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Charlotte Hornets: Kemba Walker, draft, Kawhi Leonard trade?

The draft is huge in building an NBA contender. And holding the No. 1 pick could be a bigger deal (because you start only five players in basketball) than in any of the other three major-league team sports.

However, here’s some data, via the basketball-reference.com, that I found mind-blowing:

Since 1950, only nine players chosen with the No. 1 overall pick have gone on to win the NBA championship with that franchise. Obviously, there are some all-timers on that list, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Tim Duncan and LeBron James. But I would have guessed the number would be higher.

So, it’s not a given that the Phoenix Suns holding the No. 1 pick for the first time will change history for that franchise. But it’s still a big deal, as illustrated by the packed ballroom in Chicago where the NBA held its annual draft lottery Tuesday night.

The Charlotte Hornets didn’t move into the top three (no surprise, considering they had only a 2.9 percent chance). They also didn’t move back from the 11th pick, tied to their 36-46 record last season. That was a relief to new general manager Mitch Kupchak, who says he never wants to participate in the lottery again.

Now that the order is set for the June 21 draft, my answers to some Hornets questions you submitted on Twitter, with the NBA’s annual combine starting Thursday:

Q. Possible outcomes with the 11th pick in this year’s draft?

A. I assume you mean how the pick might be leveraged, as opposed to specific rookies who might be available.

The obvious thing is just to select the best player on their board, particularly since the rookie pay scale limits salaries and the Hornets’ overarching problem is a bloated player payroll.

But if Kupchak wants to shop this pick around – and he’s said that’s an option – he could explore multiple strategies.

It would be difficult to trade the pick for a veteran contract, since the Hornets are already close to the NBA’s projected luxury-tax threshold for next season. But what if Kupcahk took the opposite course: Offer the 11th pick to a team willing to take a bad veteran contract off the Hornets’ cap.

I’m guessing Kupchak would expect something else in compensation to make such a deal; such as either a first-round pick later in the round or a player still on one of those cost-effective rookie-scale contracts.

Q. How much stuff heard in the draft process is borderline made-up? Such as someone reported (Texas big man) Mo Bamba’s wingspan today, two hours before he even appeared to arrive for the combine.

A. Excellent question, because the draft is full of half-truths and rumors. Those who cover the NBA combine regularly look forward to the league officially releasing the weights and measures. As an example, last spring everyone was waiting for confirmation of Donovan Mitchell’s crazy-long arm length for a guard. The other thing that always grabs eyes is body-fat content; it’s often the ugly truth about how well or poorly a prospect cares about his conditioning once a season ends.

When I read something that quotes an unnamed source, that might raise or lower a draft prospect’s status, I pay attention, but I also practice scrutiny: What could be the agenda of the person providing that information? It could be legit, or it could be disinformation.

Q. Can the Hornets put together a feasible package to offer the San Antonio Spurs for Kawhi Leonard while still keeping Kemba Walker?

A. I can’t imagine how. If I were the Spurs’ R.C. Buford, and Kupchak asked about Leonard’s availability, I’d say no reason to waste each other’s time unless any offer includes Walker. What else does Kupchak have that moves the needle? Players like Malik Monk or Jeremy Lamb have value, but not big value. First-round picks have value, but only so much if Leonard’s presence would improve the Hornets to the extent fans would hope.

Q. Trade away the pick and Kemba for a higher one?

A. Would Kupchak listen if a team with (for instance) a top-5 pick approaches him about Walker? Of course. But establishing fair value for Kemba, relative to fair value of a top-5 pick, plus figuring out a way to make a trade work under salary-cap rules (the other team would have to be able to absorb Walker’s $12 million salary) would be a challenge.

Not incidentally, the other team probably wouldn’t give up a top-5 pick without some kind of assurance they’d have Kemba beyond his contract expiring after next season.

Q. Would (Kentucky’s) Shai Gilgeous-Alexander be a reach at No. 11? I think he would pair well with Monk and Kemba.

A. I don’t think he’s a reach there. I see him in a group of point guards and small forwards who’ll be drafted anywhere from eighth to 15th. I saw him play live twice in Boise at the NCAA tournament: I agree his length (roughly a 7-foot wingspan) and defense would complement Walker and Monk. He’d be a fresh version of what the Hornets hoped they were getting in Michael Carter-Williams: A big point guard who can defend shooting guards.

Q. Do you see noticeable changes in how the new management is evaluating talent for this draft at No. 11?

A. First off, it’s too soon to tell, but I don’t know that there was some flaw in the prior administration’s process that failed the Hornets. Ultimately, this is about judgment when it comes to close calls. Team owner Michael Jordan is banking on Kupchak’s long NBA experience to improve results. All these hires are a leap of faith.


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