Two days ago, Adrian Wojnarowski announced that the Charlotte Hornets had made Kemba Walker available in trade talks. This sparked a storm of internet discussions, in which basically every single fanbase started throwing up offers they could, aiming to come up with something that could earn their team the 27-year-old All-Star’s services. The only three teams I couldn’t find at least something for were the Grizzlies, Hawks, and Wizards. With that said, these are teams that don’t have that much chatter in the first place, and also already are lead by a strong point-guard play.
And most of those offers, unsurprisingly, really, really sucked. Several of them were based on flawed understandings of incomplete reports, which is why I’m offering a guide to proposing Kemba Walker trades. It’s important to address what we actually know about Kemba’s status on the market, and we know the following.
Charlotte is willing to field offers for Kemba
According to Wojnarowski, “Charlotte has been encouraging teams to make offers and appears eager to discuss attaching Walker to a larger trade in which another team would take on one of the Hornets’ several less desirable contracts, sources said.”
It’s important to note that in Rich Cho’s world, one in which he’s always looking for some kind of deal, this does not equate to, “We will trade Kemba for the best offer no matter what it is.” It’s more along the lines of, “If you pay enough, we would consider it.” In other words, any offer not only has to compete with other offers, but has to compete with the strong possibility that Charlotte just holds on to Kemba. There are, after all, no indications that Charlotte has to deal Kemba; he is the most beloved player in franchise history, if not the greatest.
Charlotte is aiming to get a young player or first-round draft pick.
Per Wojnarowski, “Charlotte is hopeful that the inclusion of Walker in a potential trade could help bring back a good young player or a first-round draft pick.”
What this doesn’t tell you is the exact caliber of pick or player they would be looking for. After all, first-round picks that could be on the market range all the way from Brooklyn at somewhere in the mid-lottery range to Golden State at the back end. Young players conceivably on the market range all the way from Myles Turner to Emmanuel Mudiay. But it does certainly tell you that alongside the salary dumps, Charlotte still expects to get some level of value back.
Charlotte understands they are launching a full rebuild if they trade Kemba
According to Wojnarowski, “Ultimately the Hornets know that trading Walker in any deal would be a reset for the franchise.”
This tells you a bit more about what the Hornets would be looking for. If Charlotte is going to push the reset button, after selling a fanbase on a core that could finally compete only to come out completely flat due to what is viewed as an organizational failure, it will need to receive in return sufficient assets to actually get excited about building around.
The fanbase is angry that the coaches so drastically mismanaged player development, rotations, and schemes. It’s angry that the front office couldn’t find a replacement level point guard in two tries. If you count Brian Roberts and Julyan Stone, two moves that are still absolutely baffling, that makes four tries. I won’t blame them for missing on Briante Weber because he managed to fool Golden State, Houston, and Miami too, and those are some of the premier organizations in the league. It’s angry that the organization refuses to even gamble on letting Malik Monk, the gift that fell into Charlotte’s lap. And furthermore, the fanbase is angry that yet again, even with the Hornets name back and all the excitement buzzing, it feels like the same old Bobcats crap.
But fortunately for the Hornets, having used up every last bit of fan goodwill works in their favor here. They know they will lose any support they have left if they don’t get a very, very good return, which means if an offer is based around things unlikely to turn into more than a role player, the Hornets just say no.
Charlotte would rather deal any of Howard, Batum, MKG, or Marvin alone
Per Wojnarowski, “The Hornets had already made available Nicolas Batum (four years, $100 million), Dwight Howard (two years, $47 million), Marvin Williams (three years, $42 million) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (three years, $39 million), league sources said, but those players and their contracts are largely unattractive in the marketplace.”
There are two things you should take from this. First, those contracts were described as largely unattractive, but they don’t talk about the asking price for any of those players. All of them have large contracts, but only two of the four are actually bad deals in a vacuum. Batum is one of those deals, whose value has shifted due to an elbow injury and a market bubble pop. The second is Howard, who was acquired as a bad contract and they knew that ahead of time. Williams and Kidd-Gilchrist would get similar deals were they to go on to an open market right now. Or at least they would if anyone had any cap space whatsoever. As the trade deadline approaches, teams will get more and more willing to give something of actual value for the two smaller contracts without costing Kemba Walker.
Second, if there exists a trade with two separate sub-trades, one that gives fair value for Kemba Walker and one that gives fair value for the other piece, then you can safely remove the part that involves Kemba and just deal the other piece. For example, Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert, Channing Frye, and the Brooklyn pick for Kemba and Dwight might work. But Thompson and the Brooklyn pick for Kemba also works, as does Shumpert and Frye for Dwight. You may have to add Osman or Zizic from the Cavs and Johnny O’Bryant from the Hornets for salary matching purposes. I doubt either of those is a dealbreaker, though. As a result, that trade no longer makes sense because Charlotte would just do the partial trade instead every time.
The omnipresent luxury tax
Charlotte faces financial pressures due to their proximity to the 2018 tax line and their inability to create a more competitive team because of it. When Charlotte signed Michael Carter-Williams for $2.7 million this summer, the Hornets made it abundantly clear that they would not go into the tax, no matter how much of a difference it could make for this core. Other better backup point guard options, ranging from Derrick Rose to Langston Galloway to Cory Joseph, could have been had if they were willing to pay the tax. Unfortunately, this team locked themselves into a quick, cheap option that very obviously failed.
