It was reported yesterday, initially by ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, that the Charlotte Hornets had made Kemba Walker available in trade talks. They had not done so because they were dissatisfied with Kemba's play up until now, but because Walker is one of the few movable pieces on a team that has few trade assets and not much chance of getting anywhere any time soon.
Despite his talents and being by far the best player on his team, Walker is only the sixth highest paid Hornets player. This is partly because of the extension that he signed for back in 2014 - four years, $48 million, an amount which has gone on to be way under market value for his talents given both the salary cap explosion around him and his own improvements - but also because of the size and volume of big contracts they have given out or taken on elsewhere.
Charlotte now needs to move some of those contracts. And they need other team's help in doing so.
Mike Fisher of Scout.com reports that the Hornets have contacted the Dallas Mavericks about Walker deals, not necessarily about Walker himself but in being able to facilitate a trade involving him.
The Mavericks have been unable to land any big free agents over the last few years despite plenty of cap room and deliberately positioning themselves to be able to try. The closest they came was signing Harrison Barnes back in the summer of 2016, yet despite his giant contract (four years, $94,438,524), Harrison Barnes is no star. Striking out again this summer, Dallas thus sits on a large amount of unspent salary cap room, which, despite being rarer than it used to be, is still a thing in a couple of places, Dallas included.
With no one left to sign with it, Dallas may want to consider using it to take on contracts in trade. And that, it appears, is what Charlotte wants them to do as well.
The Mavericks have in the region of $13.5 million in salary cap room remaining, and only the Chicago Bulls (nearly $16 million) have more. However, with Chicago supposedly not wanting to take on any long term salary commitments, Dallas is the main suitor for teams looking to dump salaries. And Charlotte definitely is that.
Between Nic Batum ($99,130,435), Dwight Howard ($47,319,725), Marvin Williams ($42,262,500), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist ($39,000,000) and Cody Zeller ($56,000,000), Charlotte has an awful lot of money tied up long term in players who are not performing up to it, on a team as a whole that definitely isn't. None of those contracts are easily to trade, and with more bad long term contracts in the league than there are tradable expiring ones, it is going to be very difficult for the Hornets to move them.
That, then, is where it seems the Mavericks are involved. Reading between the lines on Fisher's report, the Mavericks are not as likely to trade for Kemba Walker directly as they are to be the third team in a multi-way deal.
This would be a change of strategic direction for the Mavericks, but a good one. The free agency strategy has not worked (Barnes, Wes Matthews), nor has the plan to take on reclamation projects from other teams (Nerlens Noel).
Dallas took one step in this direction over the summer when they took on Josh McRoberts's big dead contract from the Miami Heat, getting a future second round pick for their troubles. If they were to take on, say, the salary of Zeller (which is extremely large for a backup), they should be sure of at least a first round pick for their struggles, what with it being far larger than that of McRoberts. Zeller would also have some value as a player, a fringe starter/quality backup still with some youth on his side.
The chances of the Mavericks getting Kemba themselves seem slim and would no doubt involve trading away Dennis Smith Jr, which does not seem worth it. But it does at least appear as though they are prepared to get involved in the upcoming trade deadline, and they do so from a position of strength.
Change, then, is coming.