New Orleans Hornets: 5 Potential Trades Heading into 2012 NBA Draft

Dave Leonardis@@FrontPageDaveContributor IIIJune 14, 2012

New Orleans Hornets: 5 Potential Trades Heading into 2012 NBA Draft

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    We're a little over three weeks away from the 2012 NBA draft and the New Orleans Hornets are on the clock. By now, we know that New Orleans will be selecting Kentucky forward Anthony Davis with the first overall pick.

    What we don't know is what else the Hornets may have in store in the midst of their rebuilding project. The team wants to build around Davis and shooting guard Eric Gordon, but with the sale of the team to Saints owner Tom Benson not quite finished yet, the team will be temporarily limited in terms of making any drastic changes to the roster.

    We do know (via Alex Kennedy of HOOPSWORLD) that the Hornets are open to dealing their other first-round pick, No. 10 overall, if it means the team can get back a guard and find a taker for either center Emeka Okafor or small forward Trevor Ariza. While that will more than likely be the gist of New Orleans' moves this offseason, it doesn't hurt to throw out a few potential trade ideas that will help the Hornets going forward.

    First, here's a look at the potential starting lineup for next season:

    Starters: C Emeka Okafor, PF Anthony Davis, SF Trevor Ariza, SG Eric Gordon, PG Jarrett Jack

    Now, here's the projected bench. Keep in mind that this doesn't include whoever the team takes at No. 10.

    Bench: C Jason Smith, PF Gustavo Ayon, SF Al-Farouq Aminu, SG Xavier Henry, PG Greivis Vasquez

    Shooting guard Marco Belinelli, power forward Carl Landry and center Chris Kaman are free agents who could still be re-signed, albeit unlikely. Gordon is a restricted free agent, but barring a ridiculous offer from another team, New Orleans is expected to match anything sent Gordon's way.

    New Orleans has a good core group of young talent that just needs to be developed, but it also has some holes to fill as well. Point guard and center are the Hornets' two biggest needs and at least one of them should be addressed with the 10th pick. If Okafor and/or Ariza are dealt, then their spots are obviously going to need to be filled as well.

    With all that said, I combed through NBA rosters looking for five feasible deals the Hornets could consider if they want to shake up the roster.

    Here they are!

SG Eric Gordon to Indiana for SF Danny Granger

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    Uncertainty would be the word that best describes Eric Gordon's future with the Hornets. He has said that he likes New Orleans and could see himself sticking around but also expressed his interest in testing the free-agent market (per ESPN).

    The ball is in New Orleans' court as they can match any offer and, as of right now, there's no pressing need to deal Gordon.

    However, if the team gets the sense that Gordon will leave, he can be an intriguing trade chip going forward. Danny Granger has become the catalyst to an up-and-coming Pacers team but he's 29 and set to make $13 million next season and $14.2 million in 2013-14. With emerging star Paul George already on the roster for the next two seasons at about $10 million less each year, the team might consider moving their franchise star.


    Why the Hornets Would Make the Trade

    You only deal Eric Gordon if you think he's leaving, which he's given no indication of doing just yet. By doing a sign-and-trade, however, you at least remove the risk of paying a near-max contract to a rising star who has yet to stay healthy in his young career.

    Yes, Granger is a few years older than Gordon. Yes, Granger's contract is a bit steep for a guy who isn't exactly one of the game's elite. Still, he's a leader who can fill up the entire stat sheet and he may also represent the best New Orleans could get back unless Gordon can find a way to raise his value.


    Why the Hornets Wouldn't Make the Trade

    You're dealing a 24-year-old shooting guard who many believe is ready to take the next step, if he can stay healthy for an older forward who has never taken his team past the second round of the playoffs.

    If Gordon's knee woes continue, this makes sense. If Gordon stays healthy but still wants out, trading him for Granger is going to be a hard sell for a fan base that sees potential in this young core.

