Here are several trade scenarios the Hornets should consider before the March 25 trade deadline

By Chase Whitney

March 14, 2021

Photo: Nell Redmond / AP

The NBA’s March 25 trade deadline is fast approaching, and for the first time in a few years, the Charlotte Hornets are in prime position to make a move that bolsters their roster for a playoff push. Armed with an open roster spot and about $4.1 million in open cap space, general manager Mitch Kupchak has the necessary ammo to add an impactful player if he feels so inclined.

The Hornets haven’t made an in-season trade since Kupchak took the helm as GM (the last one was Willy Hernangomez in exchange for Johnny O’Bryant in Feb. 2018 under Rich Cho), but this deadline period is as good as any to give it a shot. The Hornets are currently sixth in the East standings, and it’s certainly possible that with some added depth they could, at least, secure home court for the play-in tournament, and possibly avoid it altogether by finishing in sixth.

To follow tradition during trade season in the NBA, we’ve gathered a handful of potential trades that could help the Hornets in one way or another– either on-court for this season, or acquiring assets as a facilitator in a three-team deal using their cap space and open roster spot.

Trade #1: Bol Bol 

Aaron Gordon is one of the hotter names on the trade market this season after Orlando has been ravaged with injuries (including himself– he hadn’t played since Jan. 31 prior to the start of the second half of the season), but Charlotte doesn’t need another forward– Denver does. Gordon fits nicely alongside Nikola Jokić and Bol Bol has only seen the floor in 16 games for 86 total minutes this season. Bol doesn’t have ample opportunity to develop with minutes while the Nuggets gun for the NBA Finals. This is an example of how Charlotte could use their open roster spot/cap space to help out a contender and receive an asset in return. They lose their second-rounders in 2021, but a flyer on Bol is worth two picks between 55 and 60.

Trade #2: Zach Lavine 

Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine may have played himself off the market following his first career All-Star selection, but Terry Rozier has also significantly raised his value with his play this season. LaVine and Coby White aren’t a great fit together in Chicago’s back court, and the Hornets could use a star No. 1 scoring option to pair with LaMelo Ball. Acquiring that type of player is the hardest thing to do in the NBA, but the Hornets have assets (all of their own future firsts and young players on rookie contracts) to make that deal happen.

Trade #3: Myles Turner 

Myles Turner is an All-Defense caliber center this season, but he has remained the topic of many trade scenarios and was very much on the market last season and during the abbreviated offseason. Cody Zeller can start next to Domantas Sabonis or come off the bench behind him. The move frees up some cap space for the Pacers this offseason, and Zeller– the Indiana native– returns home. Devonte’ Graham’s trade value is at an all-time low during an injury-riddled contract year, but the Pacers could use another playmaker and shooter to spell Malcolm Brogdon and Sabonis. The 2021 pick swap allowing the Pacers to choose the higher of the two teams’ picks is a nice sweetener.

Trade #4: Mitchell Robinson and 2021 first-round pick via Dallas 

The Knicks were interested in Terry Rozier when he was a free agent, and one can only imagine their interest remains in the midst of his best season. Mitchell Robinson has a broken wrist right now, but he represents the rim-running, defensive-minded center the Hornets are missing. The Knicks also have a crowded front court with All-Star Julius Randle, Obi Toppin and Nerlens Noel (Noel could also be a Hornets target). Burks shores up the guard depth after losing Rozier, and the move opens up a lot of cap space for the offseason.

Trade #5: Nikola Vucevic 

Nikola Vucevic is the most popular name on the market right now, and for good reason. “Vooch” made his second-straight All-Star team this season, and while the Orlando Magic have insisted they won’t trade him, they need to rebuild at some point. Moving him is the best way to secure more assets. The Hornets need a center, and they likely won’t be able to get one better than Vucevic any time soon, so it’s worth inquiring. As we can see here, it would take a lot to pry Vooch from Orlando and the Hornets wouldn’t have much bench depth afterwards. A big three of LaMelo, Gordon Hayward and Vooch will probably allow the Hornets to be very competitive in the East for at least the next few years.

Trade #6: JaVale McGee 

It wouldn’t be surprising if this exact trade is made before the deadline. The Hornets need a rim protector and rebounder with some size at center, and McGee is averaging only 15.2 minutes per game for a rebuilding Cavaliers team. He’s pretty likely to be traded, and the Hornets are a perfect match.

Trade #7: Tristan Thompson and 2021 second-round pick 

The Hornets have to make a decision this offseason on which guard(s) to keep long-term behind LaMelo; Graham, Malik Monk, or Rozier. Monk had no trade value entering the season, but has exploded onto the scene in his fourth year and is now a positive asset, meaning the Hornets should land something meaningful if they choose to move on before he hits restricted free agency. The Boston Celtics desperately need another shooter/playmaker. Lonzo Ball has been on-and-off the market in a contract year, and Thompson’s bruising interior presence is missing on the Hornets. Plus, the 2021 second-round pick via Cleveland should be between 32 and 40, much better than their current selections via Brooklyn and the Clippers.

Trade #8: 2021 first-round pick 

Another option the Hornets could have in offloading one of their guards– if they decide they don’t want to extend Monk (or Graham)– is taking a mid-to-late first-round pick in 2021. In a way, that kind of resets the rookie-scale deal clock so to speak, as a player set to hit restricted free agency is effectively swapped out for whatever player the Hornets draft with the pick the Thunder would be giving them here via Miami. Oklahoma City is in asset accumulation mode, and since they have multiple picks in the upcoming draft, they could opt for a flyer on Monk pre-free agency instead.

Trade #9: Mo Bamba and 2022 second-round pick

Bismack Biyombo has a no-trade clause in his contract and has to approve any deal he’s included in, but there’s a chance he’d do that if he’d have a role in Orlando that allows him to showcase his abilities headed into free agency. Graham gives the Magic some much-needed point guard depth and should be easy to re-sign in exchange for Mo Bamba, who is averaging a career-low 10.2 minutes per game playing behind All-Star Nikola Vucevic and veteran Khem Birch.

As we can see, the type of moves the Hornets can make are diverse. They can add to the margins of the roster, revamp it mid-season for a playoff push, or not change it at all to recoup a future draft pick in exchange for taking on salary. Which route the notoriously tight-lipped Kupchak chooses is tough to predict, but it is important for Hornets fans to keep this perspective; whatever they do, it needs to be with the future in mind. The organization needs to build a winner around LaMelo, and that can be difficult to do. The balance between developing players and competing is what makes it so hard to win in the NBA. They can’t compromise their future to make a push for the 5th or 6th playoff seed this season to satisfy the fans’ desire. A trade that helps the Hornets will materialize at some point; either this month, in the offseason, or at next year’s deadline. The second half of the Hornets season should be fun to watch either way. 

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