Looking at 2018, if Charlotte makes no additional moves, they will have 10 players under contract for $116.4 million in salary. They will make their own first round pick, which, if we assume they hover at the 10th worst record for the rest of the season, will cost $3.6 million. The NBA requires teams have 13 players, so they have to sign at least two more minimum contracts, which at the rookie minimum, puts them at roughly $121.7 million in contracts. The most recent tax projections put the line at $120.8 million.
As a result, Charlotte must make some move. Even if the tax line rises a little bit to, let’s say $124 million, Charlotte is left with insufficient room to upgrade a roster that clearly isn’t good enough to make noise in the Eastern Conference. Outside of their own players developing, there is only marginal improvement at best. And that’s before you consider that they leave no room to have their pick rise into the seven or eight range or to retain Treveon Graham, who has been one of few bright spots in this year. Waiving and stretching Howard is an option if for some inexplicable reason the entire league were to deliberately self-sabotage and not take any of our pieces for fair value. However, either action is an absolute last resort because it costs the Hornets future flexibility.
This also tells you that Charlotte will, in no circumstance, take on additional 2018 salary because that guarantees the luxury tax. While most trades involving Dwight or Batum will avoid this because of their respective large salaries, deals involving Kemba alone are harder to execute. For example, trading with the Knicks, despite Ntilikina and a Knicks’ 2018 first-round pick being on the low end of the appropriate value, is implausible because they struggle to assemble packages that don’t result in Charlotte taking on additional salary because of how much their pick is likely to cost in 2018 salary. It also makes other teams, like the Lakers or 76ers, who want to retain what 2018 space they have carved out, difficult targets due to one team needing to reduce salary and the other not being willing to take it.
This point also somewhat extends the idea that Williams and Kidd-Gilchrist are not actually that bad of contracts, but rather that Charlotte simply cannot afford to have all of these contracts on the books simultaneously.
The sources may not be coming from within
There is a strong possibility that all of this is coming from outside sources and Charlotte did nothing more than listen for absolutely massive overpays. “Hornets not doing their job if they aren’t listening to offers for Kemba, but the notion that team is actively shopping is just not true,” said Cavaliers’ former general manager David Griffin in a radio interview.
Reading through the Wojnarowski article gives something of an indication that this is coming from an outside team that had been asked to make an offer. Charlotte wouldn’t leak that they hadn’t been able to get anything for their other pieces and so hurt their value. For that matter, they wouldn’t leak anything at all. Charlotte’s media history under the current regime, for those unfamiliar with their practices, basically consists of talking about Rich Cho’s blog, or Steve Clifford’s personal friends, more than actually leaking information. Trades leak at the last second and free agent signings are reported by the team more often than not. So something of this magnitude actually reaching the media from us would be unprecedented.
Similarly, looking at the other sources claiming something’s happening gives the image of something that’s nothing more than a hypothetical.
Ian Begley of ESPN said, “The Charlotte Hornets would like to engage the Knicks on trade discussions involving All-Star point guard Kemba Walker but New York and Charlotte haven’t yet had substantive discussions about a trade involving Walker.” This basically says that those two teams might talk but haven’t, and yet somehow this got twisted into “Charlotte approached the Knicks and was turned down.” Which, to be fair, is a way you could read that first sentence. But in order to believe that you have to believe that Ian Begley, a New York reporter, managed to get a scoop on Charlotte’s Front Office despite no connections.
Similarly, Mike Fisher, who is an absolute no-name in basketball and only has a following due to covering the Cowboys for CBS, somehow managed to break the story that the Mavericks were working to facilitate a three-way trade. And somehow people actually bought it as credible, despite coming from a non-source. Further, if you read the rest of his twitter, somehow the Mavericks are going to do this without taking on Dwight or Batum. It’s a story that fails critical inspection and is only getting run as internet hysteria takes over.
What are the rules then?
All of these different factors gives us a series of rules by which you can dismiss Kemba trades. Some of them are subjective and some of them are objective, but all together, any trade left after those rules have a chance of being a viable one.
1. The Hornets do not have to deal Kemba, so any deal must outweigh the ability to sit still.
2. The Hornets do not make enough money, nor have enough goodwill from fans, to take even a mediocre return. This means that packages like, say, the Miami and Milwaukee first-round picks from Phoenix, along with some level of salary relief, do not approach sufficient. This is both because they aren’t sufficiently exciting nor are they of sufficient quality.
3. Your team may not be willing to include some asset. Whether that’s Jamal Murray, Donovan Mitchell, Brooklyn’s first-round pick, Domantas Sabonis, Markelle Fultz, maybe Kyle Anderson, or maybe even something as nebulous as 2018 cap space. This means your team probably does not get Kemba, and that should bother no one.
4. The Hornets can not take on additional 2018 salary. They need to clear space in that year, and will not pay the tax.
5. The Hornets also have no need to deal excessive salary in 2018 at significant cost. If it means giving away Marvin for nothing after we’ve already cleared enough space under the cap, then we don’t have to do it.
6. Trading Kemba is a last resort, and so if there is a clearly visible way not to trade him, then we won’t.
7. Deals must focus on Charlotte’s future. Cory Joseph, for example, is a fine player now. He has no value to a Hornets team that doesn’t have Kemba on it, because that team is winning 25 games at best if it played a full season. Joseph won’t be around by the time his talents are appropriate for use.
Those seven rules can eliminate a significant bulk of Kemba trades. In fact, you might even be thinking that these restrictions are unreasonable and that there’s no way Kemba gets dealt with them. This is kind of the point. The Hornets aren’t likely to deal Kemba simply because the market simply won’t open up with offers large enough to justify giving him away. So ultimately, barring someone finding something perfect, Kemba is going to stay a Hornet.