The Charlotte Hornets aren’t very good. At 18-25, they sit in 11th place in the Eastern Conference and four games back of the Philadelphia 76er’s in the playoff race. The team has been relatively healthy this year, with only Nicolas Batum and Cody Zeller missing long (but separate) stretches of games. Kemba Walker, Dwight Howard, Marvin Williams, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist have all remained relatively healthy, but despite that, the team has underperformed.

This morning, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Hornets made their lone All-Star caliber player — Kemba Walker — available in trade discussions.

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As Woj states above, the Hornets are interested in a deal where the team of interest takes on one of the Hornets’ less desirable salaries.

The Denver Nuggets should be one of the teams intrigued by the All-Star point guard’s availability.

Why should the Nuggets be interested?

Kemba Walker is a bonafide All-Star surrounded by mediocre talent. Averaging 21.7 points and 5.8 assists per game, Walker’s efficiency has dropped off as the only legitimate option creating offense on the Hornets. Batum generates assists, but his field goal percentage (.399) and three-point percentage (.284) negate much of his playmaking impact. That leaves Walker to fend for himself offensively, as has been the case over his entire career.

The Nuggets need another playmaker. Nikola Jokic is the facilitator, but Jamal Murray and Gary Harris have been learning on the fly as playmakers off the dribble. Sometimes, things are okay when Jokic helps create space for the guards with his reads and passing. When that doesn’t happen, the guards struggle by themselves, especially during the last few weeks.

Walker would alleviate those issues. His best skill is creating off the dribble in the pick and roll. Here are the most efficient pick and roll creators in the NBA (minimum 100 PnR possessions):

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One of the reasons Walker’s efficiency has tailed off this year is his incredible pick and roll usage. 50.6% of Walker’s possessions come from the pick and roll, showing how truly dire the playmaking situation is in Charlotte. The Nuggets as a team utilize the pick and roll to finish possessions just 13.8% of the time, while Charlotte uses it at 19.1% frequency, 7th in the NBA. Most of that is Walker carrying the team on his back.

The Nuggets need another creator, as they are often shackled to asking Nikola Jokic to save them while the starters are on the floor. With Walker, the Nuggets would not only have a go-to high pick and roll set with Jokic, but it could also be used in late game situations, in which the Nuggets have been unable to create efficient offense. Denver is last in the NBA in Offensive Rating (92.3) in what deems “clutch situations” and they need a player they can rely upon when the going gets tough.

Walker is that guy. They call him Cardiac Kemba for a reason.

What do the Charlotte Hornets need?

As stated above, the Hornets are looking to get out from under bad salary on the roster.

General manager Rich Cho re-signed Batum, Kidd-Gilchrist, Williams, and Zeller while trading for Howard in the hopes of adding the right veterans to surround Kemba and make a run at the playoffs again. Batum, Kidd-Gilchrist, Williams, Zeller, and Howard combine for over $84 million in salary in just 2017-18, and the only contract that expires in the near future is Howard’s after the 2018-19 season. So far, it obviously hasn’t worked, and Cho is looking to break things up.

In order to be competitive in trying to acquire Walker, Denver would have to provide three things:

  • Matching salary
  • Cap Relief
  • Young prospects and/or draft compensation

What would this look like? In addition to Walker’s $12 million in salary, the Nuggets would likely have to take on at least one of the five salaries above — Batum, Kidd-Gilchrist, Williams, Zeller, Howard — and return salary that is less burdensome.

For example, exchanging Cody Zeller and Mason Plumlee might make sense for the Hornets because Plumlee’s deal expires a year earlier, though Zeller is slightly younger and slightly better at this point. Kenneth Faried is worse than Zeller, but his salary expires two years earlier, a potentially interesting route for Charlotte to take.

In the end though, the Hornets should be most interested in acquiring proper compensation for their best player rather than balancing their books. Not many All-Stars get traded, and the most recent trades have been profitable for both teams, not just the acquiring party.

The Minnesota Timberwolves acquired Jimmy Butler and are guaranteed two years of his service. Butler has been outstanding this season, and the three pieces he was traded for — Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and Lauri Markannen — have also been intriguing for the Chicago Bulls.

The Oklahoma City Thunder acquired Paul George and are only guaranteed one year of his service. George has been pretty good this year, but his counterparts going back to the Indiana Pacers — Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis — have been outstanding.

The Boston Celtics acquired Kyrie Irving and two years of his service from the Cleveland Cavaliers for an injured Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and a 2018 first round pick via the Brooklyn Nets.

Looking back on these deals, the teams that were ridiculed (Chicago and Indiana) suddenly look pretty good, while the team that seemingly made a great deal (Cleveland) looks worse given the performance of the assets they received.

What it means for a potential Nuggets-Hornets exchange of assets: the Hornets may accept less in the way of assets if they find the right guy on the Nuggets roster to add and build around.

Could the Nuggets and Hornets come to an agreement?

The easy answer is maybe. Depending on what Nuggets ownership is willing to pay next year in terms of luxury tax, and depending on the assets Tim Connelly is willing to give up, the Nuggets could potentially find a solution. In a deal for Walker, it’s all but 100% that Connelly would be willing to offer anyone but Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Paul Millsap, and Nikola Jokic in a deal to acquire the All-Star.

The two questions that need to be answered: what if the Hornets say no to any deal that doesn’t include Murray or Harris, and what if the Nuggets don’t want to take on the additional salary the Hornets want other teams to take?

My guess is that the Nuggets and Hornets could find a happy medium between the two in the form of a deal like this one:

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For the Nuggets, they add Walker while retaining their young core. In all likelihood, they would give up a first round pick this year, but it’s a cost they would simply have to swallow in order to retain those key players. Instead, they give up a package centered around Trey Lyles, Emmanuel Mudiay, and a first round pick, two young players the Hornets can center a rebuild around, along with Malik Monk and Dwayne Bacon. They also get salary relief, because while Chandler, Plumlee, and Darrell Arthur have $82 million guaranteed between them, Cody Zeller and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist have roughly $88 million guaranteed to them over a longer period. Chandler likely isn’t interested in being part of a rebuild anyway, so he would opt out of his player option and free up even more money for the Hornets.

Charlotte might not accept this deal though. Other teams could provide more interesting prospects or more immediate salary relief. Murray is Denver’s trump card. The Hornets would have a hard time refusing any deal in which Denver included Murray, and if they really want Walker, eventually they will give. However, the Nuggets had an opportunity to get in on the Kyrie Irving sweepstakes, and they chose not to include Murray in those trade talks. If they didn’t want to include Murray in a deal for Irving, it’s unlikely they would do so for Walker at this point.

Should the Nuggets be interested in the Charlotte Hornets All-Star caliber point guard? What would they have to give up to get him? Would you trade Jamal Murray? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section.

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