5 Worst Trades in New Orleans Hornets History

Dave Leonardis@@FrontPageDaveContributor IIIFebruary 27, 2013

5 Worst Trades in New Orleans Hornets History

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    Over the course of its 25-year history in the NBA, the New Orleans Hornets franchise has been on the wrong side of some woefully one-sided trades. The main cause behind these bad deals was the constant desire to cut payroll that became infamous during the reign of notoriously cheap owner George Shinn.

    During Shinn's stint as owner, fans were wise to not get too attached to any potential stars donning the team's wardrobe. It seemed that once a player raised his profile to the point of becoming a household name, his days as a member of the Hornets would soon be numbered.

    From Alonzo Mourning to Larry Johnson to Glen Rice to Baron Davis, stars came and went out of Charlotte and New Orleans. In a sport where developing a young core and building chemistry is the blueprint to success, Shinn's cost cutting routinely hindered progress.

    These days, the team has a new owner in Tom Benson and a savvy front office led by GM Dell Demps. After an offseason that saw Demps retool a majority of the roster, the Hornets (like most of the league) were quiet at this year's trading deadline.

    The silence was a nice change of pace for Hornets fans, who understandably became frustrated with watching their former stars go on to bigger and better things elsewhere.

    Since the Hornets opted to give us nothing to talk about in the world of wheeling and dealing this season, the focus shifts to looking back at this team's history. More precisely, it's time to take a look at some of the worst trades in the franchise's history.

    The main criteria here has less to do with the quality of player being shipped out and more to do with the lack of talent being acquired. For instance, while trading a budding star like Mourning was a tough pill to swallow, the Hornets could at least find solace in the fact that they obtained All-Star forward Glen Rice in return.

    For the six trades (the top five, plus an honorable mention) that are about to be unveiled, the team wasn't as fortunate with what was received for its talent. For the most part, the guys named in this list enjoyed greater success with their new teams.

    Here are the worst trades in the history of the Charlotte/New Orleans Hornets.

Honorable Mention: New Orleans Hornets Trade Chris Paul to Los Angeles Clippers

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    The Trade: New Orleans trades PG Chris Paul and two second-round picks to Los Angeles for SF Al-Farouq Aminu, SG Eric Gordon, C Chris Kaman and a 2012 first-round pick (Austin Rivers).

    The jury is still out on this trade, as it happened a little over a year ago. However, if things don't break New Orleans' way fast, this deal could vault up the list quickly.

    The decision to trade Chris Paul was a necessary evil. The All-Star point guard, who was set to be a free agent in a couple years, gave the team the courtesy of expressing his desire to sign elsewhere and allowed them to get something in return.

    By comparison to what other teams got for their stars, the Hornets got a pretty good haul for CP3. The problem is that the post-Paul era in the Big Easy hasn't been as seamless as some had hoped. While rebuilding was going to be inevitable without Paul, the parts obtained in the December 2011 trade have sputtered for the most part.

    Gordon has struggled to stay healthy, playing just 31 games in a season and a half. Kaman was on the trade block for most of last season before leaving for Dallas as a free agent last summer. Aminu has started to come on recently, but only after struggling mightily the first two months of the season. The former lottery pick is also a free agent at the end of the season.

    As for the 2012 first rounder, that ended up being the 10th-overall pick, the team took a chance on Duke freshman Austin Rivers. Midway into his rookie year, he's been largely a disappointment. The former Blue Devil is averaging six points per game, while shooting 35 percent from the field and 32 percent from behind the arc.

    Paul, meanwhile, has been an MVP dark horse over the past season and a half in Los Angeles. He has teamed with forward Blake Griffin to form one of the NBA's most exciting tandems and he has brought championship aspirations to Clipper Land for the first time ever.

    The deal can still work out for New Orleans though. If Gordon stays healthy and plays up to his potential, the Hornets would have received a promising scorer in exchange for the game's best point guard. Also, if Aminu re-signs and plays like he has of late, the Hornets will have a nice, young role player to surround Gordon. The same goes for Rivers, if he manages to improve.