    Gordon represents the centerpiece of the Chris Paul trade that Hornets fans are still salty over. There's going to be sentiment to keep him in New Orleans and make it work. If they can't, it will be another story of a star who made his career elsewhere.


    Why the Pacers Would Make the Trade

    With the team having to pay center Roy Hibbert and guard George Hill in the near future, both restricted free agents, they could move Granger to save some money. A new deal for Gordon will be close to what they're paying Granger but not quite up there.

    On top of that, Gordon's a local star in Indiana, having spent his college career as a Hoosier. There's also the possibility that Gordon becomes everything the Clippers and Hornets hoped he'd be: a lethal sharpshooter with the strength and athleticism to also make plays driving to the hoop.

    A George-Gordon-Hibbert core gives the team a trio of under-25 stars that could make some noise in an aging Eastern Conference.


    Why the Pacers Wouldn't Make the Trade

    Gordon's injury history is going to scare a lot of teams. With his knee woes and insistence on netting a big contract, flashbacks of Gilbert Arenas' albatross final contract with the Wizards echo through the brain of any GM when Gordon's name comes up.

    Also, while Granger is getting long in the tooth, he's also the team's most consistent scorer. George may be able to fill that role—but that's no guarantee. Naturally, there's going to be hesitance to trade your most proven star for a fragile hometown hero and the scant hope that you strike gold twice with another lottery pick small forward.

G/F Xavier Henry and PG Greivis Vasquez for PG Mario Chalmers

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    The Hornets' need for a point guard is well-known. Incumbent Jarrett Jack is an adequate starter but he's better suited as a backup who comes off the bench to instill an offensive spark and he's also an unrestricted free agent after next season.

    Mario Chalmers, meanwhile, has played admirably as the starting point guard for the two-time Eastern Conference champion Heat but this year's rookie, Norris Cole, is breathing down his neck.

    Chalmers isn't a huge upgrade over Jack but he's younger and has upside. He also would give the team another proven shooter from behind the arc, which is something they desperately need.

    Chalmers' contract expires next season but the team holds the option to keep him. With Cole getting more assimilated into the Heat rotation, Chalmers may be more content finding a starting gig elsewhere.

    Xavier Henry could occupy the backup shooting guard role soon to be vacated by free agent Mario Belinelli next season, but there has been speculation that the team will use the No. 10 pick on Duke guard Austin Rivers.

    If Rivers is the pick, Henry could possibly be the odd man out. Vasquez, meanwhile, has been the team's chief backup point guard, but will have a tough time wrestling away that starting job from Jack in the near future unless Jack is sent elsewhere.

    Henry left Kansas with a reputation for being a dangerous shooter, but he didn't shoot the ball particularly well with the Grizzlies and Memphis gave up on him early as their backcourt became crowded.

    In New Orleans, Henry was a little better from long range. He shot nearly 42 percent from the three-point line in just under 17 minutes per game last year with the Hornets. The team would like to develop Henry but might try to safeguard themselves with the widely-speculated selection of Rivers.


    Why the Hornets Would Make the Trade

    Jack's a free agent next summer and he's not getting any younger. The team needs a younger replacement and the sentiment is that backup Greivis Vasquez isn't it.

    If the Hornets make Henry expendable by drafting another young guard such as Rivers, then it's only right they use a promising young trade chip to fill one of their two biggest needs.

    Chalmers is a good shooter who can run an offense but he's the fourth option, at best, in Miami. In New Orleans, he and Eric Gordon would make a lethal, sharpshooting backcourt.

    Since Chalmers is making close to $4 million and Henry a little over half of that, the Hornets may need to throw in another body to make the dollars add up. Still, bringing in a veteran to run the show is safer than trying to find Jack's heir apparent in the draft.

    The point guard prospects for the Hornets at No. 10 are UNC's Kendall Marshall, who is coming off wrist and elbow injuries suffered in the NCAA tournament, and the scant hope that Weber State's Damian Lillard falls to them. Chalmers might be the better bet.


