1. Charlotte Hornets
The Return: Devonte Graham, Nicholas Batum, Cody Zeller, Draft Picks
The Charlotte Hornets had a surprisingly good season last year, but with an owner like Michael Jordan surprisingly good just won’t cut it. The Hornets need a bonafide star and Russell Westbrook would walk in and instantly make them a playoff contender.
The Hornets have some intriguing backcourt talent and expiring contracts they could send back to Houston but it’s their third overall pick that remains their trump card. If the Houston Rockets and the Hornets look to do business the Rockets should ask for Devonte Graham back as an instant organizational fit.
Graham had a breakout season that saw his scoring go from 4.7 points per game to 18.2 points. The driving force behind Graham’s success was the improvement he saw in his 3-point shot.
He went from shooting 28.1 percent on threes to 37.3-percent while also dramatically increasing his volume. It’s very rare for a player to increase their volume and efficiency, which means Graham’s improvements are likely real.
The Rockets have led the league in 3-point attempts, which gives Graham an instant role with the Rockets.
To make the finances work the Rockets will need to take on some expiring contracts. Cody Zeller is nothing to write home about but he’d instantly be the best center on the Rockets and provide them with the lineup versatility.
Nicholas Batum is one of the biggest mysteries in the history of the league. Signed to a five-year $120 million contract, Batum has seen his production crater over the life of the contract for no obvious reason. Although he averaged just 23 minutes over 22 games and his contract is an expiring deal, he could find new life in Houston’s rotation.
Zeller, Batum, and Graham are set to make $44.2 million next season, which means the Rockets will have to include a small contract to make the math work. The Hornets have all of their first-round picks and the third overall pick.
The Houston Rockets should look to get at least three picks back from the Hornets as the talent sent back is relatively light. However, there is another route the Hornets could take to make this deal happen.
The Hornets only have $80.97 million in salary commitments for next season and $32.89 million for 2021-22. If the Hornets want to keep their picks they could absorb most of Westbrook’s contract and possibly Eric Gordon’s as well.
These types of trades aren’t exciting but it would keep Houston’s title aspirations open for longer. The Rockets, freed from the nearly $60 million per season going to Westbrook and Gordon the next few seasons, could be free to reimagine their roster around James Harden.
If James Harden is okay with yet another whirlwind offseason, this could be the deal that gets the Houston Rockets closest to that elusive third championship.