    However, if Gordon's knee continues to act up, Rivers continues to flounder and/or Aminu bolts this summer, this trade will be the red flag that forever haunts this front office. Only time will tell how this trade will be perceived.

5. New Orleans Hornets Trade Marcus Thornton to Sacramento Kings

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    The Trade: New Orleans trades SG Marcus Thornton to Sacramento for F Carl Landry

    Marcus Thornton was the second part of a solid 2009 draft for the New Orleans Hornets. Along with first-round pick Darren Collison, New Orleans went two-for-two on their picks and potentially gave the franchise a promising backcourt duo for years to come.

    Thornton averaged 14.5 points in 73 games during his rookie season. He shot 45 percent from the field and 37 percent from the three-point line. Midway into his second season, the team decided to bolster their frontcourt by sending Thornton to the Kings for 'tweener forward Carl Landry.

    Thornton went on to average 21.3 points the rest of that season with the Kings. He followed that up by averaging 18.7 points per game in 51 appearances. Landry, meanwhile, played two seasons with the Hornets and never averaged more than 12.5 points per game. He signed with Golden State this past summer.

    If there's a silver lining for Hornets fans, it's that Thornton has yet to play a full season for the Kings. This season Thornton has been relegated to a reserve role, starting only seven games. In his most recent game, however, Thornton dropped 36 points in a double-OT thriller against the Heat on Feb. 26.

    What Thornton could have had done had he stayed in New Orleans is purely speculative. Do the Hornets still covet Eric Gordon in the Chris Paul trade if Thornton's on the roster? Maybe not. Would Thornton's presence have been enough to convince CP3 to stay in the Big Easy? It's hard to say. Is Austin Rivers still the pick at No. 10 if the Hornets still have Thornton? Doubtful.

    The fact of the matter is, the team dealt arguably the biggest steal of the 2009 NBA Draft for an undersized forward that didn't contribute much to the team. Thornton may not have become a star in Sacramento yet, but he showed in his big game against Miami that he has some real potential.

    A good rule of thumb when dealing a young player with potential is to get one back in return. The Hornets didn't do that here. Plus, considering Thornton was a second-round pick, he was an absolute bargain when you compare his salary (roughly $450K his rookie season) to his production. There was no need to rush into a Thornton trade.

    If Gordon stays healthy and productive, it will be easy to overlook losing a guy like Thornton. If not, Hornets fans will always wonder what could have been if management didn't give up on a diamond in the rough too soon.

4. New Orleans Hornets Trade Darren Collison to Indiana Pacers

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    The Trade: In a four-team deal, New Orleans sends PG Darren Collison and SF James Posey to Indiana, Houston sends SF Trevor Ariza to New Orleans, Indiana sends PF Troy Murphy to New Jersey, New Jersey sends SG Courtney Lee to Houston

    Much like the aforementioned Marcus Thornton trade, the hasty decision to move Darren Collison was a bit of a head scratcher. After all, with Chris Paul's future in New Orleans uncertain, why would you trade the logical heir apparent?

    Furthermore, why would you trade him for an overpaid role player like Trevor Ariza? Ariza's contract is what gives this trade the edge over the Thornton deal. Both were equally ridiculous and it left the Hornets with nothing to show from their 2009 draft class.

    Ariza won a championship with the Los Angeles Lakers. He was an athletic perimeter defender who could also do some things on offense. After the Lakers opted to replace Ariza with Ron Artest, the former Cal standout willingly agreed to a lucrative contract with the Rockets.

    A year after signing a five-year, $33 million deal with Houston, the Rockets realized that Ariza wasn't the budding star he was being paid to be. The Hornets, needing help at small forward and in the market for another defender, agreed to take on Ariza's contract for the price of their own budding star in Darren Collison.

    Ariza never averaged more than 11 points in two seasons with the Hornets. Truth be told, this trade would be a lot higher had New Orleans not been able to con the Washington Wizards to take both Ariza and Emeka Okafor's lousy contracts last summer.

    As for Collison, his tenure in Indiana was affected by the presence of George Hill. Collison still managed to average 13.2 points and 5.1 assists in his first year with the Pacers, but saw his numbers drop the following season.

