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Shedding salary will be among the Hornets’ top priorities regardless of what happens with Kemba Walker.
Max him out, and they’re up against the luxury tax without factoring in Jeremy Lamb’s next deal. Lose him to a better situation, and they’re left with a slew of expensive players—Nicolas Batum, Bismack Biyombo (player option), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (player option), Marvin Williams (player option), Cody Zeller—who aren’t conducive to a rebuilding timeline.
Money will not be the driving force if Walker bolts. The Hornets have an obligation to pay him whatever it takes, including the full boat over five years. Letting him walk for nothing is a much worse look when they didn’t capitalize on his value at either of the past two trade deadlines.
Counting on Walker’s return is the safe play—and the more likely outcome. He doesn’t sound like someone ready to look for a new home, and the extra year Charlotte can offer carries weight as he wraps up a bargain-bin extension.
Re-investing in Walker also pushes the Hornets to make a subsequent splash. That’ll be tough if they’re not open to paying the tax, but big-name hunting is the obligation of every single-star team that doesn’t have the depth required to guarantee a postseason ticket.
Charlotte doesn’t have the expendable assets to broker a typical blockbuster. Flipping Miles Bridges is a no-no without getting back a top-25 player, and packages concocted around Malik Monk, this year’s pick and filler won’t wow.
Including a loosely protected future pick is the Hornets’ best shot at adding anyone worth a darn. They didn’t go that far for Marc Gasol at this year’s trade deadline, but they’ll have to keep more of an open mind if a flashier target reaches the chopping block. Think: Bradley Beal, Jrue Holiday, Kevin Love, etc.
After shipping out Reggie Bullock and Stanley Johnson at the 2019 deadline, the Pistons have a crack at re-signing Ish Smith while accessing the full mid-level exception ($9.2 million). That isn’t enough to put a bow on their offseason, not even following a recent 20-game surge through which they’ve posted top-five offensive and net ratings while re-entering the mix for the East’s No. 6 seed.
Detroit still needs shooting on the wings, and the improved play of Reggie Jackson and Langston Galloway (will he ever miss a three again?) cannot be accepted as the new normal. Committing to the Andre Drummond-Blake Griffin partnership is fine, but the Pistons have to think bigger.
Mike Conley is a name to revisit over the summer if the Grizzlies don’t get that playoff-hopeful gleam in their eye. The same goes for Jrue Holiday if the Pelicans don’t prioritize a quick turnaround.
Danilo Gallinari is yet another player worth monitoring if the Los Angeles Clippers look to open up two max slots. Robert Covington is a perfect fit if the Minnesota Timberwolves get the itch to start over. Otto Porter Jr. might be gettable if the Chicago Bulls don’t try to expedite their position in the East. (Related: It’d be objectively hysterical if they flipped Porter for more than it took to get him.)
Sweeteners are a pivotal part of any Pistons pursuit. They have plenty of expiring contracts to make the money work, but they’ll need this year’s draft selection, Thon Maker and their future picks to do a lot of talking if Luke Kennard has played his way to off-limit status.
Portland Trail Blazers
All the usual calls for roster overhaul will follow the Blazers out of the playoffs. They will grow mind-meltingly loud if they get bounced in the first round or run off the floor in the second, but they won’t sidestep all blowback unless they sneak into the Western Conference finals.
Don’t bet on Portland giving in. General manager Neil Olshey has resisted breaking up the backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum for the past two summers, and Jusuf Nurkic’s play this season infuses a certain freshness into the Blazers’ continuity.
This isn’t to say they’ll stand pat. They need a third star or a different co-headliner for Lillard. And with so many of their contracts coming off the ledger in 2020—Maurice Harkless, Meyers Leonard, Evan Turner—they’ll have the cap-relief tools to swing for a double or triple. The home-run trade, in all likelihood, must include McCollum.
It isn’t clear what some combination of Zach Collins, Anfernee Simons, this year’s draft selection, future picks and expiring money can get the Blazers. Anthony Davis is almost certainly out of reach, and a Kevin Love trade, while intriguing, doesn’t move the needle all that much.
Still, the Blazers have reached a point at which making any sort of buyer’s move is easier than before. And if nothing else, as Al-Farouq Aminu’s free agency looms, they’re candidates to shed salary and skirt the tax.