Charlotte Hornets

NBA Combine: Is Kemba sign-and-trade viable, and Nassir Little’s UNC frustration

Don’t count on a sign-and-trade as the last resort when the Charlotte Hornets deal with Kemba Walker’s free-agency.

ESPN front-office insider Bobby Marks says NBA rule changes make sign-and-trades so problematic that they seldom happen anymore. So if All-Star point guard Walker, who becomes a free agent in July, chooses to go elsewhere, it’s probably too late for the Hornets to get any compensation.

Marks, formerly a longtime executive with the Brooklyn Nets, notes that under current rules, the extra guaranteed year and larger raises the Hornets can offer Walker can’t be conveyed to another team in a sign-and-trade. That wasn’t the case in 2010, for instance, when LeBron James and Chris Bosh came to the Miami Heat via sign-and-trades.

Also, there are base-year compensation rules that would seriously complicate any matching of salaries between the Hornets and a team looking to acquire Walker. With those factors in place, sign-and-trades have become all but extinct as a tool for managing stars’ free-agency.

Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak said at the conclusion of the season that the franchise intends to do “everything we can” to re-sign Walker. The Hornets can offer up to $190 million over five seasons ($221 million if Walker qualifies for a super-max contract by being named All-NBA). Other teams with the cap room to do so could offer Walker up to $140 million over four years.

At least a half-dozen teams are expected to have the cap space to make a maximum-salary offer to one or more players this summer.

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The Hornets explored Walker’s trade value in the winter of 2018, before owner Michael Jordan told the Observer he wouldn’t consider dealing Walker for anything less than a comparable All-Star level player.

Kupchak said in April there was a lot of interest from other teams over the past year in trading for Walker.

The Cleveland Cavaliers spoke with the Hornets before the 2018 draft, and the Dallas Mavericks reportedly approached the Hornets at the February trade deadline.

“I think our position has been unwavering,” Kupchak said of playing out Walker’s free-agency to its conclusion. “That was the decision that we made.”

Walker’s decision, it appears, will be an all-or-nothing gamble for the Hornets come July.

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Nassir Little averaged 9.8 points in his only season at North Carolina. Nam Y. Huh AP
Nassir Little on North Carolina

Former North Carolina player Nassir Little expressed frustration Thursday with his role offensively in his one season with the Tar Heels.

Little, a McDonald’s high school All-American, averaged 9.8 points as a freshman before turning pro. He said at the NBA combine that he never got a clear understanding from the coaching staff of “exactly what my role was, especially on offense.

“That created a lot of hesitancy, which didn’t really didn’t allow’” him to play his best.

Promises

Vanderbilt’s Darius Garland left the combine in what’s become a predraft annual guessing game: Who made the first-rounder a promise to skip working out for other teams?

At last year’s combine, Kentucky point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander got strangely circumspect about who he’d met with and who he would work out for. The Clippers were figuring out how to get him, and ultimately traded two future second-round picks to the Hornets to swap the draft rights of Miles Bridges for Gilgeous-Alexander.

Some key context to this: NBA players’ huge earning opportunities are in their second contracts, not their first contracts controlled by the rookie pay scale. So getting to a team particularly vested in that player’s success can be more important than how high in the draft a player is selected.

Here and there

Hornets assistant Jay Hernandez is one of four head coaches for the 5-on-5 scrimmages at the combine. Hernandez was the Hornets’ summer league coach in Las Vegas last July. ... One of the attractions of North Carolina’s Coby White is his profile as a big point guard. But he measured 6 feet, 3 1/2 inches and, more importantly, a 6-5 wingspan. Not all that big. ... Meanwhile, another Tar Heel, Nassir Little, measured 6-4 1/2 in height, but had quite a wingspan at 7-1 1/4. ...

Measures for Tennessee forward Grant Williams, who grew up in Charlotte and played at Providence Day: 6-5 3/4 height, 6-9 3/4 wingspan and 240 pounds. ... Williams’ high school teammate, Kansas guard Devon Dotson: 6-0 height, 6-3 1/4 wingspan and 179 pounds.

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