For the Hornets, path to a title goes through the CBA, not the Lakers
As the trade deadline looms Hornets fans spend countless hours postulating trade scenarios, with a hope of improving the team in some way, shape, or form. Some desire to make trades that improve the team this year by adding a missing piece that could get us into the playoffs. Others seek long term help, in the form of trading a declining veteran for a rising prospect. And others look for financial flexibility, hoping to move overpaid players with long term contracts in favor of expiring deals.
After the deadline passes, Hornets fans will hit up message boards following each loss with posts that emphasize the trades we should have made. This will last for two more months until the season ends, at which point fans will look to the draft and the free agency period, at which point countless suggestions will be made to improve the team.
While it is possible that the team could hit on every move- finding a diamond in the rough at the end of the lottery or fleecing some team in a trade- it is more likely than not that no set of moves in the next 20 months can lead this team to an NBA championship. The fact is that there are so many areas that would need to be improved; from depth to interior defense, our starting wing players to consistent outside threats that can spread the floor.
While ownership is aware of all these needs, our lack of financial flexibility prevents the Hornets from being able to fill all the holes that would need to be filled to get to that elite level. The team has over seventy-three million dollars committed to ten players next year, which is nearly five million dollars over what the projected luxury tax threshold is going to be. If you assume that the Hornets will keep and sign their first round pick and fill the rest of the roster out with guys at the minimum salary, they will be nearly eight million dollars over the tax line.
It is obvious that management would be willing to pay the tax for a contender, but this same Hornets roster plus a rookie is obviously not a legit contender, so just like this year more salaries will be shed in order to get under the tax and the team will suffer on the court because of it.
This is why Hornets fans focus should be on the status of the new CBA more than anything else. The way the system is set up now, small market teams without the benefit of super-rich owners have an extremely small margin of error, making it nearly impossible for them to compete at an elite level year in and year out.
The Spurs had a dynasty, but look at all the things that had to fall right for them in order to achieve it. First, David Robinson had to get hurt in the exact year Tim Duncan came out and they had to overcome all of Boston’s ping- pong balls to win the lottery. To continue their dynasty, they had to strike gold with Tony Parker and Manu late in those respective drafts. Drafting two multiple time All Stars that late is as likely as Kanye West winning Mr. Congeniality at the next MTV Music Awards.
Fact is that teams like Dallas and Los Angeles can continue to make mistakes, overpaying guys like Sasha Vujacic, Erick Dampier, Josh Howard, Luke Walton, etc. etc. and not get punished for it because they will just trade a big expiring contract for some other small market teams best player to cover up the mistake. Then they will write the luxury tax check for thirty million dollars like it is nothing and contend every year. The Hornets don’t have that privilege.
This is why the next CBA is monumental and can have a huge impact on our realistic chances of competing at a high level moving forward. Hard caps and partially guaranteed deals will level out the playing field, making everybody pay for their mistakes. It will also make the NBA a better product, as the best players will be out on the floor, and they each will be fighting for their contract next year as opposed to knowing it is guaranteed.
So for those of you who think that you have the trade or the draft pick that will turn everything around, maybe you are right, and maybe it is possible, but it is more likely that the future of this franchise is in the hands of Stern, thirty owners, and the Players Union. If the status quo remains, it is highly unlikely we see a Hornets championship in the next few years. But if drastic changes are made and the playing field is leveled, the chances that we could rise to the top as CP3 enters his prime becomes much more likely.