Hornets mailbag: Restless fans worry about trade deadline passing quietly, and Kemba

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What can the Hornets learn from Monday’s road victory? Coach James Borrego discusses pre-game Thursday

Charlotte Hornets fans sound particularly restless these days.

Between Kemba Walker’s pending free-agency and the Hornets not making a deal at the trade deadline, the questions I got for this week’s mailbag column seemed full of anxiety about the future. For instance:

Q. Do you think the Hornets not making a move at the trade deadline will have any impact on Kemba re-signing?

A. When you say “any” impact, I can’t say definitively no, but I don’t think letting one trade deadline pass quietly is a triggering event for a decision of this consequence. As I mentioned in several columns leading up to the deadline, this season was a little different in that there wasn’t an urgent positional need, such as injuries that pushed the team in past years to acquire Mo Williams or Courtney Lee.

Sunday, they used their open roster spot to claim veteran point guard in Shelvin Mack off waivers. Is that a big change? No, but it figures to help their playoff chances at least slightly, and they didn’t have to give up capital (a draft pick or a young player) to make that happen.

Q. If the Hornets get swept in the first round of the playoffs, do you think Kemba will still re-sign with the Hornets, knowing he would be stuck on a team that can’t get him help in free agency?

A. I don’t pretend to know what is inside Walker’s head, but I believe him when he’s said — frequently — how much he loves Charlotte and how he’d ideally like to stay with the Hornets. Does that mean I think it’s a deadbolt lock he re-signs here? No, but I think the Hornets have the inside track to keep him.

I’ve got to believe owner Michael Jordan and general manager Mitch Kupchak have had frank conversations with Walker about his intentions. If Jordan and Kupchak thought Walker was predisposed to leaving, you would have seen this front office acting differently. Everything they’ve done suggests they expect to find a way in July to keep him.

Kemba vs Hawks.JPG
Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker, left, had his fourth consecutive game scoring 30 or more points in Saturday’s road victory over the Atlanta Hawks. John Bazemore AP

Q. Why pick up Mack when Kupchak said he didn’t make trades because that would hurt developing the young guys? Mack will take all of Devonte Graham’s time!

A. I don’t think that’s a precise description of Kupchak’s comments. I heard him say they would be careful in the buyout market that adding a veteran with minute expectations wouldn’t negate the development of the young players.

Mack has played for six different NBA teams since 2011. I don’t think he comes into the Hornets locker room with grand expectations about his role. Between Tony Parker’s age and that he’s been dinged up a couple of times this season, there are worse uses of the 15th roster spot than having another veteran point guard in a playoff race.

Graham has probably already played more meaningful minutes as a rookie than he could have anticipated as a second-round pick. So let’s not overreact.

Q. Do you think the progress Malik Monk made over the past few weeks possibly made the Hornets pull back a trade at the deadline?

A. I wouldn’t make a statement as binary as that one, but I’m sure coach James Borrego saying several times lately that Monk has had a breakthrough factored into Kupchak’s thinking. They would have had to be offered something quite appealing to throw Monk into a deal.

Q. Any chance that one of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bismack Biyombo or Marvin Williams could be traded in the offseason, since they all can opt in (to large guaranteed salaries next season)?

A. Sure, why not? The size of those contracts might have lowered their trade value with multiple guaranteed seasons on the books. But there is sometimes a backside positive in a player having a large salary in the final season of his contract. Remember, since most teams are over the salary cap, salary numbers must roughly match to make trades work

Q. Are we too hard on Kupchak for not making a trade at the deadline?

A. I don’t know about “too hard,” but I think the Hornets’ behavior in past seasons created an expectation they will make a deal at every trade deadline. I think they went after some name players in Marc Gasol and Harrison Barnes, but couldn’t come to an agreement they thought was right for them.

I do find it a bit odd that after all the concern I heard from fans that Kupchak might give up a young player or a first-round pick for short-term help, that when he avoided that temptation, he was critiqued for not being aggressive enough.

Q. Why does Nic Batum still start?

A. Because in a playoff chase he is the best wing option right now, compared to Kidd-Gilchrist, Miles Bridges, Malik Monk or Dwayne Bacon.

The Hornets can’t go back in time and undo Batum’s contract numbers. Money aside, Batum can rebound, defend, make 3-pointers and, particularly, pass. Yes, he’s flawed and he acknowledges that. But when I ask advance scouts from other teams to name the Hornets’ five best players, Batum is always one of them.

Q. Do you think the Hornets not making a trade at the deadline could fuel the players for a second-half run, since the front office showed trust in the current roster?

A. I think the trade deadline passing lowered some anxiety among certain Hornets, but that’s true for all 30 NBA locker rooms. Also, whatever value that has would dissipate after a game or two.

Rick Bonnell is a sportswriter/columnist for the Charlotte Observer. He has been in Charlotte since 1988, when the NBA arrived, and has covered the Hornets continuously. A former president of the Pro Basketball Writers Association, Bonnell also writes occasionally on the NFL and college sports.
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