    Why the Hornets Wouldn't Make the Trade

    Chalmers had some troubles with marijuana early in his career and in college, which is why he dropped in the draft. Those issues seem to be behind him but it's still a concern worth watching.

    There's also the issue of giving up on a 21-year-old versatile guard like Henry, who showed some potential last season in his first season with the Hornets. The Hornets need Jack's replacement sooner rather than later, but taking a chance on Chalmers and dealing away Henry could come back to haunt them.


    Why the Heat Would Make the Trade

    They can replace Chalmers with Cole and potentially replace the aging Mike Miller with Henry. The Heat have become a team in love with shooting from long range and that's Henry's specialty.

    With so much money tied up to the Big Three, finding young, cheap talent to put around their franchise trio is paramount for Miami's championship aspirations. For Henry, there's the obvious joy of going from one of the worst teams in the league to playing for a contender. That's sure to boost his morale.


    Why the Heat Wouldn't Make the Trade

    The team seems to really like Chalmers and, with chemistry always a huge factor, it might be too risky to trade away a two-year starter and give the keys to someone who has barely played. Also, while Henry improved as a shooter in New Orleans, he's still an unfinished project.

    The Heat are a win-now team. They may not see the potential of developing Henry as worth risking the loss of their current starting point guard.

SF Trevor Ariza and the No. 10 Pick for G/F Tyreke Evans

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    Admittedly, this is a bit of a stretch. Evans is two years removed from winning the Rookie of the Year and becoming just the fourth player to average 20 points, five rebounds and five assists as a rookie.

    That being said, he took a step backwards last year and the team has expressed no desire of keeping him past next season, when he's a restricted free agent.

    The Kings would understandably want someone worthwhile for a 22-year old with the talent, versatility and athletic ability of Evans, but last season really raised questions about his potential. Can he play the point? Does he shoot well enough to be a two-guard? Would he be better suited as a small forward?

    With Jimmer Fredette and Marcus Thornton already on the roster, the Kings don't have much flexibility to keep toying around with Evans' future. He's on the block and he's going to command a decent ransom but the Kings would be wise to not ask for the farm for a guy on whom the jury is still out.

    As for Ariza, the verdict on him is pretty simple. He's an athletic, defensive-minded small forward who is getting paid way too much for someone with limited offensive ability. Ariza stands to make $7.2 million next season with a player option of $7.7 million for 2013-14 that he'll likely exercise.

    For a guy averaging just over 10 points per game and who was benched late in the season, you can understand why the Hornets want to find a taker for him. If that means having to dangle the No. 10 pick to entice someone, so be it.


    Why the Hornets Would Make the Trade

    While he's not a natural point guard, the Hornets could get away with playing Evans at the point. They could move him to small forward if they want to go small, and let Jack run the show—he could be good insurance for Eric Gordon if Gordon gets hurt or departs.

    Sure, he'll still be frustrated by the lack of a defined role but that problem will be solved once the Hornets figure out the best way to utilize him. A Gordon-Evans-Davis trio would be scary, even if it's potentially short-lived. It may cost them a high pick and one of the game's best perimeter defenders but it also saves them money in the long run.

    Worst case scenario, you turned the No. 10 pick and a lousy contract into an intriguing trade chip.


    Why the Hornets Wouldn't Make the Trade

    Evans is a gunner who sulked his way to a miserable season last year because he wasn't being used correctly. That could put a damper on chemistry for a young team like the Hornets.

    Evans is also a restricted free agent next season and while Ariza also could leave next season as well, dealing away a top 10 pick for a one-year rental of a young guy who may never live up to his potential could set the franchise back.


    Why the Kings Would Make the Trade

    Some will say the Kings aren't getting enough back for a guy they once thought was their cornerstone, but it's still a reasonable offer. The Kings also have the cap to absorb Emeka Okafor's contract if they so choose, but that might be wishful thinking for the Hornets.

