Nets off-season: any Charlotte Hornets for sale?

As the Nets gear up for a significant offseason, they must look under every rock for talent. That requires an analysis of every roster in the league, and what opportunities may present themselves for improvement. 

Now, it is time to take a look at the Charlotte Hornets: how can the Nets take advantage of their situation to improve?

In short, the Hornets may be in “win now” mode this summer, and that offers the Nets a chance to take advantage. The Hornets, after intense losing in 2012 and 2013, have been reluctant to rebuild since.  Some smaller markets believe that they cannot rebuild, and must remain competitive or pseudo competitive in order to turn a profit. 

Spending brought the Hornets to 43 wins in 2013-2014, and the Hornets won 33 and 48 games the next two years. However, after benefitting a year ago from talent under market value, the Hornets plummeted to 36-46 due to various defections, including Jeremy Lin.

That puts the Hornets in a precarious position. They sit at 36-46 with no cap space to make upgrades. While they own the 11th pick in the draft, a player at that threshold is unlikely to improve the team in the immediate term. A rebuild would make sense, but the Hornets appear to have no interest in that under Michael Jordan’s ownership, particularly after 2012 and 2013 caused financial struggles and was, frankly, hard to watch. In addition, the Hornets picked up Rich Cho’s option for 2017-2018, which makes him a lame duck with a possible win now mandate.

When you combine the Hornets apparent desire to win now, their lack of money to spend, and the unlikely ability of the Draft’s 11th pick to make an immediate impact inthe win column, the Hornets situation is ripe for draft picks or contracts to be traded. 

Simply put, the Hornets (right or wrong) apparently want to win now, and the easiest way to boost that effort is to use their draft pick and future assets to upgrade the roster through trades. Teams in win now mode often make reckless decisions to satisfy those interests; the Hornets could be that team this summer. 

Kemba is free in 2019, and could develop wandering eye if the Hornets do not start winning. That is yet another undercurrent militating toward a win now move. 

This offers the Nets various opportunities to try to scour future assets. Remember: the Hornets traded the 22 pick for Marco Belinelli last year to upgrade in the short term. 

There is reason to believe the 11th pick is in play, and the Nets should seriously pursue the pick (I am presupposing that the Hornets pick 11, given they have the 11th worst record; they will likely pick close).

Cody Zeller and Frank Kaminsky are solid up front. But Brook Lopez is better. Do the Hornets deal the 11th pick as the prime compensation to secure Lopez? The Nets would have to consider that. Would the Hornets trade Cody Zeller, Marco Belinelli, and their pick for Lopez? They could sell Lopez’s ability to start around Kemba and Batum. Belinelli expires after 2018, so the Nets would not sacrifice much flexibility. If the Nets did not want Zeller’s contract, he is movable, and they could find a third team. If they did want him, he is a good player who thrived in 2016-2017. 

Trading the 11 pick and Zeller for Lopez is likely too much value. If the Hornets wanted the 22 pick, that levels the scales some, and the move would still be one the Nets should strongly consider. 

The Nets can consider similar trades involving Marvin Williams, who Kenny Atkinson worked with in Atlanta. They could also try to get Frank Kaminsky tossed into a deal but he thrived in the second half, which would make things more diffficult. 

The Nets could even try to get the 11th pick from the Hornets another way: trading Jeremy Lin. Lin was huge for the Hornets in 2016, and the Hornets could easily sell his return as a win now stroke. Would Lin land the 11 pick if the Nets took back Belinelli, and threw the 22 pick on the table? What about a Belinelli Sessions, or Belinelli Lamb package, to accomplish the 11 spot move up the ranks. The Lamb addition would require the Nets to eat some post 2018 money, but the Nets again would have to consider such a package.

If Lin’s signing causes the Nets to move up 11 spots this draft, and they find a comparable point guard this summer, is that not a huge win for the franchise? 

Finally, as to trades of both Brook and Lin, the Nets should target the Hornets’ picks in 2019. If the Hornets see Brook or Lin as a serious upgrade, two picks could be on the table because of their desperate state. 

There are other options the Nets may consider here. Kemba and Batum are going nowhere, but perhaps the Hornets do not value Kidd-Gilchrist, and the Nets can trade Lopez for him, all while moving up and swiping the Hornets’ lottery pick. That makes little sense for Charlotte, but desperate teams in win now mode often do things that make little sense.

Miles Plumlee’s dead money is intriguing, but at 12.5 million per through 20, he may make too much to absorb. At some point, too much dead money is a bad thing; cap space will eventually matter in Brooklyn. The Nets would need multiple firsts from the Hornets to take Plumlee on and that is likely not on the table.

There are other options here that could be on the table. Maybe the Hornets think a Booker-Belinelli swap benefits them, and would be willing to dump their second round pick (at place 41) to make it happen. Or maybe a Booker-Ramon Sessions swap could lead to that. 

For that matter, given the Hornets financial crunch BEFORE adding talent, maybe the Hornets would sell the 41st pick to the Nets for cash, or swap the Nets’ 57 pick for the 41st pick as a financial saver. The Nets need every asset they can get and this would help.

Another sneaky add to look at is Johnny O’Bryant. He impressed as a reserve big late in the year, and the Hornets gave him a non guaranteed deal. If the Nets provide the Hornets the talent upgrade they seek, the Hornets may be willing to throw him into a package to get the deal done. Christian Wood also put up big D-League numbers, if the Hornets let him go.

All told, if the Nets want to make a big offseason move, Charlotte is a place to look.

Have Cleveland second in 2018 not theirs. Otherwise stocked. 

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