    After two years with the Pacers, Indiana decided there wasn't room for two emerging point guards and opted to trade Collison to Dallas last summer. Collison is currently averaging a respectable 12.7 points and 5.5 assists in his first season with the Mavericks.

    As with the Thornton deal, the Hornets managed to get lucky. This time, they were fortunate twice. First, New Orleans' ability to ditch the Ariza contract combined with Indiana's rush to move Collison takes some of the pressure off this deal for New Orleans. Second, the emergence of current starter Greivis Vasquez has made the point guard position less of a glaring need in the post-CP3 era.

    Still, like Thornton, Collison didn't need to be traded and Ariza's lack of production only adds to the sting of this deal. In the end, all the Hornets got for their point guard of the future was the chance to buy out Rashard Lewis' contract and open up cap space for next season.

    That doesn't seem like an sufficient return for a team that could have used a young, blossoming point guard.

3. Charlotte Hornets Trade Larry Johnson to New York Knicks

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    The Trade: Charlotte trades PF Larry Johnson to New York for PF Anthony Mason and C Brad Lohaus

    Larry Johnson was the first true superstar for the then-Charlotte Hornets. The man who would later be known as "Grandmama" was the No. 1-overall pick in the 1991 NBA Draft and would take home Rookie of the Year honors.

    A year later, the team would pair Johnson with another dominant big man in Alonzo Mourning. Together, they would give the Hornets one of the best young frontcourts in basketball. Johnson averaged 19.4 points and 9.1 rebounds a game in his five seasons with the Hornets, while Mourning contributed 21.2 points, 10.1 rebounds and 3.1 blocks.

    Friction between the two led to Mourning being dealt to Miami prior to his fourth season with the Hornets. Johnson signed a 12-year, $84 million contract in 1993, which was the most lucrative in NBA history at the time.

    Two years later, that hefty contract and a creaky back convinced the Hornets it was time to move their franchise power forward. Johnson was traded to the Knicks for undersized rebounding machine Anthony Mason and journeyman Brad Lohaus.

    Johnson played five seasons for the Knicks. He never had the kind of production for New York that he did for Charlotte, but did achieve greater postseason success. Most notably, Johnson converted a four-point play in the closing seconds of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Indiana to give the Knicks a 92-91 win.

    However, Johnson couldn't escape his tricky back and, in 2001, decided to retire at the age of 31. As for Mason, he played three seasons for the Hornets. His best year was his first in Charlotte, when he averaged 16.2 points and 11 rebounds per game in the 1996-97 season.

    If you want to be optimistic, you can say the Hornets were smart for getting rid of Johnson before his bad back lowered his value. Still, the Johnson trade came a year after the team dealt Mourning, leaving fans to watch a promising duo take their talents elsewhere.

    As solid as Mason was, he only stuck around for three seasons before he too was traded to Miami in 2000. The Johnson and Mourning trades started a revolving door of All-Stars for the Hornets that saw guys like Glen Rice, Eddie Jones and Jamal Mashburn come and go.

    While the Mourning trade was the deal that kickstarted a tragic series of events, the Johnson trade arguably netted the worst return of any of the major deals that followed (with the exception of the two deals that follow this one on the list). Johnson was a fan favorite and watching him form his arms into an "L" after big plays while in another uniform was tough to watch.

2. New Orleans Hornets Trade Baron Davis to Golden State Warriors

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    The Trade: New Orleans trades PG Baron Davis to Golden State Warriors for PG Speedy Claxton and PF Dale Davis

    For younger Hornets/Pelicans fans who might not remember the Baron Davis era with the Hornets, take off all of the frustrations you've had over Eric Gordon the past two season and replace the name with Davis'.

    Baron Davis was the ultimate "What if?" player. When healthy and in shape, Davis was an exciting athlete who could energize his team and the crowd with his electrifying on-court theatrics. The biggest problem during Davis' tenure in Charlotte/New Orleans is that those moments were few and far between.

    Davis didn't put together a productive season until his third year in the league, when he averaged 16.1 points and 7.6 assists per game. After that season, Baron Davis would play just one full season for the rest of his career.

