Potential trade targets for the Hornets

The circus has begun. There hasn’t been as much player movement in free agency around the league as I anticipated, but the Hornets have inked LaMelo Ball to a five-year max extension, so all’s well that ends well.

Much of the free-agency dust has settled. Fred Van Vleet, Brook Lopez, and others have already signed new contracts. Dennis Smith Jr. has reportedly agreed to a one-year deal with Brooklyn. At this point, nearly every big name is off the market except for Miles Bridges and PJ Washington, and the number of teams with enough cap space to throw an offer sheet at them is dwindling. Reports have surfaced that the Hornets are considering giving an offer sheet to Grant Williams, but that would require some cap maneuvering.

A whole new storm is brewing now, though. James Harden and Damian Lillard have both formally requested trades, stalling the market as a result. Understandably, few teams want to make big moves or additions with the destinations of two superstars up in the air. That can do a couple things for the Hornets; one, it gives them negotiating leverage with Bridges and Washington. It also allows them to get in on the action, if they so choose.

To be frank, it hasn’t been in Kupchak’s wheelhouse to make high-risk, high-reward trades as of late. That’s probably not a bad thing given the state of the Hornets franchise when he took over, but it might be time to shake things up a bit. A the Melo-Miller-Mark young trio grows together, infusion of veteran talent on any point of the spectrum could be a worthwhile addition. A vocal veteran presence would serve a purpose on-court and off-court, which Kupchak himself has mentioned. Options to fill that void via free agency are quickly drying up.

Charlotte owns all of its future first and second-round picks besides a 2024 first and a 2025 second going forward. That’s a solid asset cupboard when factoring in the number of rookie-scale contracts and pair of effective, high-priced veterans the Hornets are due to have on the team in 2023-24. There are pathways to matching salaries in trades and adding requisite draft compensation without depleting themselves of future assets. That hasn’t always been the case in recent years as the team rebuilt and then reset last season.

Let’s take a look at some of those options. Some will be costly swings on talented borderline All-Stars that adds another core piece, and some will be for rotation pieces that accentuate the players already in place.

Hornets have the assets, but it’ll cost them: RJ Barrett, OG Anunoby, Keldon Johnson

In Hornets fan terms, a trade like this would be the granddaddy of ’em all. In essence, the Hornets trade Terry Rozier, James Bouknight, an unprotected 2026 first and three seconds for RJ Barrett and TJ McConnell. The Knicks front office has done a solid job of roster-building in recent years but moving Barrett’s long-term money for an expiring but talented Harris ahead of a quality 2024 free-agent class might be worth it when coupled with a first-rounder in the Cooper Flagg/Cameron Boozer draft.

For Philadelphia, the motive is simple; try to replicate James Harden’s scoring with playoff-caliber guards. No matter the return for Harden, Rozier is a great fit with Embiid, and they get a second for taking on three years of salary. Indiana is a salary-dumping grounds here but they get a rotation-level vet, a reclamation project and two seconds. If the Hornets had to sweeten the pot even further to get Barrett, a fantastic fit between Ball and Miller, and a veteran leader in McConnell, it’d be worth it to me.

The Raptors seem keen on running it back yet again, but that might change if Fred Van Vleet bolts for Houston. In this scenario, Toronto replaces Van Vleet’s shooting gravity and point-of-attack defense with Rozier’s at a much cheaper price tag in exchange for OG Anunoby, whose name been floating in the rumor mill for a while now. Charlotte tosses JT Thor, a lottery-protected first, a low-value 2024 second and a 2027 second to sweeten the pot. An expiring Thad Young serves as a valuable addition to the locker room and frontcourt depth.

Swapping Rozier for Anunoby suddenly makes Charlotte a bit wing-heavy. If the team believes Brandon Miller is a 2 long-term, it might be worth finding out sooner than later. Anunoby would give an improving defense another boost and will have the freedom to tap into his flashes of shot creation upside.

This is the most realistic of these big fish trades to me. Keldon Johnson is on a team-friendly deal, but he’s a bit older than the likes of Victor Wembanyama, Devin Vassell and the rest of the Spurs’ core guards and wings. In exchange for a 2026 top-8 protected first and a 2028 second, San Antonio swaps out Johnson for an expiring vet in Gordon Hayward and Thor. Hayward could help keep certain lineups afloat and give the Spurs a ton of cap space next summer. Thor also makes their core a bit more diverse positionally.

Johnson’s high-IQ off-ball play as a cutter and spot-up shooter would be a tremendous complement to LaMelo Ball, and he’s an above-average perimeter defender and secondary playmaker to boot. A starting lineup of Melo-KJ-Miller-Miles-Mark would be locked in for at least three seasons if this scenario played out and the Hornets extended Melo and Miles. That’s a playoff-caliber core with years to grow and develop together.

Makes sense for all parties on the surface: Malcolm Brogdon, Alex Caruso

After injury concerns nixed a three-team trade between Boston, Washington and the Clippers, Brogdon’s trade value has probably diminished. If the Hornets wanted to balance out the roster and add a veteran presence without taking on much of long-term salary, Brogdon could be an option. Sign-and-trading Washington for him gives Charlotte one of the league’s best sixth men and a valuable 2024 second via San Antonio, and Brogdon’s deal is up in two years.

The on-court fit between a guard trio of Melo, Rozier and Brogdon is enticing as well. Brogdon is a strong-bodied defender, effective straight-line driver and efficient low-volume shooter, something Charlotte has lacked in it’s rotation recently. It’s been reported that Brogdon’s health isn’t a huge concern for the future and he’s considering offseason surgery for a torn ligament in his forearm. He basically has a golfer’s injury. I’d be confident in that healing fine enough to make this trade worth it.

The Chicago Bulls are in an extremely weird place as an organization right now. With no clear path to contention with the current core, it would make sense to offload assets and rebuild this summer. Instead, they extended Coby White and Nikola Vučević. This trade could be a middle ground; the Bulls get a somewhat-comparable defender to Caruso in Cody Martin, an upside swing on Kai Jones and a 2026 second for their troubles.

Charlotte gives up a minor draft asset and alleviates the roster crunch a bit by turning two players into one quality rotation piece. Caruso is one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA and is on a bargain contract through next season. He might not be the well-traveled veteran the front office is seeking, but his style of play leads by example.

Salary dumps that could benefit Charlotte: Kyle Lowry, Davis Bertans

The Heat could be especially interested in this if Lowry’s salary isn’t used in a trade for Lillard. It would really behoove the Hornets to get in on a salary-dump for a respected veteran like Lowry, who also fills a position of need at backup point guard. Rozier would be an ideal sixth man for a Miami team gunning for a ring, and I’m sure they’d be willing to take on two years of salary in exchange for multiple cracks at a deep run. The draft assets are a nice bonus but I’d be willing to make this deal even with minimal return outside of Lowry.

Purely a salary-dump with no on-court benefit to Charlotte, but a pretty hefty draft asset return from one of the most asset-rich teams in the league. Steve Clifford doesn’t seem like he’d be a fan of Bertans’ defensive inefficiencies, but replenishing a 2024 first-rounder via the Clippers and turning a surefire late-second into an early-to-mid second is worth burning a roster spot for. Plus, a $17M contract can be used for salary-matching in future trades.

My expectations for a trade of any sort, much less a blockbuster, are low. That doesn’t mean we can’t dream.

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