This first appeared in the Jan. 22 edition of The Washington Post’s NBA newsletter, the Monday Morning Post Up. You can subscribe by clicking here.
Since the debate over whether the Charlotte Hornets should trade Kemba Walker began with a Washington Post column on the topic a couple of weeks ago, there have generally been two schools of thought about it.
One, held by the clear majority of people, is grounded in reality. The Hornets are in one of the worst situations of any team in the league. They have an aging, expensive roster, little to build around in terms of future assets and a star player — Walker — that is less than 18 months away from unrestricted free agency on a team that’s going nowhere. Therefore, trading Walker to get off some of that bad money, bring back some assets and begin the rebuilding process for the franchise makes plenty of sense.
Then there is the minority opinion — one largely, but not only, held by people in and around Charlotte — that trading Kemba Walker would be a death knell for the franchise and would leave the Hornets adrift and fans with no reason to buy tickets to watch the team play, draining any support the team has locally and orphaning it in the Charlotte sports scene. Which would make trading Walker the single-worst thing the franchise could do.
This latter view is not only misguided, but it completely misses the point regarding the Hornets’ situation — and why the discussions of trading Walker are happening in the first place.
Let’s discuss a few of the reasons being put forth as to why the Hornets shouldn’t trade Walker and rebut them:
1. Walker is the only reason Hornets fans have to go to games
Of course Hornets fans don’t want Walker traded. He’s a great player and a great personality — exactly the kind every fan base would like to have leading its franchise. But the idea that the fans being against this should mean it doesn’t happen is ridiculous.
Making a decision as important as this one — trading an all-star-caliber player — should never be made based off how fans will react. Trades should only be made because it is the right thing to do for the team’s future — nothing else. If someone had asked Celtics fans in 2013, there would have been a sizable faction that would’ve said not to trade Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. But the Celtics are in the position they are now because of that trade and the bounty it brought back.
Trading Walker will not bring back a haul like that for a variety of reasons. But this should be looked at in the same manner. If trading Walker can set the franchise up for a better future, then it is something that should be done.
2. The Hornets have drafted badly previously, so they will again
This theory has been promulgated over the past few days. Because the Hornets have had lottery picks that haven’t lived up to expectations the past few seasons — including Bismack Biyombo, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Frank Kaminsky and Noah Vonleh — they inevitably will miss again in the draft.
But the only real path for a team like Charlotte to get game-changing talent is to get to the top of the draft and then select some. Plus, there is no assurance that Rich Cho, Charlotte’s general manager, will be back to make the picks going forward, as his contract is up at the end of this season.
The Hornets got Walker with the ninth pick in 2011 and then had the highest odds of getting the No. 1 pick in 2012, with which they most likely would have taken Anthony Davis. Instead, Charlotte got the second pick and took Kidd-Gilchrist. If Charlotte trades Walker and gets two difference makers with their first-round picks this year and next, the franchise would be set up for a real run of success for the first time since it was reintroduced to the league in 2004.
3. Fans will stop caring about the franchise
This is the most outlandish reason claimed as to why the Hornets shouldn’t trade Walker. Since the Hornets were brought back as the Charlotte Bobcats in 2004, they have made the playoffs three times in 14 seasons. They have had a winning record three times.
To put it another way: Charlotte hasn’t exactly enjoyed a basketball renaissance since the NBA returned to the city. This is no fault of Walker’s — he’s been a terrific player. But the cold, hard truth is that the Hornets have gone nowhere with him — and, based on the current construction of their roster, they don’t have a chance to go anywhere even if he stays.
Yes, trading a player as fun and likable as Walker isn’t fun — but it’s not as if trading Walker is ending some kind of golden era in Charlotte basketball. Instead, it’s giving the Hornets a chance to finally have sustained success for the first time since coming back into existence.
4. Walker isn’t going to leave in free agency
Of all the reasons given, this one might be the most understandable. Walker has openly professed his love for playing in Charlotte and has said he wants nothing to do with being traded. Fans hear that and immediately leap to the conclusion that, when Walker hits free agency, he’ll want to re-sign and stay with the team for the rest of his prime.
Reality, though, makes thinking that difficult — if not impossible.
Walker, like all players in his position, is a competitive guy. And if the Hornets remain stuck in neutral (or reverse) between now and July 2019, when he hits free agency, it’s impossible to see why he would choose to stick around.
Just look at the past few seasons and all of the star players that have hit free agency. LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Durant and Gordon Hayward were on small market teams in far, far better situations than the one Walker currently finds himself in; all of them chose to leave for other destinations in free agency. Paul George was going to do the same, which is why the Indiana Pacers traded him.
What about the situation Charlotte finds itself in leads anyone to think Walker is going to stay? That has nothing to do with the city itself or Walker’s love for it. But is someone as competitive as he going to sign up for getting his brains beat in for the rest of his prime? It just doesn’t make sense.
Make no mistake: Trading a player like Kemba Walker is hard. But for a team in the Hornets’ position, it’s the only way forward — which is why the reasons bantered by fans to fight back against the idea of a trade have little basis in reality.
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