Back in July of 2010 then Charlotte head coach Larry Brown and GM Rod Higgins made what is widely considered one of the worst trades of the NBA millenium.
The Bobcats were over the cap and in danger of breaching the luxury tax. They needed to dump salary fast. Their solution: trade Tyson Chandler (who had spent his lone year in Charlotte either hurt or in Brown’s doghouse) to the Mavericks for the immediate cap relief of Erik Dampier’s non-guaranteed deal and the bloated multi-year contracts of Matt Carroll and Eduardo Najera.
Ten months later Chandler was helping Dirk win a ring while career 9th/10th men Najera and Carroll bloated Charlotte’s payroll and took up precious roster spots for years. It was a salary dump trade in which the dumper ended up taking on more salary in the longterm. This move all but cemented the Bobcats’ reputation as a league-wide joke.
A New Era of Competence
Seven years later Charlotte is no longer the laughingstock. In fact, they’ve completely turned the tables by becoming the fleecer in such a deal rather than the fleeced. And it’s all due to competence.
See what happens when your GM and Coach work together?
COMPETENCE: As a former assistant in Orlando, Steve Clifford has long had a great relationship with Dwight Howard. He understands Howard’s game and personality. Few other NBA staffs are in a position to maximize late career Dwight like Charlotte’s. If Dwight is going to achieve a renaissance anywhere in the league it will be as a Hornet.
MORE COMPETENCE: Rich Cho’s negotiating and cap management skills allowed the Hornets to upgrade their short term talent situation, dump seemingly un-dumpable salary and boost their 2nd Round pick to near 1st Round status all in one trade.
This single transaction encapsulates what can happen when both men – each the best this organization has seen at their respective positions – play to their strengths in unison. Bravo, gentlemen.
Worst Case is Still a Better Case
“Yeah, this is a great trade and all…if it was 2011 LMFAO!!!”
–Basic Twitter Troll
Let’s assume disaster for a moment: That the worst of Dwight’s childish antics distract and disrupt. That his soon to be 32 year old body breaks down before the final two years of his contract expire. That his fit on the court never materializes and that he essentially becomes a $50m version of last season’s Roy Hibbert.
The trade is still a win. Why? Let us count the ways:
I. Miles Plumlee is not only a worse player by any measurement but his 3 year contract ran a year longer than Dwight’s. By making the trade, a currently capped out Charlotte team will be able to play in free agency a year earlier than expected.
II. Which is great because guess who is due for a new contract during that time? Kemba Walker. Also both Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist can opt out that summer so more flexibility in July of 2019 = a VERY GOOD THING.
III. Did I mention that they dumped Plumlee? It was widely viewed as one of the league’s least tradeable contracts and they did so without having to include a pick or prospect to sweeten the deal (see the Lakers and D’Angelo Russell as a counterexample of this).
IV. In fact, Cho was able to somehow move up in the Draft – going from pick 41 of a deep class to 31. That’s the first pick of the 2nd Round, a very interesting spot indeed (more on this later).
V. If Dwight becomes a major problem off or on the court, Charlotte can just tell him to stay home or try and trade him as an expiring next summer. His salary is still less damaging timing-wise than Plumlee’s.
Best Case is Insane
Ok. So what if Dwight isn’t Lance Stephenson 2.0? What if he accepts his role, plays (mostly) hard, takes his vitamins and says his prayers (brother)? Well then, things are suddenly bright indeed.
I. Suppose you have a center who is aging, struggles with back problems and can’t quite play 36 minutes a night anymore…wouldn’t you want to pair him with…
II. A younger center whose body type and strength also prevent him from playing big minutes at the five every night for 82 games. A player who is more mobile guarding on the perimeter, a player who is different in style just enough to give you another look but not so different that you have to change the way you play when he’s out there.
III. Yes I am talking about the potentially tremendous center platoon of Dwight and Cody. Should they be able to put their past feuds and egos (well, ego) behind them this combination should finally give Clifford 48 respectable defensive minutes at center for the first time in his 5 season tenure.
IV. Lack of backup center plagued the Hornets last season. When Cody sat, the team dropped from 3rd in the league in defensive efficiency to 24th.
V. Did I mention defensive rebounding? Because Cliff is obsessed with that stuff and the Hornets (aside from Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) have lacked a true rebounding beast since Big Al’s All-NBA season a few years back. Say what you will about Dwight’s declining game but the man can still ball-board (8th in DRPG, 8th in Contested DRPG). Oh yeah, Howard also ranked 2nd in offensive rebounds and contested ORBPG – so if Cliff finally allows a player to crash the offensive glass, Dwight can convert ‘em.
VI. Rim protection – while Howard is no longer the shot blocking golem he once was (nearly 3 blocks per 36 minutes during his prime, down to 1.5 last season), his strength and reputation will provide at least as much detterence as Cody when Zeller sits. This is a good thing.
VII. Given Dwight’s seniority and rep, it’s a near lock that he’ll be the starter with Cody coming off the bench. Which incidentally means that the Hornets will go from having one of the worst backup center situations in the league to one of the best.
With the Draft a little more than 24 hours away, the Hornets roster makeup and motivation for next season is much clearer:
I. The team still has two primary positional needs: Backup PG and Backup Wing
II. After dealing Marco Belinelli in the Howard trade, Charlotte has exactly one player on the roster who shot greater than 36% from three last season (Kemba)
III. Which leads me to believe that unless a highly rated point guard drops (Dennis Smith), the Hornets will use that pick on Duke’s Luke Kennard – who is widely regarded as the best shooter in this class.
IV. While I still love Donovan Mitchell and his game, his shot is streaky and with the point guard market petering out league-wide (Russell to BRK, Fultz to PHI have started a chain reaction), it will be much easier to find a backup one via trade or free agency than a sharp-shooting wing.
V. Kennard’s play-making from the two would also give Charlotte some minor insurance should Batum miss any extended time (which would be a very, very bad thing).
2nd Round Scenarios
If the Hornets do indeed keep their newly acquired 2nd Rounder (they’ve sold or traded all but one in the Cho era) then they’re in prime position to get a potential rotation player on the cheap which would put Cho’s negotiation skills further to the test:
If Cho can uncover a quality player at 31 and then sign him to something like the famed “Hinkie Special” 2yrs + Non-Guaranteed Year + Team Option Year – or even a standard 2-3 year 2nd Round contract – you’re looking at possibly adding in a rotation guy for around $1m per over the next few seasons. For a team as cap strapped as Charlotte this would be HUGE.
As to who they could target with this pick – I have no idea. They worked out Terrance Fergusan and he may drop there. Harry Giles may scare teams off of longterm guaranteed money so could fall. Guys like Josh Hart and Frank Jackson will be there as well. This is strictly a best player available situation and given the depth of this Draft, Charlotte has a shot at a good one.
Give Rich Cho an Extension Already
Cho is in the last year of his contract and MJ has yet to extend him – this trade alone should get him one.
Even if Howard doesn’t play a game for Charlotte, the team was able to trade an untradeable contract while upgrading their draft position and cleared the books for an incredibly important 2019 Free Agency period.
Karmic payback complete. Tyson Chandler helped Dallas win a title. Cho, Cliff and Dwight helped win Charlotte some respectability.