The New Orleans Hornets are in desperate need of shaking up the roster to a team that has been largely disappointing. As of Dec. 25, the Hornets are 5-22, which is the worst record in the Western Conference and the second-worst record in the NBA behind the 3-22 Washington Wizards. The Hornets are currently on an 11-game losing streak.
The Hornets have been victims of a combination of inexperience and bad luck. On Dec. 22, the Hornets led by as many as 23 points on Indiana before the Pacers came back to win 81-75. This current 11-game losing streak has also included close, heartbreaking losses to the likes of the Thunder, Spurs and Trail Blazers.
The team will get a boost in the coming weeks when franchise shooting guard Eric Gordon finally makes his return from a knee injury that has kept him out all season. According to John Reid of NOLA.com, Gordon recently participated in his first full-contact practice since October. However, there is still no exact date for the former Clipper's return.
Even when Gordon returns, the Hornets will need a miracle just to get back into playoff contention. The Hornets trail the Denver Nuggets by nine games for the West's eighth seed. That gap can only stand to increase with the way the Hornets have played in Gordon's absence.
The wise move for New Orleans would be to continue with their rebuilding process and make more moves to shape a roster filled with potential. The team has a huge hole at small forward, where incumbent starter Al-Farouq Aminu has been average, at best.
The Hornets have managed to get by with Robin Lopez and Greivis Vasquez manning the center and point guard spots, respectively. However, the Hornets aren't in any position to turn their nose up at upgrading those positions if the opportunity presents itself.
The other big issue with New Orleans is that there aren't many trading chips on the roster. Forwards Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson are the two best active players on the roster and the team would be smart to build around them.
Then, there's the issue of trading Gordon. The team has given no indication that they are willing to move the centerpiece to last year's Chris Paul trade but, given Gordon's injury history and concern over his knee, it is something to consider.
The Hornets are in a bad spot and changes need to be made. That's why I've come up with five deals that New Orleans should think over to try to get themselves back on track. These deals are merely suggestions and aren't based on anything imminent.
The Trade: New Orleans sends F Lance Thomas and G/F Xavier Henry to Chicago, Chicago sends SG Richard Hamilton to Phoenix, Phoenix sends SF Jared Dudley to New Orleans
Why The Hornets Should Do It: With his inspiring play late last season and in the Olympics, this should have been SF Al-Farouq Aminu's breakout season. Instead, Aminu is averaging 8.2 points a game while finding himself in and out of the starting rotation. The Hornets need a reliable starter who can provide some stability at small forward for the next few years.
Aminu is a free agent at the end of the season and he hasn't given the team much motivation to sign him long-term. Dudley, meanwhile, is signed for the next three seasons with a player option for a fourth year at a reasonable $4.2 million a year.
By jettisoning Thomas and Henry, the Hornets would be turning a small group of ho-hum bench players into one decent starter. The presence of Dudley pushes Aminu to the bench in the short term, but it also gives the former Clipper some competition should he feel the need to finally live up to his potential.
Why The Suns Should Do It: This has more to do with Phoenix's alleged interest in Bulls shooting guard Richard Hamilton than any issues with Dudley. Hamilton gives the Suns a steady option at the 2. Dudley and Shannon Brown have been logging minutes at shooting guard, but neither seem like the answer.
The smart move would be for Phoenix to try and move SF Michael Beasley. However, Beasley's large contract (owed $18 million over the next three years) and lack of production (10.5 points per game) make him a tough sell for any potential suitors. Hamilton might not have much left in the tank, but he's a veteran presence that could help a young and rebuilding team like the Suns.
Why The Bulls Should Do It: It gets Hamilton, who is owed $5 million this season with a team option for the same price next year, off of Chicago's books. Hamilton has put up modest numbers in a season and a half with the Bulls, but he hasn't been productive enough to justify his price tag.
Henry and Thomas might not be much more than warm bodies at the end of the bench, but they are young guys who can provide depth. Plus, given Hamilton's age and contract, the chances of Chicago getting anything drastically better seems pretty low.
Why The Hornets Should Do It: Much like with the Jared Dudley trade, Richardson gives New Orleans stability at their weakest position. The Hornets aren't going to get very far by continuing to have a merry-go-round at small forward with Aminu, Henry and rookie Darius Miller vying for playing time.
