Much has gone wrong for the Charlotte Hornets this season. After entering the year as a projected playoff team, the Hornets have stumbled to an 18-25 start, thanks to poor play from their wings, characteristically weak shooting, a damaging lack of depth and a tendency to completely fall apart when Kemba Walker leaves the floor.
As Charlotte’s playoff hopes fade, it seems the front office is about ready to give in. On Friday, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Hornets are welcoming offers for Walker and “appear eager to discuss attaching Walker to a larger trade in which another team would take on one of the Hornets’ several far-less-desirable contracts.” Apparently, Charlotte is willing to concede this season — and this era — and look toward the future.
Walker would make for a very appealing trade target for a number of NBA teams. He is one of the 30 or so best players in the NBA, averaging 21.7 points and 5.8 assists per game a year after earning his first All-Star berth, and he’ll make only $12 million this year — a bargain for such a dynamic player.
So who might be interested in Walker’s services? Here’s a quick rundown of possible suitors:
- New York Knicks — Walker is from New York, and a return home to fill the Knicks’ hole at point guard could make sense for both sides. The Knicks would get an improved shot at a playoff berth, and the Hornets could ask for a package built around 19-year-old rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina.
- San Antonio Spurs — With Kawhi Leonard having missed much of the season, the Spurs rank only 26th in the NBA in points per game and 13th in offensive rating. Kemba would provide an offensive boost and give San Antonio the extra star it might need to compete with Golden State and Houston.
- Indiana Pacers — Indiana has been one of the NBA’s biggest surprises this season, and pairing Walker with Victor Oladipo could push the Pacers into the top-five in the Eastern Conference. The Washington Post suggests Indiana could pull this off by taking on Marvin Williams’ contract and sending back Darren Collison, Al Jefferson, T.J. Leaf and a 2018 first-round pick.
- Denver Nuggets — The Nuggets have given young point guards Jamal Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay a long leash, but if they hope to secure a playoff spot this season they could use a backcourt upgrade. The question is whether Denver could pull off this move without giving up Murray, Nikola Jokic or Gary Harris.
- Cleveland Cavaliers — Prominent Cavaliers players (*cough, LeBron*) are concerned Cleveland can’t win a title with its current roster, and Walker might be the best player available on the trade market. If that Cavs aren’t worried about Kemba coexisting with fellow undersized guard Isaiah Thomas, they can dangle Brooklyn’s first-round pick in a potential deal.
Will Walker actually be traded? From a pure basketball standpoint, the Hornets have needed a rebuild for a while and dealing their underpaid star for a young asset could set them up for a more promising future than the one they’re currently staring at. On the other hand, Kemba is the best player the franchise has had since rebooting in 2004. He’s essentially the only good thing about the team right now, and trading him would surely alienate already-frustrated fans.
The NBA trade deadline is February 8, only three weeks away. You can expect to hear Walker’s name mentioned quite often before then.