Last week Charlotte Hornets general manager Rich Cho said he would do something about the team’s poor perimeter shooting, whether it be through the draft, free agency or trades.
Turns out trading was the avenue, and Cho didn’t wait until Thursday night’s NBA draft. The Hornets and Portland Trail Blazers agreed to a deal Wednesday that sent guard Gerald Henderson and power forward Noah Vonleh west in return for Nicolas Batum, who can play either shooting guard or small forward.
Batum, a 6-foot-8 Frenchman, has averaged 11.2 points and 5.1 rebounds per game during seven NBA seasons.
He’s a 36.3 percent career 3-point shooter, although that average slipped to a career-low 32.4 percent this season. This season the Hornets were last in the NBA in 3-point shooting as a team at 31.8 percent, tied for the eighth-worst 3-point season in the past 10 years.
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“He provides a lot of things – a 3-point shooting threat, he’s a good, versatile defender who defends multiple positions,” Cho said during a conference call. “He’s only 26 years old, so he gives us experience but he is also in his prime.”
Cho said Batum will start at shooting guard, where he can complement small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The acquisition also could influence how the Hornets use the ninth overall pick Thursday.
The trade was first reported by Yahoo Sports.
Cho said last week he wouldn’t pass over a player the team values as the best available to address the team’s need for shooting. This deal eases the pressure to do something such as draft Kentucky’s Devin Booker. Instead, the team could consider Wisconsin power forward-center Frank Kaminsky, who could offer some inside and outside scoring punch.
Kaminsky didn’t come to Charlotte for a workout, but Cho has said that wouldn’t preclude the team from picking a player. The Hornets took Vonleh ninth overall a year ago without him working out in Charlotte.
The Hornets gave up two significant pieces to make this trade happen. Henderson, the former Duke star, has played his entire NBA career in Charlotte. A six-season veteran, Henderson averaged 12 points and 3.4 rebounds for the Bobcats/Hornets. He was selected 12th overall in the 2009 draft.
Henderson was a captain the past two seasons and highly respected by teammates, particularly point guard Kemba Walker. Just last week, Henderson’s representatives informed the team he was exercising his player option, guaranteeing a $6 million salary for the 2015-16 season.
While Henderson was a strong defender and driver, his career 3-point percentage (30.9 percent) made it problematic to play him alongside Kidd-Gilchrist, who also lacks 3-point range.
Vonleh played little as a rookie (25 games with no starts, averaging 3.3 points and 3.4 rebounds). That was about his lack of experience, not his potential. Vonleh played a single season at Indiana before turning pro. He has great length and athletic ability and some outside shooting touch.
“It was definitely a difficult decision to give up Noah,” Cho said. “He’s got a lot of talent and is a super-hard worker. But you’ve got to give up something to get something.”
The Hornets are crowded at power forward. They finished the season with Cody Zeller, Marvin Williams and Vonleh all under contract at the position. The Hornets recently dealt shooting guard Lance Stephenson to the Los Angeles Clippers, getting back big man Spencer Hawes and shooting guard Matt Barnes.
Since Hawes’ best attribute is his outside shooting, he’s likely to play more power forward than center with the Hornets.
Two NBA sources said Wednesday night that the Hornets also were in discussions with the Oklahoma City Thunder about acquiring shooting guard Jeremy Lamb in a deal that could involve Barnes’ contract. Cho declined to say whether he has talked to the Thunder, his one-time employer, about Lamb but added, “We’re still looking to do a number of things.”
The Hornets also hold the 39th pick in Thursday’s draft (7:30 p.m. ESPN).
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell