The Trade Deadline came and went without very much movement, but that might not be the worst thing for the Hornets. Lack of movement at this time could mean more movement in the offseason, as teams get a reality check in the playoffs after the roster they loved so much and didn’t want to touch, crashes down in flames. Monty and Dell came out yesterday and flat out said that the roster will be different next year and according to Monty specifically, “This is not the team we are going to end up with.”
At this point, let’s take a step back and evaluate the targets that will be at the top of Dell’s list when the offseason begins and the Hornets have assets like Vasquez, Lopez, and the pick to offer in a trade and nearly $16 million in salary cap space. For the sake of this piece, I will only look at the “Big Fish” in this first section, though I acknowledge that it is more than possible that Dell Demps targets “missing pieces” instead of just one big catch. Without further adieu, here are the most likely targets.
1. Eric Bledsoe, G, Los Angeles Clippers (via trade)
Even though the Hornets didn’t do anything, I would argue that they were big winners this week. There were rumors of an Eric Bledsoe for Paul Milsap swap and not only would that have taken Bledsoe off the table as an option for the foreseeable future, but it would have made the Jazz that much stronger long term. Instead, the Jazz risk getting nothing in return for Milsap, and the Hornets appear to be in the best position to land Bledsoe in a trade this summer.
Make no mistake, the Clippers will trade him this summer once they know CP3 is secure, and several teams will have interest. Those teams will likely include the Mavericks, the Jazz, Orlando, and New Orleans- provided that none of those teams take a point guard in the draft. Of the teams that show interest, the Hornets have the ability to put the best offer on the table as they have two guys on great contracts who could fill a position of need in Vasquez and Lopez. They also have their own picks every year moving forward, and the financial flexibility to take on a bad contract (DeAndre Jordan) if that is what it takes.
Those who just look at raw numbers will question whether a move from Vasquez to Bledsoe would be a significant upgrade, but those who have actually watched the two men play will not. Bledsoe showed a tremendous ability to run a team in the games Chris Paul missed before the All-Star break and the difference between these two on the defensive end is equivalent to the difference between Al-Farouq Aminu and LeBron James on the offensive end. And that is not hyperbole for the sake of being provocative, it is straight up fact.
2. Nikola Pekovic, C, Minnesota Timberwolves (Restricted Free Agent)
Like Vasquez, Robin Lopez has had a nice season when you look at his raw numbers, but when you actually watch this Hornets big man rotation perform you see that there is something missing. That something is rebounding and toughness. All four of the Hornets bigs are highly skilled, but they are more finesse, and when a team like Chicago comes into town, they get pushed around and bullied. The playoffs are a much more physical game, and this inability to secure defensive boards and provide a physical presence in the paint would kill the Pelicans moving forward.
Enter Nikola Pekovic, who could solve both of these issues. While Pekovic is restricted, the Timberwolves reportedly think it would be absurd to give him 11+ million per year. I don’t. A sign and trade similar to the one with Gustavo Ayon for Ryan Anderson could go down, where the Hornets give Pekovic a big offer, then talk the Timberwolves into a sign and trade for a much cheaper Lopez, so that they will not match it. Other teams will likely come calling after Pekovic, but having Lopez as a trade chip might make it easier for New Orleans to secure him.
3. Brandon Jennings, PG, Milwaukee Bucks (Restricted Free Agent)
The Milwaukee Bucks gambled at the deadline, choosing to make a push for the playoffs rather than moving Jennings for some assets. It’s a gamble because they could lose Jennings for nothing this summer. But according to reports, the Bucks are confident that nobody will throw a max offer at Jennings, and Milwaukee feels comfortable matching most numbers below the max. But what happens if Dell does throw the max at him? Will Milwaukee match even though they have said he is not worth that much? Will they look to do a sign and trade at that point, rather than match?
Like the first two on this list, Jennings can be had for the right price, and Demps will be one of the few GM’s with a ton of cap space and cost effective quality assets to offer up in a sign and trade. Dell has been after Jennings for nearly two years now, and there is no reason to believe that he won’t pursue him aggressively when he is on the open market. Honestly, the biggest factor will be what direction New Orleans goes in the June draft. If Marcus Smart or Trey Burke are the best guys on the board when we pick and Dell grabs one of them, then there is no need for Jennings. But if any position other than PG is drafted, then you can expect Dell to go all out for either Jennings or Bledsoe.
Darkhorses and Minor Pieces
Two darkhorses to keep an eye on: Andrew Bynum and Kevin Martin. Look, somebody is going to take a gamble on Bynum this offseason, and we know that Monty loves the idea of having two big guys locking down the paint. Why does he love it? Because of what Gasol and Bynum did to this team two years ago in the playoffs. You know that Monty would be giddy over the prospect of putting Davis and Bynum next to each other in the frontcourt, but it’s Dell’s decision whether or not to take that risk. Of course it will all come down to the price tag and what the doctors say, so until we know those two factors, let’s not count this out quite yet.
