Thursday is exactly six weeks until the NBA’s Feb. 7 trade deadline, and Charlotte Hornets fans are expectant of something happening.
Why not? Trades are historically the Hornets’ most frequent roster move and I’d say their most successful strategy since the NBA returned to Charlotte in 2004.
Starting last season, the trade deadline was moved up in the schedule to 10 days before the date of the All-Star Game (this season to be held in Charlotte’s Spectrum Center). Will the Hornets make a significant trade? Which players on this roster make sense as trade assets?
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That subject dominated your questions for this week’s Hornets mailbag:
Q. What about packaging Jeremy Lamb’s expiring contract and Frank Kaminsky in a trade? I know that Lamb has played well, but that makes his trade value higher than ever.
A. I understand all questions about whether the Hornets should consider trading Lamb: He will be an unrestricted free agent in July and his performance this season has been good enough that the Hornets might not be able to justify paying what other teams will offer. Right now he’s a bargain as a starting shooting guard making about $7.5 million.
First-season Hornets coach James Borrego took the leap of moving Lamb into the starting lineup and it’s been a success. If the Hornets are in playoff contention in early February, and the front office deals Lamb for draft picks or developmental talent, is that fair to the new coach? Sometimes you just have to value the long term over the short term, but that would be quite a hit to this season.
That balance could change if the Hornets have a bad January, which is entirely possible with 10 of 14 games on the road.
Q. Is Dennis Smith Jr., a viable trade option?
A. New York Times NBA columnist Marc Stein recently wrote there is speculation around the league that the Dallas Mavericks might eventually consider trading point guard Smith, a former N.C. State star, based on the emergence of rookie Luka Doncic. The reasoning would be a question how well Doncic and Smith will co-exist long-term as they are both ball-dominant players.
That’s probably a valid question, but I don’t know that its sufficient incentive to choose any time soon between two major talents each /////still playing under the highly-affordable rookie pay scale.
If the Hornets were to trade for Smith, it would signal they are prepared to move on from Kemba Walker. I don’t see any evidence of that as their agenda. But, again, the Hornets’ January schedule is rough, and if they finished the month well below .500 it could influence their approach to the trade deadline and the veterans on the roster.
Q. Have you heard of much interest around the league in Malik Monk? It’s not looking good for him in Charlotte.
A. I haven’t heard if teams have inquired about Monk’s trade availability. I do think Monk has trade value, but I don’t think the Hornets are anywhere close to giving up on developing him.
He didn’t play in back-to-back games (victories over the Cleveland Cavaliers and Detroit Pistons) and then played in Boston Sunday only after the game against the Celtics was decided. His lack of minutes looks like Borrego is holding him accountable for inconsistent defense.
He is still a gifted scorer who was the 11th overall pick in 2017. I’d be surprised if he didn’t get back into the rotation. I’ve no reason to think they would just discard him.
Q. After the poor defensive effort against the Celtics Sunday, does coach James Borrego open up the rotation a little more?
A. A “little more?” Yes. Not a lot more and any change in the rotation probably isn’t a direct result of what happened against the Celtics, a team with explosive offensive talent.
When Borrego tightened the rotation, leaning toward defense and experience, it was an appropriate reaction to back-to-back games of horrible defense in losses to the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers. I thought it was overdue to hold players more accountable for their defensive flaws.
Poor defense and inexperience tend to be even more costly on the road than at home. So while I expect Monk and Kaminsky to get more chances, I’d be surprised if the approach Borrego took last week just evaporates.
Q. Do Hornets players enjoy never having to play on Christmas or would it be nice for them to at least try it once?
A. Good question on a subject I wouldn’t have otherwise considered. While it is clearly an honor to be one of the 10 teams selected to play nationally on Christmas Day, I think most NBA players view it more as an obligation than a privilege, particularly for the teams having to play a road game on Christmas.
I’m sure if the Hornets were scheduled for Christmas Day, the players wouldn’t mind because it would be a new experience and a signal the league office values them. But I’m confident saying no player is disappointed when his team is passed over for Christmas Day duty.