Trading NBA superstars hasn’t been an uncommon practice across the league in recent years. Hell, this past offseason saw Cleveland and Boston swap Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas respectively and Indiana got in the action by shipping Paul George to Oklahoma City. In the current NBA landscape, the era of the super team, the only way for stars to compete for titles is to join up with other stars on contending teams and the only way for non super teams to compete for titles is to ship stars out for draft picks and tank for more in hopes that they can build around a new young star and attract others in to compete.
From a team perspective, the process is arduous and not a guarantee to yield quick results or even work entirely. Philadelphia, LA Lakers and Minnesota are all teams that have embraced tanking with bad teams and while none of these teams are considered contenders, the amount of young talent on their rosters is obvious. In other words, the future is bright for each franchise. Here in Charlotte, the future is neither bright, nor bleak and that is the problem.
Sitting in the middle in the NBA with a roster not built to content or be bad is the absolute worst place you can be. Continuity in the league is a good thing and can allow you to play into May in most cases, but there comes a point where you have to blow it up and reset. Most Hornets fans will tell you that the time to blow it up and reset is right now. The team, as it’s constructed, will never contend for a title and aren’t even a safe playoff pick so you may as well reset with new young talent and see what comes of it. Fans on the other side will point to the disappointing history of the Charlotte franchise tanking before. Whiffing on draft picks and forcing bad contracts to try and be competitive will help with that perception. Fans that are anti tanking will say that tanking doesn’t guarantee anything and in 6-7 years we will back where we started with nothing to show for it. Neither side is wrong.
The one constant over the course of this current Hornets era has been Kemba Walker. He’s the one draft pick over the seven year stretch that he’s been with the team that has legitimately been a success. His all star appearance last season was the first for a Charlotte player since Gerald Wallace went in 2010. Kemba’s presence on the team alone, has kept the Hornets from completely falling off of a cliff into despair. If not for him, this team would have reset a long time ago.
Friday morning, the future for Kemba in Charlotte finally showed signs that it may be coming to an end.
Hornets fans have begun having the whole “should we trade Kemba Walker?” discussion since last season went down the toilet, but I’m not sure those fans were actually prepared for the discussion to have real legitimate merit. Make no mistake, trading Kemba would be a franchise altering move signaling that the Hornets are prepared to reset and rebuild and it certainly would have a ripple effect throughout the fan base.
Charlotte Hornets fans deserve NBA success arguably more than perhaps any other franchise in the league. They are one of only three teams to have never even appear in a conference finals much less a NBA final. They share that distinction with the LA Clippers and the New Orleans Pelicans who were the Charlotte Hornets before relocating in 02-03. The Clippers are in a similar situation to Charlotte in that their star players from the past few years have either moved on or have expressed interest in moving on. However, the franchise just went through their most successful stint in franchise history with the Paul, Griffin and Jordan trio that saw several top four finishes in the West and multiple first round series wins. The Pelicans are an extension of the Hornets, but they at least have one of the top 10 players (regardless of position) in the NBA to build around in Anthony Davis who is still only 24. They’re future is at least somewhat bright for them.
Then there is Charlotte who is only NBA elite at being mediocre. Charlotte broke into the NBA in the late 80’s when the NBA expanded and added the Hornets along with Miami, Orlando and Minnesota. All three of those teams have experienced a substantial amount of success when compared to Charlotte. Miami has three NBA titles, Orlando has two conference titles and Minnesota has one. That leaves Charlotte with zero.
All Charlotte has are great seasons from star players like Alonzo Mourning, Larry Johnson, Glen Rice, Baron Davis, etc. The one thing that all of these players have in common? They were traded away by the Hornets. Mourning and Johnson were both traded away in consecutive offseasons after they proved they couldn’t share the team as stars. Glen Rice came to Charlotte as a result of the Mourning trade and after two of the better statistical seasons in franchise history. Baron Davis technically left Charlotte when the franchise did, but the Hornets traded him to Golden State in 2005.
This brings us full circle back to Kemba Walker, who has vaulted himself into the conversation of all time Hornets greats during his tenure here and is now on the trade block. This, of course, is all circumstantial as it wouldn’t be surprising that teams would be interested in Kemba given how good of a player he is. The question really is, are the Hornets seriously trying to shop him? Woj comments that the Hornets have a ton of bad contracts and that packaging Kemba with one of them would be the only way to quickly shed some of that cap space. Michael Jordan had an interview earlier this week stating that he doesn’t want to trade Kemba and if he did, it would need to be for another All Star. Neither scenario seems like a likely option so my guess is that Kemba won’t be moved at the deadline.
But should Charlotte trade Kemba? The franchise cannot win or compete as currently constructed and what are you doing if you aren’t trying to compete and succeed at the highest level? Charlotte isn’t a market that is going to attract marquee free agents and while Kemba is talented, he isn’t on the level of someone like Russel Westbrook or Anthony Davis who are MVP caliber players in a small market that could legitimately carry a team to the finals with the right piece or two. The best way for Charlotte to get that type of player is through the draft and your best chance at doing that is with a top 3 pick. Charlotte isn’t bad enough to have a top 3 pick and likely won’t be that bad unless Kemba is traded away.
Then again, the draft is not a guarantee. Charlotte has proven with their MKG and Cody Zeller picks that even if you pick in the top 3-4, the talent evaluators in the front office are more likely to whiff than hit. That’s the real dilemma. Why give away the most proven commodity on the roster when there is no history of the team being able to get it right during a reset.
If it were up to me, I wouldn’t trade Kemba. The value is too high for me to do that right now and emotionally, the city and fans need him. There will be a time where it makes sense to move Kemba. Perhaps it will be as soon as this summer, but it’s not now. Keep Kemba.