Richardson isn't the young, explosive scoring machine that he once was, and his price tag is a bit steep—$5.6 million this season, $6.2 million next year and a player option worth $6.6 million for 2014-15. But for a guy who will be 32 in January, Richardson can provide offense for a team in desperate need of a scoring punch.
Richardson is averaging 11.5 points per game and shooting 40 percent from the field for the Sixers this season. He represents a slight upgrade over Aminu and the team would have control over him for at least one more season. With Aminu, there's a chance that he walks this summer, leaving the team thin at a position already low on talent.
Why The Sixers Should Do It: The Sixers are a young team and Richardson couldn't have figured much into their long-term planning. Aminu might be playing poorly this season, but perhaps Philadelphia head coach Doug Collins can revitalize the former Wake Forest star. Last season, Collins helped big man Spencer Hawes revive his career.
From a skill-set standpoint, Aminu is like a poor man's version of former Sixer Andre Iguodala. He's athletic, a solid defender and he excels when attacking the basket. He's also 10 years younger than Richardson and comes at nearly half the price. Aminu is also a free agent at the end of the season, which means swapping Richardson for him essentially takes J-Rich's deal off of Philly's hands.
As for Henry, he provides more depth for a Sixers team that's already stacked with perimeter players. His inclusion in this deal is mainly to make the salaries add up.
The Trade: New Orleans sends C Robin Lopez, PG Greivis Vasquez and a 2013 first-round pick to Sacramento for C DeMarcus Cousins and PG Aaron Brooks
Why the Hornets Should Do It: This is the ultimate high-risk, high-reward deal for the Hornets. Cousins is one of the league's best young big men and, given his potential, this deal might not be enough for New Orleans to snag him. However, for all of Cousins' talent, there are obvious character concerns.
Yet when his head is on right, Cousins can dominate inside. He's averaging 16.6 points and 9.5 rebounds for the Kings this season, and the combination of him and rookie Anthony Davis in New Orleans would be scary.
The downside to this deal is that Cousins could blow up at any moment, poisoning a locker room that already lacks a veteran presence. The upside is that the Hornets could trot out a starting five of Cousins, Davis, Al-Farouq Aminu, Eric Gordon and Austin Rivers. That's a pretty devastating lineup.
Lopez and Vasquez are having solid years, and they are nice pieces to have as role players, but they don't have the potential that Cousins has. As for giving up the first round pick, the 2013 NBA Draft doesn't have the a sure-fire prospect like this year's draft did with Davis. If you're a Hornets fan, would you rather roll the dice on Cousins or take a chance on someone like Indiana's Cody Zeller or UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad?
Essentially, the Hornets would be drafting Cousins with next year's pick and they would have Brooks to replace Vasquez at point guard.
Why The Kings Should Do It: Sacramento is said to be reluctant to move Cousins, despite his recent transgressions. Even with Cousins receiving his third suspension in two months, it is understandable for the Kings to be hesitant to move someone as young and as talented as Cousins.
That being said, Cousins' tenure in Sacramento has been rocky and there comes a time when a team must decide when enough is enough. Like the Hornets, the Kings aren't going very far at 9-18. It might be time to see what they can get for their 22-year-old center.
Lopez isn't the talent that Cousins is, but he's been steady for New Orleans as the Hornets' starting center. Vasquez would fill a huge hole at point guard and the team would also be acquiring a first-round pick from one of the worst teams in the league to go with their own lottery selection.
The Kings can continue to hold onto Cousins and hope he raises his stock by keeping his head on straight. However, with someone as combustible as Cousins, that's a risky decision. Plus, with new agent Dan Fegan (Fegan was Dwight Howard's agent during last year's saga with the Magic) in the fold, there's always the chance of this becoming a public mess. It might be better to just cut the cord now.
Why the Hornets Should Do It: We've reached the portion of the article where we start throwing around Eric Gordon trade proposals. Obviously, the Hornets would be better served building around Gordon because he just turned 24 and, when healthy, he's one of the best young guards in the NBA.
That being said, he's an oft-injured guard with a bum knee and a hefty contract. He's played all of nine games for the Hornets and he's already missed 27 games this season. If things continue to look grim and New Orleans can find a taker for Gordon's contract, they should at least consider making the move.
By essentially swapping Gordon for Ellis, they are pretty much dumping their franchise guard's contract on Milwaukee. Ellis can opt out at the end of the season and, unless the Hornets drastically improve after his arrival, it's a safe bet that he's not going to stick around in New Orleans.
