Since rising up as an NBA expansion team back in 2004-05, the presently known Charlotte Hornets (previously the Bobcats) have made the postseason just three times. Each playoff appearance has ended rather prematurely with a first round exit. Given the lack of progress and upward mobility (coupled with an underwhelming 18-26 record this season), the team is at a bit of a crossroads and the front office must evaluate things. The team has committed to and arguably overpaid a number of players — from the acquisition of Dwight Howard, to the signing of Marvin Williams, the re-signing of Nicolas Batum and the extensions for Cody Zeller and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist — it’s safe to say Charlotte invested in a plethora of players and virtually has nothing to show for it. Given these steep commitments, many of the aforementioned players are very difficult to move.
Much like the Knicks learned this past offseason, sometimes starting fresh means blowing things up from the head. For the Hornets, that may very well mean trading star guard Kemba Walker. According to Adrian Wojnarowski, the organization is “eager” to include Walker in a deal as a means of acquiring young and worthwhile assets, while also using him to entice a trade partner to take back an unfavorable contract in the process. As Ian Begley notes, Charlotte would like to engage the Knicks in trade talks.
Do the Knicks have what it takes to reel in the hometown hero? If they do, will the ultimate price be worthwhile?
Walker grew up in the Bronx and emerged as a high school star, playing his contests on the Madison Square Garden hardwood. He holds the Big Apple close to his heart and there’s no doubt local fans bask in the opportunity to cheer on homegrown talents. Still just 27 years old, Walker was a first-time NBA all-star last season and is currently averaging 21.7 points, 5.8 assists, and 1.2 steals. He’s a big-time player. His steal of a contract (the guard is earning $12 million per season) runs through next season. After that, there’s no doubt he’ll garner a massive pact in this booming NBA economy, especially considering he really hasn’t been able to cash in yet.
Pairing Walker up with Kristaps Porzingis (and having supporting pieces like Tim Hardaway Jr. and others) could make the Knicks a very formidable force in the East to build on going forward. But in order to get talent, teams have to relinquish some of their own, too. For New York, that would mean pulling the plug rather early on Frank Ntilikina. The rookie has been raw offensively and tends to make some questionable decisions when running the floor. His shot has been flat at times and he overzealously commits too many fouls defensively. Still just 19 years old, Ntilikina clearly needs time to grow and the Knicks have preached patience thus far. But if they were put on the spot closer to the trade deadline, flipping the French Prince for New York City’s own proven superstar in Walker (who still has plenty of his prime ahead of him) would be a difficult proposal to reject.
Financially, a deal including Ntilikina and expiring contracts Kyle O’Quinn and Doug McDermott for Walker would work. The Knicks would (at the very least) likely need to include this year’s first round draft pick as well. This would equip Charlotte with two very intriguing future assets and a couple of talented role players who won’t tie the team down. New York has been competing for a playoff spot thus far and if they were to acquire Walker before the deadline, they could very well make more of a push in an attempt to dilute the value of the pick.
A deal of this caliber is well worth it and one Knicks should jump on if Charlotte is also willing to pull the trigger. Ntilikina is understandably young, but hasn’t shown enough to warrant the Knicks not going after a legitimate star. There are more questions surrounding Ntilikina’s future than there are answers. At 27, Walker is still well within his prime and his presence obviously won’t leave the Knicks without the floor general they desperately crave. Instead, he’ll fill the void in massive fashion.
Of course, tossing Ntilikina and Co. over to Charlotte may not be enough for the Hornets to bite. They may stand firm on the requirement that a trade partner must also take on another contract. If the Knicks are competing for his services, they could technically include Enes Kanter and take back one of Williams, Zeller, or Kidd-Gilchrist, all of whom have commitments for at least the next two seasons. Kanter holds a player option for next season. Having said that, forfeiting Kanter and taking on another poor contract, all while sacrificing future assets, would be hefty of a price for New York to pay.
New York should still take a hard look at things and closely monitor the situation, because acquiring Walker would be worth parting ways with Ntilikina, even this early.