Potential Trade Packages for Kemba Walker: Could Knicks or Cavs Make a Play?
After spending years scrapping and clawing to remain in the middle of the pack, the Charlotte Hornets recognize they're stuck. And they are finally, mercifully prepared to do something about it—even if they have to trade Kemba Walker.
Sources told ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski on Friday that the Hornets have made their floor general available for the taking. But their openness to moving him is not without its caveats.
As Woj wrote: "Charlotte has been encouraging teams to make offers and appears eager to discuss attaching Walker to a larger trade in which another team would take on one of the Hornets' several far less desirable contracts, sources said."
Nicolas Batum, Dwight Howard, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marvin Williams remain the bloated filler the Hornets are most interested in shipping elsewhere. That significantly changes the scope of Walker's market.
Suitors won't sign over the deed to large swathes of their futures and take on bad contracts at the same time. They'll minify their offers by emphasizing cap relief over high-end picks and prospects. And that's just as well because the trade market for marquee names, including All-Stars, isn't the most aggressive.
Teams are more hesitant to flip first-rounders and youngsters for impact performers who, while in their primes, will only get older and more expensive. Walker is a great point guard and top-30 player, and his contract (two years, $24 million remaining) ranks among the best in the league. But he's not Kyrie Irving or Jimmy Butler, and the prospect of paying him near-max money in 2019, when he's 29, will shape the quality of offers while scaring off most rebuilding squads.
In lieu of winning an unwinnable situation, the Hornets should focus on getting off Batum's pact. They owe him $99.1 million, including this season, through 2020-21, and he is most likely immovable without some sweeteners. And incentives don't get much better than top-10 point guards on the right side of 30.
Bear this in mind as we fudge together potential trade packages. Third and fourth teams will be sought out to help make the money and post-deal roster more manageable. The Hornets will end up having to create extra spots after many of these suggestions—a price worth paying if it helps clear the decks.
Finally, remember we're not necessarily endorsing every Walker pursuit. These hypotheticals are based off both teams that could use him or talk themselves into needing him. If you don't understand the difference, contact the nearest New York Knicks fans. They'll know.
Detroit Goes All In on a Different Look
Charlotte Hornets Receive: SG Avery Bradley, SG/SF Reggie Bullock, PG Reggie Jackson, SF Stanley Johnson, 2018 first-round pick (top-five protected), 2019 second-round pick
Detroit Pistons Receive: SG/SF Nicolas Batum, PG/SG Michael Carter-Williams, PG Kemba Walker
It comes as no surprise the Detroit Pistons "certainly will look at" entering the Walker sweepstakes, according to the Detroit Free Press' Vince Ellis. They rank 22nd in offensive efficiency (103.9 points per 100 possessions), and Reggie Jackson, their starting point guard, is sidelined through the All-Star break in mid-February with a right ankle sprain.
Hashing out a workable deal is tough. It doesn't make sense for the Pistons to acquire Walker and keep Jackson. And that's fine. They cannot piece together a viable offer without him in the mix anyway. But that only complicates things.
Charlotte won't pounce at the opportunity to pay a suddenly injury-prone point guard $51.1 million through 2019-20. Taking on Batum's money helps Detroit's cause, but Jackson's deal expires just one year earlier. And at 27, going on 28 in April, his window doesn't fit the rebuilding motif.
Including multiple picks and prospects is a must if the Pistons want to get this done. The Hornets have to snag their first-rounder this year. That won't be up for negotiation. Ditto for Reggie Bullock. He's on the books for $2.5 million this season and 2018-19 (non-guaranteed), and he's just the type of low-cost, mid-career place holder off which restructuring franchises feed.
The Pistons, for their part, shouldn't fret over cutting bait with Stanley Johnson either. He can be an offensive pit and is extension-eligible this summer. Avoiding both his and Avery Bradley's next contracts might end up working out for them.
Batum is not worthless. Remember that. He's just overpaid. Elbow injuries also haven't aided his stock this season. Put him on a team that doesn't turn to him as its No. 2, and the outlook on his performance changes. Charlotte assumes an effective defensive identity when he plays without Walker, and he won't be as responsible for setting up others beside the former, Tobias Harris, Ish Smith and, yes, even the newly pass-happy Andre Drummond.
Kemba Joins the Mile High City in 4-Teamer with Denver, Atlanta, Dallas
Atlanta Hawks Receive: PF/C Darrell Arthur, SF/PF Juan Hernangomez
Charlotte Hornets Receive: PG/SG Will Barton, SG/SF Malik Beasley, PF/C Kenneth Faried, PG Emmanuel Mudiay, 2018 first-round pick (top-three protected, via Denver)
Dallas Mavericks Receive: PF/C Ersan Ilyasova (absorbed into cap space), 2018 second-round pick (from Denver, via Portland or Sacramento), 2019 second-round pick (top-55 protected, via Charlotte)
Denver Nuggets Receive: SG/SF Nicolas Batum, PG/SG Michael Carter-Williams, PG Kemba Walker
Jamal Murray has mitigated the rush for the Denver Nuggets to upgrade their point guard rotation. Even with his recent cold spurts, he's averaging 17.3 points and 3.0 assists per game while slashing a 44.8/42.9/91.5 since the end of November.
