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Kemba Walker is reportedly available for trade from Hornets

Walker is reportedly on the trading block if Charlotte can get rid of some bad contracts with him. Will the Hornets reset?

Washington Wizards v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

The Hornets have made All-Star guard Kemba Walker available for trade, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, who cites Charlotte’s overloaded cap situation as the reason why the middling franchise would want to part ways with its best player in a decade.

Walker was a first-time All-Star in 2017 and is averaging about 22 points and six assists per game this season. But the Hornets — with Nicolas Batum, Dwight Howard, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist — remain seven games below .500, firmly outside of the Eastern Conference playoff hunt. If their record holds for the season, it would be the third time in the four years since Charlotte renamed itself the ‘Hornets’ that the team underperformed expectations and missed the postseason.

Why this makes sense

The Hornets’ cap inflexibility is tangible. They are on the hook to pay Howard an additional $23.8 million next season. Batum signed a five-year, $120 million contract in 2016 and has a player option worth $27 million in the 2020-21 season he is sure to opt into. Marvin Williams also has an additional $29 million owed to him through the 2019-20 season, Kidd-Gilchrist will make $26 million during that same time span, and Cody Zeller is only in the first year of his new four-year, $56 million contract.

The Hornets have made Batum, Williams, Howard, and Kidd-Gilchrist available in trade talks, but teams have steered clear of their large contracts, according to ESPN.

All the while, Walker is thriving in the third year of his modest four-year, $48 million deal. He is easily outplaying his contract and is long overdue for a massive pay raise. The Hornets would have no choice but to give him a max or near-max contract extension to keep him, which would saddle the team in luxury tax for years if they were unable to rid themselves of some other contracts.

To land Walker, according to ESPN, a team would need to take back one of Charlotte’s less desirable contracts.

Trading Walker would also be a concession of Charlotte’s season in the final year teams can tank for the NBA draft before the percentages at landing a top-five pick become more evenly spread among bad teams. The 2018 NBA draft is considered one of the most loaded in recent memory with each of the top-five players available projected as franchise-altering talents.

There are currently 10 teams with worse records than the Hornets, but they are only a few losses away from falling down into the bottom six.

Why this doesn’t make sense

The Hornets took on or offered those players lucrative contracts because they found them as talented players who could execute head coach Steve Clifford’s game plan. Clifford was listed as out indefinitely while he tended to severe headaches caused by sleep deprivation and missed 21 games getting better, according to ESPN.

The Hornets went 9-12 without Clifford, but in his first game back on the sidelines on Wednesday, he coached Charlotte to a convincing 24-point win over fifth-place Washington. The Hornets are only four games behind both the Pistons and 76ers, who are tied for eighth place in the playoff hunt. Detroit has lost seven of its last 10.

It was only two seasons ago that the Hornets were a feared defensive team that took the Dwyane Wade-led Miami Heat to seven games in the first round of the playoffs. They appear to have lost some of that edge, however, and it is unclear if Clifford can regain it.

Walker has been the most talented player to walk into Charlotte since Gerald Wallace and Raymond Felton led the Bobcats in 2010. The Hornets have missed and/or traded most of their picks since Walker, and trading him would be a reset that sets the franchise back years.

Will the Hornets trade Kemba Walker?

At this point, it seems they have to. The Hornets are in a middling scenario, have failed to successfully build around the best talent they’ve ever drafted, and have a payroll that would make Warren Buffett faint.

Charlotte also is not close enough to the bottom to tank for a top-five pick. Too many teams are ahead of them in the race for Luka Doncic. For that reason, the Hornets’ best option is to find an ideal scenario for Walker where he can compete for a deep playoff run, while recouping as many assets as possible to reset moving forward. Attaching one of Dwight Howard or Nicolas Batum’s exorbitant contracts to that trade may be a requirement.

But now that Walker has been outed publicly as a star who is on the trading block, the Hornets are on the clock. Offers will begin pouring in as teams in need of a spike in point guard play — like Denver, San Antonio, New York, Indiana, Philadelphia, and maybe the Los Angeles Clippers — start to sweat as the Feb. 8 trade deadline approaches.

Walker is a star on a role player’s contract. There is a 100 percent chance another team bites, even if it’s for a rental.