51Q: Will the Hornets’ short-term gains justify their long-term costs?

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PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:

Will the Hornets’ short-term gains justify their long-term costs?

The most notable move of the Hornets’ offseason was one they didn’t even make.

Justise Winslow fell to Charlotte’s No. 9 draft pick, and the Celtics reportedly offered at least three certain first-round picks (including a very valuable unprotected Brooklyn first-rounder) to move up. Boston general manager Danny Ainge later expressed regret about how many assets he offered, but the Hornets declined anyway. They didn’t even take Winslow, who seemed to fall due more to circumstance than a hidden flaw.

Charlotte picked Frank Kaminsky – a polished four-year college player considered by many to be the draft’s most NBA-ready player.

The Hornets want to win. Now.

That was also evident in their two evident in their two major offseason trades – Lance Stephenson to the Clippers for Spencer Hawes and the since-flipped Matt Barnes, Noah Vonleh and Gerald Henderson to the Trail Blazers for Nicolas Batum.

Stephenson was by far the most talented and by far the most erratic player in his deal, and Charlotte clearly had enough his antics. Hawes is the safer, lower-upside contributor. Though Hawes will probably mostly play center, Charlotte surely hopes he can duplicate some of the floor-spacing/passing Josh McRoberts provided next to Al Jefferson in 2013-14.

The Hornets have been chasing a distributing wing like Batum for a while, signing Gordon Hayward to an offer sheet and signing Stephenson. The Jazz matched Hayward’s deal, and Stephenson busted in Charlotte. But the talented Batum, if he rebounds from an uncharacteristically poor shooting season, should help.

He’ll come at a cost, though. Vonleh was the third-youngest player in his draft class (behind Bruno Caboclo and Aaron Gordon), and I still like his potential. He’s under contract for three more years and then headed toward restricted free agency. Batum, on the other hand, will become an unrestricted free agent next summer. There are already reports, though Batum denies them, of Batum liking the Raptors. Regardless of whether he’ll end up in Toronto, more teams than ever will have major cap space. He’ll get offers. The Hornets gave up a lot for a potential rental.

But patience was clearly waning in Charlotte, where the franchise hasn’t won a playoff game since emerging as the Bobcats in 2004. Charlotte has reached the postseason just twice in that span, including 2014’s unexpected run. That breakthrough season was followed by last year’s 33-49 disappointment – leading to this re-commitment to the present.

To be fair, the Hornets haven’t completely sold out their future. Not even close. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (21), Cody Zeller (22) and Kemba Walker (25) remain, and Charlotte traded for Jeremy Lamb (23). The Hornets have all their future first-round picks, too.

They won’t be stuck.

It’s just that with Vonleh, a couple first-round rookies and a couple extra picks on the way, they could have been exceptionally well-positioned for a few years from now.

Instead, they’re focused on this season – which could totally work out fine.

Count me among the many detractors when they signed Al Jefferson two years ago. I thought they were too far from playoff contention to tie up money to a veteran like that. Well, Jefferson propelled them to 43 wins and a playoff berth. I was totally wrong.

I didn’t like their approach this offseason, either. But I wouldn’t be surprised if they prove me wrong once again. I trust Steve Clifford to tighten Charlotte’s defense after last year’s regression, and the front office clearly values a player like Batum. He could make a world of difference to the Hornets’ lethargic offense. It won’t take much in the East to reach the playoffs.

There’s value in winning immediately rather than building for the future. Players are happier, more willing to re-sign. Their trade value increases. Winning doesn’t have to be a late step in rebuilding. It can be the first.

The stakes are higher now, though.

The opportunity cost to assemble this roster was much bigger than the cap space and implicit draft positioning sacrificed to bring aboard Jefferson. Plus, Charlotte has tasted the playoffs recently.

The Hornets need to make the playoffs to justify this strategy and win a playoff game to really feel good about it. This year, probably. If they come close and re-sign Batum and Jefferson, they can put it off another year – especially if Vonleh and Winslow flop and Brooklyn flourishes the years its pick would have been conveyed.

That’s a lot of reason to second-guess this summer, though. And for what? A roster that, at its best, can win a playoff series?

That might be all the Hornets want, and if so, more power to them. It doesn’t have to be championship or bust.

But they sure gave up a lot for only a decent chance of meeting that modest goal.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban fined $50,000; Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta $25,000

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The first rule of NBA ownership: Don’t talk about NBA ownership.

Or the business you do as an owner until it becomes official, even if by then everyone else has known for days and already moved on from the topic.