Another guy that Monty and Dell love is Kevin Martin. We were told by numerous people that he was the guy they targeted in the CP3 trade and a big reason why they settled on the original trade before Stern nixed it. Kevin Martin is an unrestricted free agent this summer and if the Hornets decide to move Gordon for a PG or SF, then Martin can step right in and replace him at shooting guard. While it is true that Martin just turned 30 this month, his game does not depend on crazy athleticism, so it is reasonable to expect that he continues to play at his current level for at least another 3-4 years and he can continue to be an effective player for another 2-3 years after that.
As for minor pieces, Dell will likely have his choice of a couple of Nuggets small forwards in Corey Brewer and Wilson Chandler. Denver figures to re-sign Iguodala this summer, and that along with the bump in pay to Ty Lawson, means that they will lose some of their depth. Whether it is Brewer in free agency or Wilson Chandler in a salary dump trade, Dell should be able to land either of these guys if he wants them. Chase Budinger is an unrestricted free agent that can fill the small forward spot, and don’t rule out the possibility that Indiana moves Danny Granger this summer just to get out of the final year of his contract.
Scratch off the List
Andre Iguodala, Paul Milsap, Al Jefferson, and Josh Smith can all be scratched off the list for this summer, if they were ever really on it. Normally at this time of year, contenders take on long term salary in order to win now, but that didn’t happen this time. As a result, nearly a dozen teams will head into the summer with 10+ million dollars in cap space and each of these guys will get paid big time money by teams that can offer them the ability to contend this year. My fingers are crossed that Houston is the team that overpays for Smith and he kills the chemistry they are building there with his unwarranted long-range jumpers.
2013 NBA Draft Class
So now that the trade deadline has passed and March Madness is upon us, it is incumbent on you to start doing your draft research. This class has been called weak by some, which causes others to repeat that despite the fact that they have not evaluated for themselves, and it just goes on and on until everyone labels it weak without really having looked into it. Believe me, I have looked into this class, and it is not weak. What it does not have is the elite first tier. There is not one guy in this class that I can point to and guarantee will make multiple All-Star games, but what I can do is guarantee that this class will produce more regular starters than the 2012 draft class. It is deeper with regard to the number of guys who can be the #3-#7 guy in your rotation.
But make no mistake, there are several guys in this class who have star potential, like Kansas’s Ben McLemore, Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart, and Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel. If everybody in this class reaches their ceiling, those are easily the three best players. Anthony Bennett and Shabazz Mohammed are just a step behind those guys potential-wise, simply because they don’t have as much versatility in their games. Otto Porter, Alex Len, Cody Zeller, and Victor Oladipo are right there as well, because they have both produced in college and they have quite a bit of untapped potential to take their game up a notch. Meanwhile CJ McCollum and Trey Burke might be the most pro-ready, able to have a Damian Lillard type impact right out of the gate.
As of last night’s loss, the Hornets are tied for the 6th pick, with several teams creeping up on them, should they continue to lose games like they have since the break. Looking at the standings the other way, it is hard to imagine a scenario where the Hornets climb higher than 10th. So figure the odds at drafting 1-3 or 8-10 as about 20% each, with a 60% chance of the Hornets drafting 4-7. With that in mind, let’s look at the Hornets Big Board as of today so you know exactly who to watch these last couple of months in college basketball. And as a bonus, I will give you each player’s next televised game so you can tune in.
1. Ben McLemore, SG, Kansas
Shooting guard in the mold of a Ray Allen or Allen Houston. Monday 8PM @ISU on ESPN
2. Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State
Point guard who can play SG as well that reminds me of young Dwayne Wade. Today, 1PM, vs. WVU on ESPN2
3. Nerlens Noel, PF/C, Kentucky
Young Marcus Camby, but even more raw offensively. Out with an ACL, will not play again this year.
4. Otto Porter, SF, Georgetown
Nic Batum or Paul George type of SF. Today at 3PM vs. Syracuse on CBS
5. Shabazz Muhammed, SG/SF. UCLA
A taller, left-handed Eric Gordon. March 2nd at 8PM vs. Arizona on ESPN
6. Victor Oladipo, SG, Indiana
A more athletic Bobby Phills. Tuesday, 6PM @Minn on ESPN
7. Cody Zeller, PF/C, Indiana
Solid, but unspectacular in similar ways to Greg Monroe. Tuesday, 6PM @ Minn on ESPN
8. Anthony Bennett, PF, UNLV
Could be Z-Bo w/athleticism. March 2nd, 3PM @Nevada on NBC Sports Network
9. Alex Len, C, Maryland
Ceiling is Tyson Chandler with a jumper. Today, 11AM vs. Clemson on ESPN2
10. Trey Burke, PG, Michigan
Could be next Terrell Brandon. Tomorrow, Noon vs. Illinois on ESPN
Others to Watch: Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse; Glenn Robinson III, Michigan; Alex Poythress, Kentucky