    For all of Davis' offensive prowess, he was seemingly either always hurt, out of shape, feuding with coaches or all of the above. His constant clashing with then-coach Byron Scott combined with the four years and $63 million left on his contract were the main reasons behind his exile to Golden State.

    The reasoning behind the Baron Davis trade is understandable. What the Hornets got in return, however, was inexplicable. In what was essentially a salary dump, the Hornets got back the expiring contracts of two journeymen bench players in exchange for a 24-year-old two-time All-Star point guard.

    Claxton and Davis' tenures with the Hornets were so forgettable that they aren't even worth mentioning in detail. The deal opened up a ton of cap space for New Orleans, but the biggest names that would suit up for the Hornets would end up being guard Bobby Jackson and sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic. Neither Jackson or Stojakovic would finish their contracts with the team.

    As for Davis, his four years playing amongst his hometown crowd in California was arguably the best stretch of his career. The biggest highlight of his stint with the Warriors came in 2006-07 season when he led eighth-seeded Golden State over top seed Dallas in the opening round of the playoffs.

    After his Warriors career was over, Davis stayed in L.A. for a couple uneventful seasons with the Clippers. Midway into his third season with the Clippers, Davis was traded to Cleveland for Mo Williams and a first-round pick that eventually became No. 1 overall pick and Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving.

    Davis was let go by the Cavaliers and eventually ended up with the Knicks. However, his tenure in New York started with back surgery and ended with him blowing out his knee. While he hasn't officially retired, Davis' chances of making a comeback look bleak.

    In a lot of ways, this trade was the epitome of the George Shinn era. While there were basketball-related reasons for moving Davis, the return suggests that the trade was more financially motivated. Even for all of the potential red flags, it's not unrealistic to think the Hornets could have got something better in return for a guy with Davis' talent.

    Instead, the biggest thing the Hornets received for trading Baron Davis was the No. 2 spot on this list.

1. Charlotte Hornets Trade Kobe Bryant to Los Angeles Lakers

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    The Trade: Charlotte sends the draft rights to the No. 13 overall pick (Kobe Bryant) to Los Angeles for C Vlade Divac

    In fairness, there are a few ways you can defend this trade. First, there's no guarantee that Kobe Bryant becomes a superstar in Charlotte the way he has been for the past decade and a half with the Lakers.

    Second, Bryant seemingly wanted no part of playing in Charlotte and the Hornets didn't seem that enthused about grooming a kid drafted straight out of high school. It took "The Black Mamba" a couple years before he hit stardom and that's only after being paired with the game's most dominant big man in Shaquille O'Neal and the game's best coach in Phil Jackson.

    He wouldn't have had any of those things had he stayed in Charlotte. You can make the case that, had he remained with the Hornets, his career would be closer to J.R. Smith's than to Michael Jordan's. Plus, given the way management routinely shipped out its young talent, Bryant was unlikely to last long with the Hornets under George Shinn anyway.

    With all that being said, the record still shows that, on July 11, 1996, the Charlotte Hornets traded away arguably the greatest player of his generation. There's no cute way of dressing up the fact that Charlotte dealt a 15-time (and counting) All-Star and five-time (and counting) NBA champion for a center who was on the decline.

    We'll never know what Kobe Bryant's career would have been like had the Hornets not traded him to the Lakers. Instead, what we do know is that one side got a future Hall of Famer and one of the five greatest players in the Lakers' storied history, while the other got a journeyman big man who used to puff Marlboros at halftime.

    It has to be difficult for long-time Hornets fans to watch the amazing career of "The Black Mamba" knowing he was drafting by this very organization. Again, it's easy to look back at this trade now and criticize it. Nobody knew then what he currently know now, especially the 12 teams ahead of the Hornets that passed on Bryant.

    Divac ended up playing two seasons for the Hornets, never doing better than 12.9 points and nine rebounds per game. Bryant, along with the aforementioned accomplishments, has two scoring titles, a regular season MVP, four All-Star Game MVPs, two Finals MVPs and is currently fifth all-time in points.

    For as long as the Hornets exist, this trade will forever be the one that will make fans cringe when they read about it.