Monday was an expensive day for two of the NBA’s owners of teams in Texas. Mark Cuban was fined $50,000 for leaking information from the league’s Board of Governor’s meeting about the new coach’s challenge  — even though everybody knew what was going to happen — before the meeting officially ended. Tim MacMahon of ESPN reported this story and had maybe the best quote of the summer to go with it.

The NBA office fined Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban $50,000 after he admitted to leaking information from last week’s Board of Governors meeting to a reporter, sources told ESPN…

“I appreciate the irony of your reporting on a fine that someone should, but won’t, get fined for leaking to you,” Cuban told ESPN.

Sources said Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadive expressed concern that information about the vote to allow coaches’ challenges was being reported while the meeting was still in session. Cuban immediately admitted that he had leaked the information, sources said.

Well played, Cuban.

This is a letter of the law fine, but was it a big deal that this got out? The vote was all but assured, a formality, but Cuban gets fined for telling people? Thanks, Vivek.

From the same “is this really a big deal” file we have the fine Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta got on Monday, $25,000 for talking about the Russell Westbrook trade before it was official. Even though everybody was talking about it. From Mark Stein of the New York Times.

Here is the oh-so-damaging quote:

Again, I get Fertitta crossed the official line because the trade had not gone through yet, but does that line really need to exist in these cases? It feels like the silly hat thing at the NBA Draft.

Damaging or even interesting information was not divulged in either case. The fines were not steep because of it, but the NBA’s process of what is and is not allowed around trades and free agency — and the odd Board of Governors meeting — seems behind the times.

 

Report: Clippers, Rockets both still interested in Andre Iguodala, but both at stalemate

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The Memphis Grizzlies don’t want to just waive veteran Andre Iguodala, they want to get something back in return. That is just turning out to be challenging.

The Clippers and Rockets are still interested, but both teams are at a stalemate, something Shams Charania of The Athletic broke down in a new video.

The story in a nutshell:

• The Rockets are interested, but Iguodala’s $17.2 million would take the team deep into the luxury tax (Houston is currently just shy of the tax line). Charania says any deal likely would involve a sign-and-trade, which implies Iman Shumpert, probably with a draft pick attached.

• The only Clippers’ salary that lines up cleanly is Mo Harkless (with some other players), but Los Angeles doesn’t want to give him up.

Memphis can afford to be patient and say they will just bring Iguodala into training camp, that they are willing to start the season with him.

This may take some time to get done and could ultimately involve a third team. Maybe Dallas gets back in the conversation, or other teams look at their roster and decide they want the veteran wing. This also could be something that drags into training camp, there are no easy answers lined up or the deal would be done already.

Warriors GM on D’Angelo Russell: “We didn’t sign him with the intention of just trading him”

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From the moment the Warriors acquired D'Angelo Russell in a sign-and-trade deal that cleared the path for Kevin Durant to go to Brooklyn, speculation about fit and an eventual trade cropped up. Does Russell’s game really fit with Stephen Curry and, eventually, Klay Thompson‘s, in a three-guard lineup? If not, how fast will they trade him? February at the trade deadline? Next summer?

From the start the Warriors have shot down the idea that they just planned to trade Russell, and on Monday Warriors GM Bob Myers repeated the same thing.

The Warriors plan has been to play Russell and Curry next to each other — they got an All-Star guard to soak up the minutes until Thompson can return (likely sometime after the All-Star break, if at all next season). Maybe the fit works, maybe it doesn’t, but the Warriors aren’t putting limitations or preconceived notions on the possibilities.

If it doesn’t work out, the trade option will still be there.

The Warriors do not head into this season the same juggernaut to be feared, but sleep on them at your own risk. As Meyers said, they believe they have a team that can compete with anyone.

 

Report: Raptors don’t intend to trade Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol or Serge Ibaka

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Just a few weeks after winning a championship, the Raptors look finished as championship contenders.

In an unprecedented exit, superstar Kawhi Leonard left. Danny Greenan underrated contributor – followed him from Toronto.

The Raptors can remain good with Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. But with Lowry ($34,996,296), Gasol ($25,595,700) and Ibaka ($23,271,604) older players on expiring contracts, this iteration of the team will likely be short-lived. Toronto’s obvious path is rebuilding around Siakam.

Will the Raptors get a head start on that by dealing those veterans for assets that can help more down the road?

Josh Lewenberg of TSN:

As for veterans Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka – who are all on expiring deals – the Raptors have no intention of moving them, at least not before the season, according to sources.

This is perfectly fine.

The Raptors might be less-equipped in a few years by not getting value for those veterans now.

But Toronto deserves a victory lap. There’s value in Raptors fans enjoying these championship players – especially Lowry. This team should still make the playoffs, and even moderate winning will make this prolonged title celebration more satisfying.