Kemba Walker doesn’t want to be traded.
Michael Jordan and the Charlotte front office are exploring the idea anyway.
As they should. The Hornets are stuck in the NBA’s purgatory of a middle-ground with one All-Star level player in Walker and not enough around him to make this team a threat. The Hornets are 17.3 points per 100 possessions better when Walker is on the court — when he plays they look like a borderline playoff team, when he sits they are a disaster. Because of some big contracts, that situation is not likely to change. Charlotte may finally be proactive with this — trade Walker but attach a bad contract to it, and get some pieces to jump-start a rebuild back. That’s less than ideal in a smaller market like Charlotte, but it’s the right basketball move — test the market and see if they can get an offer that works for them.
Here are three potential trades that would fit the parameters being discussed (to be clear, these are speculative and not based on what I’ve heard around the league). None of the three are likely, but this is the kind of deals that we would see.
Kemba Walker to the New York Knicks
Charlotte gets: Frank Ntilikina, Ron Baker, and either Jarrett Jack or Lance Thomas
New York gets: Kemba Walker
The ups and downs of slowly rebuilding do not play well in New York — and right now they are in a downward spin after a fast start to the season. Still, the Knicks are just 2.5 games out of the playoffs in the East and Walker instantly puts them back in the playoff conversation. Walker gives New York another shot creator and scoring threat, someone to run pick-and-pops with Kristaps Porzingis, set up Tim Hardaway Jr., and just improve an offense that is middle of the pack. For the Hornets, they get the point guard of the future in Ntilikina, one building block as they move forward. This might be the best deal for the Hornets — if the Knicks would consider moving Ntilikina. That is far from certain.
Kemba Walker to the Detroit Pistons
Charlotte gets: Reggie Jackson, Stanley Johnson, draft picks, plus some other players to make the salaries fit such as Anthony Tolliver.
Detroit gets: Walker and Marvin Williams.
The promise of the Jackson/Andre Drummond connection in Detroit has faded, and Walker would bring the spark and scoring that the Pistons need to be a real threat come the postseason. I like this for Detroit but less so for Charlotte because Jackson has two-years, $35 million left on his contract after next season, and that’s a lot of money to take on for a team trying to strip it down. That said, if the Hornets think they can develop Johnson on offense (he’s good defensively, a black hole on offense) and the picks are good, they should consider it.
Kemba Walker to the Cleveland Cavaliers
Charlotte gets: Isaiah Thomas, the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick (plus another player to make the money work such as Channing Frye
Cleveland gets: Kemba Walker, maybe another deep bench player to round out the salary.
This seems the longest shot. Cleveland wants to upgrade their backcourt, that’s why they are talking to Sacramento about George Hill. However, the talk around the league is the Cavaliers are not moving that Brooklyn pick for anything less than a total game changer who makes them a real threat to Golden State. Is that Walker? Probably not. This is also probably not a move Cleveland makes unless it thinks Thomas is not going to get back to All-Star level performance, but if they think that’s not going to happen this would be a serious upgrade. The Hornets would do this to get the Nets pick, giving them a couple of lottery picks (their own is the other) in this draft to start a rebuild.