Still, he's no Kemba Walker, a peaking veteran at the NBA's most important position. And the Nuggets have playoff hopes to ferry, yet they are sitting outside the Western Conference's bubble. Acquiring Walker should allow them to punch their ticket into the spring dance.
Absorbing Batum's deal should even ensure the Nuggets retain Murray in any trade. The have a smattering of other reasonable contracts, picks and prospects they can bring to the table.
And the Hornets should be thrilled in this case. They're not accepting a single non-rookie deal that leaks past 2018-19, while Malik Beasley and Emmanuel Mudiay, plus Denver's selection, equate to three first-round picks.
Both the Atlanta Hawks and Dallas Mavericks are joining the party to help ease the math and logistics. The Hawks should be happy to pay Darrell Arthur's $7.5 million salary next season (player option) for a solid combo forward in Juan Hernangomez who earns rookie-scale money through at least 2019-20.
Dallas shouldn't have to think twice about taking on Ersan Ilyasova's expiring deal for what amounts to a second-rounder. As owner Mark Cuban said Monday, per the Dallas Morning News' Eddie Sefko: "I would say we are looking to use our cap space actively. We will take back salary to get picks or guys we think can play."
Ilyasova makes for a nice small-ball 5, and the Mavericks can create a roster spot by waiting out Kyle Collinsworth's 10-day contract—or by waiving the dog-housed Josh McRoberts or Nerlens Noel (out with a thumb injury).
Cleveland Sets Its Eyes on Golden State
Charlotte Hornets Receive: C Channing Frye, SF/PF Cedi Osman, SG/SF Iman Shumpert, SG JR Smith, PG Isaiah Thomas, 2018 first-round pick (via Brooklyn), 2020 second-round pick (via Miami)
Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: SG/SF Nicolas Batum, PG/SG Michael Carter-Williams, SF Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, PG Kemba Walker
This framework is an expanded version of a previously suggested trade between the Hornets and Cleveland Cavaliers that has been opened up to include the latter's absorption of Kidd-Gilchrist.
Swallowing so much long-term money and forking over the Brooklyn Nets pick is a huge risk for the Cavaliers when they have no idea what LeBron James will do in free agency. But Walker is a substantive defensive boon compared to Isaiah Thomas—particularly against the Golden State Warriors.
And speaking of the reigning champs, adding both Batum and Kidd-Gilchrist arms Cleveland with enough switchable wings to survive on defense during a potential, if probable, NBA Finals meetup.
When the Warriors go hyper-small, with Draymond Green at the 5, the Cavaliers can roll out Batum, James, Kidd-Gilchrist and Jae Crowder. That will play nicely with Walker at the 1 spot.
Throwing this offer the Hornets' way at least piques their curiosity. The Nets have tanked the value of their draft pick, but it'll still be in the top 10. And that selection will be in addition to wherever the Hornets' own first falls. They'll have more than enough time to rock-bottom their way to top-five lottery odds. They're already closer to that now than the Eastern Conference's final playoff spot.
Plus, the savings. Oh, the savings. Look at how much money Charlotte sheds from its payroll in the coming years, assuming Iman Shumpert picks up his player option, J.R. Smith is waived for $3.9 million after 2018-19 and Batum and Kidd-Gilchrist play out the life of their contracts. Note these figures do not include the salary of the player drafted with Brooklyn's choice:
- 2017-18: $9.7 million
- 2018-19: $20.5 million
- 2019-20: $31.8 million
- 2020-21: $27.1 million (excluding Cedi Osman's qualifying offer)
One more time: Oh, the savings.
New York Throws Rebuilding Out the Window
Charlotte Hornets Receive: PG/SG Ron Baker, C Enes Kanter, SF Doug McDermott, PG Frank Ntilikina
New York Knicks Receive: SG/SF Nicolas Batum, PG Julyan Stone, PG Kemba Walker
If we presume the Knicks are committed to a proper rebuild, then we believe they won't go after Walker.
Ergo, we do not believe they won't go after Walker.
Trying to accelerate what's supposed to be a gradual project would be so Knicks. They've already done it to some extent by signing Tim Hardaway Jr. last July. Never mind the player. Shelling out nearly $71 million for anyone over the age of 23 isn't a harbinger of patience or process.
Give the Knicks an opportunity to acquire a New York native who just so happens to play the position they've been unable to fill for roughly eternity, and they might be all over it.
To be fair, this package could look a lot worse for them. Losing Frank Ntilikina stings something awful, and Doug McDermott has proved to be a nice pickup from the Carmelo Anthony trade. But the Knicks aren't surrendering this year's first, nor are they giving up more than one player who factors heavily into their big picture.
Enes Kanter isn't a building block. His early-season shine has faded along with the teams' playoff hopes. Ron Baker is scrappy, but he's Ron Baker. McDermott would be good to keep around, but he's slated for restricted free agency and potentially a sizable raise.
