With the trade deadline approaching, the Charlotte Hornets are 18-18 and sixth in the Eastern Conference. It might seem appealing to some fans for the Hornets to go all in and chase a higher seed and first playoff appearance since the 2015-16 season.
However, in the first edition of Basketball Insiders’ “Bold Move” series, let’s take a look at the Hornets and how the best moves can often be the ones that aren’t made.
The boldest move the Hornets can make at the deadline is standing pat — and that’s absolutely what they should do. Looking up and down the roster, there are only a handful of players that would be worth trading away. But shaking up the team’s relatively young roster would be risky. It’s hard to sacrifice young talent for a playoff run in a year where the East is dominated by the likes of the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers, too.
LaMelo Ball is obviously off-limits — and it would take a hefty price tag to move any of P.J. Washington, Gordon Hayward, Miles Bridges or Devonte’ Graham. Some would consider Terry Rozier as a piece worth moving, but Rozier is amidst a career season and looks like an outright All-Star at 26-years-old. Averaging 20.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game on 43.5 percent shooting from deep, it would make little sense to trade someone that compliments Ball so greatly.
Outside of that, the team has its end-of-bench youngsters in Nick Richards, Grant Riller, Nate Darling, Vernon Carey Jr. and Jalen McDaniels. It makes no sense to trade any of those young pieces now, especially with each displaying promising rotation potential.
Cody and Caleb Martin are excellent bench pieces for the Hornets, while Bismack Biyombo plays well enough in his role. There’s a case to be made for trading Cody Zeller, but a deal would only make sense for the Hornets if there was a clear and obvious upgrade available in the market. There are some centers available, but none that seem a clear and easy fit over Zeller, who averages 9.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.
That leaves Malik Monk as the only player that could make sense to flip in a trade, hardly a big splash. Monk wasn’t extended by Charlotte, meaning that he will hit free agency this offseason. It’s definitely possible that Monk returns, as he’s been playing very well this season while averaging 13.3 points per game while shooting 43.7 percent from beyond the arc on 5.5 attempts per game.
However, this is the same Monk that was on the outs with Charlotte before. Last season, Monk was suspended for the use of PEDs and it seemed like his future with the Hornets was in jeopardy. While Monk played his way back into the rotation, it wouldn’t be a total shock if he was traded.
One trade scenario could be with the Orlando Magic, which would present a reunion with draftmate Dwayne Bacon and his former coach in Steve Clifford. Mo Bamba is a potential option for the Hornets, but it still feels unlikely that Monk is moved.
Aside from one or two moves around the edges, largely standing pat at the deadline is the smartest move for the Hornets. There’s no reason to sacrifice any of the great things the Hornets have going at the midpoint of the season. The team’s oldest player is Hayward, who is playing like he wants a spot on an All-NBA team while averaging 21.4 points per game, slashing a 48.1/40.6/86.5 shooting line.
Only four players on the entire roster are older than the age of 25, a remarkable turnaround from years past. Just two seasons ago, the team was strapped to huge contracts of aging veterans and, last season, many expected the Hornets to bottom out and be one of the worst teams in the league. Instead, the team battled and barely missed out on a spot in the bubble in Orlando.
It’s a slightly less successful version of the Memphis Grizzlies’ youth movement, but seeing such a young team be so competitive is a thrilling prospect for the future of the league. There’s no reason to move any of these pieces, especially when everything is working well. In fact, it makes sense for the Hornets to give out extensions to Rozier, Monk and Graham as soon as possible.
A ton of cash was spent on Hayward and Rozier, moves that were questioned at the time but have ultimately paid off. That duo’s production and the team’s overall competitiveness may finally make Charlotte an attractive free-agent destination, at least more so than they were a season ago.
Those contracts to Hayward and Rozier might’ve seemed huge at the time, but Charlotte can actually obtain a significant amount of cap space in the offseason that it can use to better itself even further. Combine that with the fact that the team has an open roster spot it could use on a buyout veteran and you have a team that looks like it can give some teams a scare in the playoffs. General manager Mitch Kupchak has done fantastic work with the Hornets, a job that doesn’t get appreciated nearly enough.
With the trade deadline in under two weeks, be sure to stay tuned to Basketball Insiders as more rumors come to light!