agent next summer. We aren’t convinced Charlotte will spend money to keep him in free agency. As such, it makes sense to put him on the trading block rather than lose him for nothing.

As for Mason Plumlee, moving him in a deal can free up minutes for the Hornets’ other young centers like Mark Williams and Kai Jones. Plumlee has started every game for the Hornets so far in 2022-23, but let’s be honest. He won’t move the needle for this squad. On the Lakers, he would be a very solid backup to Davis and maybe even tandem with him up front.

All three guys — Hayward, Oubre, and Plumlee — can step in and step up when the Lakers’ stars have to “load manage” at some point this season. It’s bound to happen. Hayward and Oubre are explosive scorers if they get enough touches. Meanwhile, Plumlee is a potential double-double threat in every game.

In exchange, of course, the Hornets would love to get a marquee player and a draft pick for their three guys. In particular, they could acquire former NBA MVP Russell Westbrook and a 2023 or 2024 draft pick from the Lakers. Westbrook’s contract should be enough to offset the combined salaries of Hayward, Oubre, and Plumlee. This can also give the Hornets another tradeable piece for next summer. The real jewel here would be the draft pick. The Hornets can opt to get a 2023 second-rounder or a 2024 first-rounder. Either can give them so much flexibility in rebuilding this roster.