Charlotte Hornets star Kemba Walker says he’s made peace with his name showing up in trade rumors.
Still, the NBA’s trade deadline – 3 p.m. EST Thursday – will come as a relief to Walker and his teammates.
“I think people underestimate sometimes how hard it is to focus at a time like that. Just imagine you getting a call that they’re going to ship you to Portland tomorrow, that you’re have to uproot everything,” said veteran Hornets forward Marvin Williams.
“It’s a little different, and it can be difficult at times.”
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Hornets general manager Rich Cho has checked around the league the past few weeks to, among other things, assess Walker’s potential trade value. Cho acknowledged as much during a conference call with Charlotte media Wednesday to discuss the minor trade the Hornets did make.
The Hornets sent reserve big man Johnny O’Bryant, along with two future second-round picks, to the New York Knicks in return for Spanish center Willy Hernangomez.
“We’re not shopping Kemba, but it’s our job to listen,” Cho said.
The Hornets are 23-30 entering Thursday’s road game against the Portland Trail Blazers. They have the league’s 12th-highest payroll in a 30-team league and are a veteran team built to win now. The Hornets have such high payroll obligations next season that they are in jeopardy of crossing the NBA’s luxury-tax threshold, which owner Michael Jordan has said repeatedly doesn’t make sense unless this team is competing for a championship.
Jordan told the Observer in an exclusive interview last month that the bar would be high for trading Walker: The Hornets would have to receive another All-Star quality player, for sure. There would also be an expectation of salary-cap relief, and/or young assets to justify such a move.
Jordan reached out to Walker when trade rumors first circulated nationally, to reassure him the team values him.
“It was definitely a relief,” Walker said of the conversation with Jordan. “That’s the type of guy he is; very straightforward. You’ve got to appreciate that.”
The Hornets have always been active dealers around the trade deadline, adding rotation players Courtney Lee, Josh McRoberts and Mo Williams in the past. Asked how likely it is the Hornets might make another trade, Cho was noncommittal.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if we did do something, and it wouldn’t surprise me if we didn’t do something,” said Cho, adding the Hornets looked at drafting Hernangomez in 2015.
Hernangomez, 23, wanted a trade from the Knicks because he was getting only nine minutes per game this season, after making the NBA’s all-rookie team last season. However, he might find the same circumstance with the Hornets; this team’s deepest position is center, with future Hall of Famer Dwight Howard backed up by former starter Cody Zeller.
The 6-11 Hernangomez is solid offensively, but has struggled with NBA-level defense. He’s shooting 61 percent from the field this season, averaging 4.3 points and 2.6 rebounds. The Philadelphia 76ers selected Hernangomez 35th overall in the 2015 draft. The Knicks traded two second-round picks and cash to the Sixers for the rights to Hernangomez.
“Very skill, intelligent and plays with a level of versatility,” coach Steve Clifford said of Hernangomez. “His shooting, his passing and his basketball IQ are big strengths.”
Asked about Hernangomez’s role, Clifford said. “Right away there’s not a big role, but I think that what happens is if you like how a guy plays, and he fits with your style of play, that’s when you have an opportunity to bring him in, get him acclimated, and take it from there.”
Williams practiced Thursday, after missing the previous four games with a left ankle sprain. He’s been cleared to play, and Clifford intends to start him versus the Trail Blazers. Williams said after practice he anticipates being ready to play his normal minutes (26 per game).
Walker an All-Star option?
Another Eastern Conference All-Star slot opened Tuesday night when Knicks star Kristaps Porzingis suffered a season-ending ACL tear. Walker told the Observer he would definitely make himself available for the All-Star Game Feb. 18 if the NBA extends him an invitation.
The NBA filled two previous injury-related openings in the East with the Detroit Pistons’ Andre Drummond and the Miami Heat’s Goran Dragic.
Forbes, a national business magazine, annually estimates the valuation of each of 30 NBA franchises. Based on Forbes’ most recent valuation, Jordan’s investment, when he bought controlling interest of the then-Bobcats from Bob Johnson, has grown massively.
Forbes estimated the Hornets have a value of $1.05 billion, a 35 percent leap over 2016.
Jordan bought controlling interest from founding partner Johnson in March of 2010. According a source familiar with that sale, the purchase value of the franchise at the time was $287 million. The source said Jordan initially paid approximately $30 million, and the rest of the purchase was assuming debt Johnson took on in starting the expansion franchise in 2004, and losses during its early operation.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell