Charlotte Hornets dream of making the playoffs once again. The team dreams of going beyond the first round of the postseason for the first time since 2002 and strikingly, the team dreams of keeping Kemba Walker on its roster for a long time beyond this season.
Had Hornets found themselves in a pre 2010 NBA era regarding contract talks with its franchise player, the consensus would have been a straightforward long term deal. However, the landscape has drastically changed since and players hitherto envisaged as franchise keepers especially during their prime years, are bolting frequently from the teams that drafted them into the league.
The Greatest player of this era LeBron James added to his impact beyond the court by championing this change. Signing with Miami Heat and leaving Cleveland inspired others like Carmelo Anthony to force his way out of Denver Nuggets to New York Knicks and resign with Knicks. Paul George was bound to leave Indiana Pacers before getting shipped out to Oklahoma City Thunder as the new partner for Russell Westbrook.
By going to the Thunder, George effectively replaced Kevin Durant who left the team to sign with Golden State Warriors. Charlotte is in a similar position Cleveland Cavaliers and OKC Thunder have been before as star player Kemba Walker is in the final year of his contract. Worse for Charlotte, he is playing the best basketball of his life as he averages 28.8 points and 6.4 assists per game.
The worst scenario for Hornets is panning out as Walker is being paid $12 million this season in the final year of his contract. This means the former University of Connecticut Guard will be holding out for max money this offseason. In the background, Walker has played twice in seven seasons in the playoffs during his time in Charlotte and has voiced his desire for more postseason reps. As an unlikely beneficiary of the Derrick Rose Rule, Walker could sign a deal worth 30% of the team’s salary cap space not 35% if he qualified under the Rose Rule.
Despite the 5% gap, Walker’s incoming big money is likely to prevent Charlotte from orchestrating further big deals to improve the team’s chances of making a deep run in the playoffs. Which is a shame because the team needs it in a rapidly improving Eastern Conference that has solid future Most Valuable Player Award contenders in Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ben Simons and Joel Embiid.
Ideally, Charlotte should have two stars at the moment in Walker and Nicholas Batum but Batum has been average for the past couple of seasons. Averaging 9.2 points and 5.6 rebounds wasn’t the kind of play that got him a five year, $120 million deal from Hornets management. His $24 million average annual salary makes it difficult to add another star name to Charlotte’s roster without pushing the team into tax paying territory.
However, it’s not impossible for Hornets to work with Batum’s contract as Hornets could strike a trade deal involving Batum and Washington Wizards Shooting Guard Bradley Beal. Wizards poor form this season and mediocre achievements in Beal’s seventh year playing alongside John Wall signals a big rebuild coming up in America’s capital. Per reports, Wizards management isn’t ruling out a team fire sale.
Beal is operating on a similar deal like Batum’s in Washington meaning adding a young Hornet operating on a rookie scale contract and a future draft pick would be enough to activate the swap. Second year Small Forward/ Shooting Guard Dwayne Bacon is a nice throw-in in any deal for Beal. Should that prove to be difficult to engineer, moving Marvin Williams $15 million deal which expires after next season and Jeremy Lamb’s expiring $7 million deal while adding a draft pick should get it done.
Charlotte can offer Kemba more money than any other team in the league but players pride success first than money and Walker’s prime years could be wasted staying long on the team. To avoid this, Hornets need to make the playoffs and pull off an upset somewhat to convince its franchise player to stay on. Getting an All Star Guard in Beal would be a great starting point even if Charlotte fails to get a trade partner for Batum.
Despite his struggles, the French Forward is still a rangy player who fills the Forward positions with his steady game. Combining that with almost 30 points from Walker, 22 points from Beal should be enough to get Charlotte further this season and keep its star player happy for bigger things to come from Michael Jordan’s team.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter