It would be a metaphoric gut punch to Charlotte’s fanbase, but the Hornets would be better off getting a king’s ransom for Kemba Walker right now.
Trading a star is never easy, but it feels nearly impossible for the Charlotte Hornets. Kemba Walker is really all the Hornets have got, and life without him would be rough. The right decision isn’t always an easy one, though, and trading Walker might be the best path Charlotte can follow right now.
Walker is without a doubt playing the best basketball of his career. He’s played every game this season, and is averaging 26.0 points, 6.1 assists, 4.3 rebounds, and 1.3 steals per game while shooting 44.0 percent from the field and 35.8 percent on an eye-popping 9.1 attempted 3-pointers per game.
Even with all of that going, the Hornets are 11-13, barely holding onto the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. If Walker were to miss any sort of stretch of games, it seems likely Charlotte would struggle to win any of them. The team around him just isn’t good enough to compete in the East.
Unfortunately, those players are the ones making all of the money in Charlotte, and they’ll keep on doing so. If the Hornets were to renounce and not re-sign Walker, Jeremy Lamb and Frank Kaminsky, they would still have $102 million in guaranteed contracts next season. Once Walker goes from making $12 million to making more than double that, Charlotte will be essentially out of money to spend.
The Hornets won’t be bad enough to tank for a young star with Walker around, and they don’t have any obvious avenue to add another star. Unless Malik Monk or Miles Bridges is going to suddenly become an All-Star, Charlotte is going to be stuck with largely the same team. That’s not an ideal place to be.
Any team that trades for Walker would have the inside path on re-signing him, as even without the designated veteran player option in play he’d be eligible for a five-year max due to his bird rights transferring to the team that dealt for him. Getting a probable five and a half seasons of Kemba Walker is enticing to anybody based on how he’s playing right now, especially with the first half-season so cost-controlled.
This healthy, dominant version of Walker probably also represents the zenith of his trade value. It might be a tough sell to the Charlotte fans, and ownership and the front office would need to stick to a real rebuild for the move to not be disastrous, but trading Kemba Walker might be the best move for the Hornets long term.
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