    Ariza isn't terrible. He's just overpaid and he makes the team better defensively.

    Evans' scoring void will be filled by Thornton and The Jimmer. The team can build around DeMarcus Cousins and no longer have to worry about finding the right spot for Evans. Plus, it nets them a good pick in a deep draft as well to go along with the No. 5 pick they already have.


    Why the Kings Wouldn't Make the Trade

    Truth be told, the case can be made that the Kings can do better if they want to trade Evans. Chicago has been a rumored landing spot, and if they are truly willing to give up Joakim Noah (which ESPN's Bradford Doolittle suggested) for Evans, that might be a better offer. There's also the pressure of hitting a home run with the No. 10 pick because that guy has to make up for the loss of a former Rookie of the Year.

    The only way Sacramento makes this deal is if it gets really desperate in wanting to move Evans, or thinks it could package this pick and its own pick, and move up for a guy like Bradley Beal (or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist).

    It's a fair deal but probably not the best one.

C Emeka Okafor and the No. 10 Pick for SF Andre Iguodala

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    This is the trade I like the most, of the five.

    Both teams would be dealing players who are being paid far more than their age and production should allow. Iguodala is 28 and coming off a season where he made $13.5 million to average 12.4 points and 6.1 rebounds. He'll stand to make $14.7 million next year and has a $15.9 million player option for 2013-14.

    That's a bit steep for a guy who isn't giving you outstanding offensive numbers in return.

    Okafor will be 30 in September. He has two years left on a contract that will pay him $28 million combined. Last year, he averaged just under 10 points and eight rebounds a game. That's a far cry from the kid who dominated the boards at UConn.

    As mentioned before, the Hornets are willing to deal the No. 10 pick if it also gets either Okafor or Trevor Ariza off the books as well. There has also been a ton of trade talk involving Iguodala which has been going on for nearly two years now.

    This seems like a perfect match to me.


    Why the Hornets Would Make the Trade

    New Orleans gets to dump its worst contract while also recovering a supremely athletic star who can help them moderately on both ends of the court. Granted, Iggy's contract is slightly worse than Okafor's but teaming him with Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon gives the Hornets a freakishly athletic trio that would give defenses nightmares on fast breaks.

    While not a talented scorer, Iguodala still draws a defense's attention and can take some of the scoring load off of Gordon. His presence could also give Gordon another reason to stay.


    Why the Hornets Wouldn't Make the Trade

    The Hornets would be paying a little over $30 million the next two seasons for a slightly better version of Trevor Ariza, while still also having Ariza on the roster.

    When there's still a chance the team can move Ariza, you'd have to think that the team wouldn't need to seduce other teams with the lottery pick to take Ariza if teams were clamoring for him to begin with.

    Plus, dealing away Okafor without getting a big man in return makes the team thin up front. Yes, getting rid of Okafor's anchor of a contract is a must, but at what cost?


    Why the Sixers Would Make the Trade

    Starting center Spencer Hawes really came on for Philadelphia in the postseason. He's a free agent this summer. The Sixers have a chance of bringing him but a 24-year-old center who ended his season on a hot streak is going to garner some interest in this size-deficient league.

    By swapping Iguodala for Okafor, Philly at least has a backup plan for Hawes' departure, even if that backup plan is vastly overpaid and unproductive. For all we know, Doug Collins is the guy who can revitalize Okafor's career.

    Plus, you get the No. 10 pick to go along with the No. 15 and continue to make a deep, young team deeper and younger.


    Why the Sixers Wouldn't Make the Trade

    I don't know if the No. 10 pick is sweet enough to convince a team to take on Emeka Okafor and his ridiculous contract. Yes, Okafor can opt out after next season, but why would he? He'll never see a contract that would pay him what the current one is going to.

    Yes, the Sixers need a center. There are cheaper options than Emeka Okafor and those guys can give you the same numbers Okafor can give you. The team could use a taker for Iguodala but they aren't as desperate to move him as the Hornets are to get rid of Okafor.