Footing the bill for Batum has to be the Knicks' trump card. They're giving up a top-eight prospect in his rookie season who plays Walker's position. If the Hornets insist on this year's first or expanding the deal to lop off more salary, the Knicks should walk.
And that's if they even see it fit to talk shop in the first place.
Utah Jacks Up Its Backcourt to the Umpteenth Degree
Charlotte Hornets Receive: PF/C Derrick Favors, SG/SF Rodney Hood, PG Ricky Rubio, 2018 first-round pick (top-eight protected)
Utah Jazz Receive: SG/SF Nicolas Batum, PG Kemba Walker
Donovan Mitchell and Walker on the same team, starting in the same backcourt? Yes please.
Rudy Gobert finishing lobs out of the pick-and-roll from Walker? (Watches playback of the Walker-Dwight Howard connection.) Oh, hell ya.
Batum and Gobert reunited in the NBA? Playing in the same frontcourt? Waging defensive warfare together? Splitting escargot appies on the road? Yes, a zillion times over.
Bringing in Batum no doubt rattles the Utah Jazz. They're not a midseason mover and shaker, and laying out close to $77 million over the next three years for his services tethers them to chasing the West's elite right away.
Shedding Ricky Rubio's deal ($28.9 million, including 2017-18) makes this easier to stomach. He comes off the books two years earlier than Batum, but his ball-dominant, non-shooting offense has been hell on the Jazz's equal-opportunity approach, as Bleacher Report's Andy Bailey has pointed out ad nauseam on Twitter.
Batum should look much better playing next to Walker and Mitchell on offense, and his defensive range fits the contemporary bill almost to a T. Walker's foray into free agency will bring back memories of last summer and Gordon Hayward's departure to Boston, but the team has around 18 months to sell him on Utah as a permanent home. Having his Bird rights will matter, since he's not considered a fringe superstar.
Unless the Jazz plan to shop Gobert sometime in the near future and reset fully around Mitchell, they have a certain obligation to now. And with Derrick Favors good as gone this summer and the up-and-down Rodney Hood about to cost who-knows-what in restricted free agency, getting their hands on two known commodities is, at the least, worth a cursory exploration.
San Antonio Goes Anti-Spurs in 4-Team Blockbuster
Charlotte Hornets Receive: SF/PF Kyle Anderson, SF/PF Rudy Gay, PG Dejounte Murray, PF/C Mirza Teletovic, 2018 first-round pick (via San Antonio), 2018 second-round pick (via San Antonio),
Dallas Mavericks Receive: PG/SG Michael Carter-Williams, SG/SF Rashad Vaughn, 2019 second-round pick (via San Antonio)
Milwaukee Bucks Receive: C Pau Gasol
San Antonio Spurs Receive: SG/SF Nicolas Batum, C Johnny O'Bryant III, PG Kemba Walker
Cue those captaining the obvious.
The San Antonio Spurs don't make midseason trades. Their last one came in February 2014, when they swapped Nando de Colo for Austin Daye. We get it. But deviating from their hardline stance carries more appeal in the wake of their announcement that Kawhi Leonard will be sidelined indefinitely as he continues to rehabilitate a right quad injury.
Nabbing Walker immediately soups up a Spurs offense that ranks a so-so 13th in points scored per 100 possessions (105.0) and has trouble getting buckets without LaMarcus Aldridge on the floor. And Batum, while hardly cost-effective, beefs up their defensive switchability and tertiary-playmaking ranks.
Shipping out Kyle Anderson, Pau Gasol, Dejounte Murray, a first-rounder and two second-rounders midyear is the least Spursiest move possible. But they wouldn't have to forfeit so much if they could use Tony Parker's expiring deal to grease the wheels.
Alas, loyalty and legacy and all that stuff. They'll need to insist on Johnny O'Bryant, a quality undersized 5 (6'9"), otherwise they'll be depleted up front.
San Antonio is actually lucky to avoid including more. Few teams will be keen on bankrolling Gasol's three-year, $48 million pact. But the Milwaukee Bucks are hot for size, and the 37-year-old, unlike DeAndre Jordan, won't cost them one of Malcolm Brogdon, Thon Maker or Jabari Parker.
Gasol's defensive rebounding rate (29.6) would lead the Bucks by a mile, and he'll replace whatever play artistry they lost in Greg Monroe while tacking on three-point range. That he can be waived for $6.7 million before 2019-20 makes this a low-risk venture. Milwaukee might even be able to turn his non-guarantee into an actual asset.
The Hornets are yet again saving a ton of money. Anderson will be due a raise in restricted free agency, but he's young enough to be part of the future at 24, and he doesn't figure to command any lucrative offer sheets. Dejounte Murray is long and intriguing and, most importantly, less than two years into his rookie deal. Late first-rounders aren't nothing in today's asset climate.
Dallas once more gets recruited to play dumping ground. It has the expendable players in place to make roster space, and head coach Rick Carlisle may appreciate getting a gander at Michael Carter-Williams' length or trying to figure out why Rashad Vaughn's relationship with looking like an NBA player is so hot and cold.