That would leave New Orleans with nothing substantial to show from last year's Chris Paul trade—unless Austin Rivers turns into a superstar. It's a risky proposition to move Gordon for an expiring contract, but his troublesome knee only makes his value so high.
Remember Gilbert Arenas? The Washington Wizards gave him a huge contract after he injured his knee. He continued to have problems with the injury and, in the end, the best the team could do was move him for Rashard Lewis' equally atrocious contract.
It's promising that Gordon may return soon, but how much stock are you willing to put in him staying healthy? The Hornets can't afford to give up Gordon for an Ellis rental and three years of the overpaid Drew Gooden, whom Milwaukee wants to move (and, with $20 million left on his deal for the next three seasons, who can blame them?), but a repeat of what the Wizards experienced with Arenas would be equally devastating to the franchise.
Why the Bucks Should Do It: Milwaukee should consider moving Ellis for the same reason New Orleans should look into dealing Gordon—when dealing with the possibility of being left with nothing, you want to explore the idea of at least getting something.
Acquiring Gordon's tricky knee and large contract—he signed a four-year, $58 million deal over the summer—could be costly to the franchise, but so could losing Ellis for nothing. Granted, the market for Ellis might be a little better for Gordon because Ellis is healthy and has the option to stick around with his new team next season.
Still, if you hang on to Ellis and he decides to walk, then the Bucks would be left with a huge hole at shooting guard. When you add in the fact that point guard Brandon Jennings is unlikely to get an extension, that leaves Milwaukee's backcourt looking pretty bare going into next season.
Gordon is a huge risk, but it is one that could pay off. Sure, that last sentence should be reason enough for New Orleans to keep him, but why take that chance with Gordon's potential replacement already on the roster?
If Gordon can stay healthy—which is a big if—he gives the Bucks a legit scoring presence in the backcourt and a potential star to build around. Plus, he's under contract for three more seasons, which lessens the concern of Milwaukee being left with nothing.
The Trade: New Orleans sends SG Eric Gordon and PG Greivis Vasquez to Toronto for SG DeMar DeRozan and PG Jose Calderon
Why the Hornets Should Do It: Of the deals I explored for Gordon, this is the one that I liked the most. In acquiring DeRozan, the Hornets would be getting a talented shooting guard around the same age who can fill Gordon's shoes. DeRozan isn't as good of a shooter as Gordon is, but he's also not as fragile.
DeRozan is also signed long-term, thanks to the four-year, $40 million extension that he signed in October. Plus, by sending him to the Eastern Conference, the Hornets won't see Gordon as frequently. Giving up on Vasquez is tough, especially given how solid he's been this season (12.6 points and 8.7 assists per game). However, his departure opens the door for Brian Roberts to get more minutes or for Austin Rivers to take over at point guard.
As for Calderon, he's a bit older than Vasquez (he's 31 and Vasquez is 25) and he's grossly overpaid (nearly $10.6 million owed to him this season), but he's still a decent starting point guard. The Hornets still end up with an alternative option at shooting guard in DeRozan that is cheaper and more durable than Gordon.
In the long run, that makes taking on Calderon now worth it.
Why the Raptors Should Do It: Like with the Bucks, there's risk involved in making a move for someone as oft-injured as Gordon. The reward is that, if it works out, the Raptors would be making an upgrade at a premier position while flipping a bad contract into a potential superstar.
Gordon can be one of the best guards in the game if he stays on the court. There's just growing doubt as to whether he can stay healthy for a full season. If he can, the Raptors get a great scorer who is a much bigger threat from behind the arc than DeRozan—DeRozan shoots 23 percent for his career from the three point line, while Gordon is a 37 percent shooter.
The Raptors already have their starting point guard in Kyle Lowry, but now they get a much cheaper backup in Vasquez. Vasquez is a big point guard at 6'6", and he's an excellent facilitator. If he can manage to cut the turnovers down (averaging 3.4 a game this season), he can be a bargain for Toronto.
You can make the case that this deal is an unnecessary risk for Toronto. Calderon's deal was coming off the books this summer anyway, and they already had a good young guard in DeRozan. However, much like when the Hornets acquired him, the Raptors would be rolling the dice that the potential of Gordon can turn the franchise around.
At 9-19 so far this season (as of Dec. 25), the Raptors don't have much more to lose anyway.