    It's a good trade that Philly can take and not get hurt in, but it's hard to sell trading away a popular star like Iggy for a bust like Okafor to a rabid fan base like Philadelphia's.

C Emeka Okafor, SF Trevor Ariza and No. 1 Pick for C Dwight Howard

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    Hear me out before you rush to bury this trade.

    First, I know the Hornets wouldn't trade Anthony Davis for anyone not named LeBron James or Kevin Durant. Second, I know Dwight Howard wants to go to a contender in a big market and that New Orleans is none of the above.

    Let me play devil's advocate here.

    For starters, is Davis' ceiling the same or better than Dwight Howard's? Davis is the best college big man prospect to enter the draft since Tim Duncan, which is funny because we haven't had a successful college big man taken in the lottery since Tim Duncan.

    Greg Oden was supposed to turn the Blazers into a contender. He didn't. Hasheem Thabeet? Bust. Emeka Okafor? Bust.

    Anthony Davis is better than all of them, but his success isn't guaranteed. Dwight Howard is a proven commodity. Will he leave after next season? Probably, but there's no reward without a little risk.

    New Orleans may not be appealing to Howard, but how is this Hornets team much different than Dwight's preferred destination in Brooklyn, besides the new arena and bigger market? On paper, the overall talent is in New Orleans' favor when compared to Brooklyn's, isn't it?

    It's not impossible to think New Orleans could convince him to stay. It's unlikely but it's not impossible.

    Now, I don't think the Hornets should trade the first overall pick for Dwight Howard.  It's a nice gamble but it's way too risky for a team years away from contending. Still, the idea of trading the first overall pick is intriguing. There's already been one known offer for the top spot, as Cleveland offered four picks in exchange for the No. 1 pick. The Hornets respectfully declined. However, if Orlando offered Howard and was willing to take back the contracts of Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor for the rights to draft Davis, is that something New Orleans would at least consider?

    It's an unlikely scenario but a question that's worth some further analysis.


    Why the Hornets Would Make the Trade

    The obvious reason is they would be trading a potential superstar for a proven superstar. The Hornets would be dealing the best college prospect in decades for the best big man in the game.

    Even if Davis turns out to be everything we expect, how much better will he be than Howard is right now? Howard is 26. You pair him with Eric Gordon and whoever you get at No. 10 and you have a strong nucleus to build around.

    Plus, you unload your two worst contracts in the deal as well.


    Why the Hornets Wouldn't Make the Deal

    The excitement over winning the lottery and bringing in Davis has New Orleans in a frenzy. You want to kill the momentum by trading him away for a coach killer who quit on his team and may leave next summer?

    Tom Benson is a risk taker who wants to win now, but even this is too big of a crap shoot. You can find takers for Ariza and Okafor without going all in and, even if you can't, both deals come off the books next summer. It's better to take a chance on Davis flourishing than protecting yourself from a flop by trading away the opportunity to draft a superstar.

    If this were Brooklyn or L.A. at the top of the draft, you can make the case to make a trade for Howard, but Dwight would never stay in New Orleans.


    Why the Magic Would Make the Deal

    They would get to turn water into wine by trading a malcontent who murdered team chemistry with his own selfish indecisiveness for one of the best college prospects in years. There aren't many offers for Howard that top this one and you also get to add a couple spare parts in Ariza and Okafor to soften some of the blow from Howard's departure.

    If Davis succeeds, the torch that was passed from Shaq to Howard now gets passed to him and the Magic get to avoid their inevitable slide to the bottom rung of the NBA.


    Why the Magic Wouldn't Make the Deal

    I can't really think of one unless they either aren't sold on Davis or don't think he's worth also bringing in Okafor and Ariza. They might think a Howard-for-Andrew Bynum swap is safer or might believe a new regime can coax Howard into staying.

    Beyond that, I see no scenario where Orlando passes this deal up if New Orleans was crazy enough to offer it to them.