CHARLOTTE — If you’re the front office of an NBA team that is one of the leading candidates to embrace the tank in an effort to land French big man Victor Wembanyama in the draft, the strategy for navigating the trade deadline is deciding which players fit into the team’s future blueprint.
Rumored to be major sellers with Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward, Mason Plumlee, PJ Washington, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Jalen McDaniels all serving as potential trade candidates, the Hornets opted to part with just two players last week.
In exchange for Plumlee, the Clippers sent a 2028 second-round pick and Reggie Jackson to Charlotte (16-43). Jackson has since completed a contract buyout with the Hornets and intends to sign with the Nuggets.
For McDaniels, the Hornets agreed to a three-team deal with the Trail Blazers and 76ers that sent the fourth-year forward to Philadelphia for two future second-round picks and New York’s Svi Mykhailiuk, who was flipped by Portland.
Charlotte will get, from Philadelphia, the most favorable of three 2023 second-round picks (Hornets, Hawks and Nets) as well as the most favorable of the Pelicans and Blazers’ 2027 second-round picks (from Portland).
Plumlee and McDaniels had been playing some of the best basketball of their careers.
Plumlee, 32, is averaging 12.2 points and 9.7 rebounds in 56 games this year during the final year of his contract. His trade stock had risen over the past few months as his offensive efficiency increased despite the Hornets’ struggles. McDaniels was also posting career highs in points (10.6), rebounds (4.8) and assists (2.0) this season.
As for the immediate future, the trades serve as a signal that Mark Williams and Nick Richards will receive increased minutes in the center rotation.
On Feb. 10, Williams registered a double-double during his first career start in a loss on the road to the Boston Celtics, producing 11 points and 12 rebounds in 31 minutes. Three days later, the No. 15 draft pick from Duke notched 15 points, five rebounds, two blocks and two steals in 30 minutes in a home victory over Atlanta.
“He had a couple of plays in Summer League like that and he’s had a couple plays in the G League like that,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said of Williams’ ability to go up strong for contested blocks and rebounds. “He’s got really great hands and agility for his size. … He just has to keep learning. He’s super talented.”
While the Hornets did make two moves ahead of the deadline, there was some surprise that more trades weren’t made as Charlotte looks to add more pieces for the future, especially with up to six players being eyed by other teams.
The Suns and the Lakers were reportedly interested in Rozier but no deal was made; Hayward and Oubre were two other veterans thought to be prime candidates to be traded away. Charlotte didn’t exactly get a lot in return for Plumlee or McDaniels and was unable to attract another first-round pick.
It’s unlikely that Mykhailiuk, a 25-year-old small forward who appeared in 13 games for New York this season, will be a big part of the Hornets’ plans going forward, although the idea of surrounding LaMelo Ball with the right mix of young supplemental players is elemental to the team’s overall progression.
The Hornets are projected to have approximately $40 million in salary cap space this coming offseason, but the team will need to decide on new contracts for Miles Bridges and PJ Washington and focus on hitting its mark in the draft rather than troll the open market for a big addition.
“I don’t think that is something that we can bank on as a small market team — I just don’t,” GM Mitch Kupchak said of his team’s ability to attract major players in free agency. “The way we are going to get better is through the draft and player development. And then if we get lucky, make a couple savvy trades.”