What’s next for the Charlotte Hornets after the Dwight Howard trade?

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 12: Kemba Walker
CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 12: Kemba Walker /

After a surprise trade that sent Dwight Howard to the Brooklyn Nets, what’s the Charlotte Hornets’ next move?

Shortly before 10:00 A.M. on June 20th, Adrian Wojnarowski (ESPN) and Shams Charania (Yahoo) reported that the Charlotte Hornets had agreed to send Dwight Howard to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for reserve center Timofey Mozgov and two second-round picks. This trade may be a head-scratcher for some, but when you dig deep into it, you find that there are now only two directions that this organization can go with for the near and far-out future.

Direction 1: Rebuild

The obvious thought that comes to mind upon hearing about this trade is that the Hornets are preparing to enter a full-fledged rebuild. If Michael Jordan and new general manager Mitch Kupchak decide to go this route, the first step would be trading the face of the franchise and Charlotte’s all-time leading scorer, Kemba Walker. It is unlikely that Walker would be dealt unless Charlotte is able to attach a large contract (Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist). Cleveland has reportedly shown interest in Walker ever since the trade deadline in February. A potential trade package for the two-time all-star could look something like this:

Hornets receive: Jordan Clarkson, Cedi Osman, Kyle Korver, 2018 #8 overall pick
Cavaliers receive: Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

More from Swarm and Sting

This trade works financially, per the ESPN NBA Trade Machine. If the Hornets are set on trading their all-star, this is a solid return, especially for a player who will be an unrestricted free agent next offseason. Charlotte would receive two young pieces in Clarkson and Osman to go along with whoever they select with the 8th pick.

Kyle Korver is only a part of this deal to make the salary match. It is likely that he and the Hornets would reach a buyout, giving him the freedom to sign with a contender. As for Cleveland, they do this deal to give LeBron a reason to stay. Walker is an all-star point guard, something they didn’t have last year after trading Kyrie Irving, and MKG is a player that can be glued to other teams best offensive player every night.

Charlotte would now hold the 8th and 11th overall picks in this year’s draft. With the 8th pick, Charlotte should select Michael Porter Jr. if he is there. Seeing as how that is unlikely, Kupchak fills Kemba’s void by selecting Alabama’s Collin Sexton. Sexton truly lives up to his nickname “Young Bull” with the way he plays and is a great player to start a rebuild with.

The ideal selection at #11 would be Mikal Bridges out of Villanova, but he seems like a lock to go to Philadelphia the pick before. With that said, Charlotte should select Miles Bridges to add depth at the small forward/power forward position after trading away Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Bridges is slightly undersized, but he is very polished offensively and should be at the very least a solid NBA player for many years.

Ideally, whether they decide to rebuild or not, Charlotte would like to shed the remaining three years of Nicolas Batum’s monstrous contract, but that is nearly impossible to do and shouldn’t be expected to happen. Marvin Williams’ contract is more tradeable, but even he is unlikely to be traded.

This would leave the Charlotte Hornets with a rotation next season that could look like:

A team like this would be nowhere near the playoffs, even in the weak Eastern Conference, however, this team has a direction. It has young talent to go with veteran tutors which is crucial for a rebuild.

Direction 2: Reload and give it one more shot

In this scenario, Cleveland is hesitant to part with their first-round pick, out of fear that LeBron will leave and they will be left without a direction themselves. No other team puts together an offer that gives the Hornets a reason to part with Walker. With Charlotte holding on to Walker, it is up to management to fill out the roster with limited cap space.

Charlotte still has the 11th overall pick, and with that pick, the Hornet select Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a versatile guard from Kentucky who can play with Walker or run the point himself. Charlotte then packages picks 45 and 55 and sends them to New York in exchange for the 36th overall pick. With the 36th pick, the Hornets select Isaac Bonga, a highly regarded forward from Germany. He won’t contribute right away, but he is a solid plug-and-play option if needed.

With next to no cap space to use in free agency, Charlotte takes a flyer on a veteran forward in Jeff Green to improve the bench. Green averaged around 10 points per game in his lone season in Cleveland.

These moves result in Charlotte rolling out this lineup at the beginning of the 2018-19 season:

  • Starters: Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin Williams, Cody Zeller
  • Bench: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Malik Monk, Jeremy Lamb, Jeff Green, Frank Kaminsky/Willy Hernangomez
  • Reserves: Dwayne Bacon, Treveon Graham, Timofey Mozgov, Isaac Bonga, veteran point guard (free agency)

Next: Are the Hornets targeting Jairus Lyles?

This direction is obviously much more short-sighted than the previous one but could yield a better result. There is less risk in this option, and if Charlotte could sneak into the playoffs and, dare I say, win or at least compete in a series, it could be enough to entice Kemba Walker to re-sign in free agency in the summer of 2019.