The Charlotte Hornets are 11-21 this season. Things don’t seem to be getting better anytime soon. Before the season began, most experts figured the Hornets would be a playoff lock in the weak eastern conference. People thought they would be in the six to eight seed range. A solid team, but not a great one. Now they are just a bad team. Injuries have been a significant factor in the slow start. Kemba Walker, Nicholas Batum, Jeremy Lamb, Michael Carter-Williams, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller and Frank Kaminsky have all missed games. Batum missed the first few weeks of the season with an elbow injury and had not looked the same since he has returned to the court. Even head coach Steve Clifford is still out with an illness.
Injuries have not been the only reason the Hornets have started slow. Charlotte simply has been inconsistent. They still struggle mightily in close games. Last night, Charlotte lost at Milwaukee 109-104, and the Bucks ended the game on a 9-0 run. Now, Charlotte is in a desperate situation. The eastern conference has been better than expected and the Hornets are now six games out of the last playoff spot. According to ESPN’s FPI playoff odds, Charlotte only has a 7.8 percent chance of making the playoffs.There is a lot of time left, but the clock is ticking. Charlotte’s front office needs to make some tough decisions.
Tough decisions means trades. Charlotte needs to decide who is staying and who is going in the long term. They need to decide who they want to trade and more importantly who can get them good value in return. For example, Charlotte would love to trade Batum, but due to his injury and massive contract he has little trade value. Charlotte will try to move him, but it will be difficult. Expect Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to be moved, but his lack of shooting means Charlotte may not get a good return for him.
Few players are safe for Charlotte. The rookies are likely to stay in Malik Monk and Dwyane Bacon, as Charlotte doesn’t want to give up on him quite yet. Jeremy Lamb is also expected to remain as he is breaking out this season and looks like the team’s long-term answer at shooting guard. Dwight Howard is also probably staying, because, like Batum, he is older and has a huge contract. Frank Kaminsky can be traded and can bring some value as he is still young and cheap.
If Charlotte wants to blow things up and start rebuilding, then the only option is trading their star point guard Kemba Walker. This obviously is a tough decision for Charlotte, as he is the Hornets best player and is beloved by the Charlotte community. However, if Charlotte does want a new direction, then this is the best move for a couple of reason. The first reason is Charlotte could get young assets and a first round pick for Kemba, something they would need if they are rebuilding. Secondly, Kemba is a free agent in 2019 and Charlotte is already in a tight cap situation, signing him to a big deal could be tough.
Here are two trades Charlotte should consider for Kemba. Send Kemba and Kidd-Gilchrist to Orlando for a 1st round pick, Evan Fournier, Elfrid Payton and Mario Hezonja. Orlando would finally get a star point guard in Kemba and a premier defender in Kidd-Gilchrist. Charlotte in return would get a good first round pick, a good offense wing in Fournier, a solid point guard in Payton and an intriguing prospect in Hezonja. This is the type of trade that would give Charlotte fair value for Kemba and help set them up for the future.
The second trade Charlotte should consider sending Kemba to Denver for Jamal Murray, Juan Hernagomez, Malik Beasley and a 1st round pick. Denver would get a star point guard to pair with Nikola Jokic. Charlotte would get an explosive scoring guard in Murray, two young prospects in Hernagomez and Beasley plus a first-round pick.
Either of these trades is one Charlotte should seriously consider. They have three options at the trade deadline. Stay the course, blow it up or make a win now move. A win now move may do more damage in the long term even if it helps in the short term. At this point, a pointless first-round sweep doesn’t do much good for the Hornets. Staying the course, trying to shed some cap and developing young players should be the game plan for the Hornets. Charlotte still has pieces that other teams would be interested in. Mostly Kaminsky and Kidd-Gilchrist.
Trading Kemba Walker is the best way to start the rebuild for Charlotte. As painful as it might be. If they get fair compensation than its worth it in the long term for the Hornets. Tough seasons call for changes. If Charlotte wants to turn their season and franchise around than trading Kemba is their best move. Plus it gives more playing time for Monk and Bacon. Charlotte needs to focus on their development. Keep an eye on the Hornets at the deadline; they will make a move; the question is what moves and what the move says about the direction of the franchise.