When the Hornets squared off against the Nets on Wednesday, they had a starting five that included two 21-year-olds at forward in P.J. Washington and Miles Bridges, along with second-year guard Devonte Graham and the summer’s big sign-and-trade acquisition Terry Rozier. The sixth man was Malik Monk, another 21-year-old who was the No. 11 pick in the 2017 draft.
The Hornets are remaking the roster and they’ve gotten themselves pretty well stocked with young guards and wings in the process, plus Washington. But there’s still a glaring hole in the middle and as the Hornets are primed to finally be rid of some of the albatross contracts that have weighed the franchise since its last playoff appearance (in 2016). At long last, they are in position to fill that void.
The target, according to league sources: Pistons big man Andre Drummond, a player in whom the Hornets have had an interest for at least a year.
Drummond has a $28.7 million player option for next season but has made clear his intention to exercise it and become a free agent. In a relatively weak class of free agents, he’ll be the big name. Pistons owner Tom Gores has called keeping Drummond in Detroit a top priority, but Drummond has been clear that he intends to test free agency, even if he re-signs with the Pistons thereafter.
The Hornets will have cap space this summer, with Bismack Biyombo, Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist—players making $45 million this season—coming off the books. They could have an offer ready for Drummond at the start of free agency in 2020.
Or they could take advantage of the Pistons’ disappointing 4-10 start to press for a Drummond deal. Detroit has not yet considered moving Drummond this season—they have had trade discussions about him in the past—as the Pistons waited for forward Blake Griffin to return. But the team is still struggling, losing all three games with Griffin back.
It could be time for the Hornets to do something the franchise does not typically do: get aggressive.
“He’ll be a priority there,” one league executive told Heavy.com. “It’s just a matter of whether they make him a priority now and give up something to get him or try to make the move later. It’s a very cautious group, Mitch Kupchak and those guys. But they might want to get this guy into the fold sooner rather than later, there’s just a lot of incentive there on both sides.”
Andre Drummond Having a Career-Best Season
The Hornets can make a credible offer. Some combination of Biyombo, Williams and Kidd-Gilchrist could serve as contract ballast to match up with Drummond’s $27 million salary for this season. The Hornets likely would have to give up a first-round pick, which would not be a problem—the team has all of its upcoming first-round picks still in the fold.
The Hornets would be reluctant to make a deal that involved giving up any player like Graham, Bridges, Monk or Washington, especially with no assurance that Drummond would re-sign after the season. But of the Hornets’ productive young guys, Monk would be the most likely addition to the package.
Of course, bypassing a trade and waiting for free agency means Charlotte would avoid giving up either players or picks to get Drummond. Still, there are advantages to coughing up assets to get Drummond on the roster now.
For one thing, the Hornets are 6-9 and a probable contender for one of the final two playoff spots in the East. Without an upgrade over centers Cody Zeller and Biyombo, though, the postseason could remain out of reach.
The Hornets were in a similar position last year when the rumor mill had Charlotte close to trading for Grizzlies center Marc Gasol, who might have been enough to push the Hornets into the playoffs. Uncertain whether Gasol would stay after the season, though, Charlotte never as close to a deal as some reports suggested. The Hornets missed the postseason by just two games.
Drummond, at 26, is different. He could help Charlotte to the postseason this year and be a long-term solution to the team’s hole in the middle. The better the Hornets play this season, the more likely he’d be to stay next summer.
The Hornets also will maintain Drummond’s Bird Rights by making a trade for him, allowing them to sign him to a bigger deal over five years, rather than four. Having him Charlotte for eight months before he hits free agency will give the Hornets a distinct advantage in re-signing him.
How Trade Could Hurt Andre Drummond Financially
A trade could cost Drummond, though, especially if he earns an All-NBA slot this year.
Drummond’s numbers—18.6 points, 16.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks, all career highs—could give him the best case he’s had for an All-NBA slot. If he gets one and remains with the Pistons, he’d be eligible for a supermax contract extension, which means his next deal can start at 35 percent of the salary cap rather than 30 percent. If he’s traded, he’s not eligible for the supermax.
He’s also held strong on his free-throws, a perennial problem in his recent past. Drummond is making a career-best 69.4 percent at the line.
Getting Drummond to Charlotte—or anywhere else, really—would require a bucking of some trends. Gores would have to back off his vow to keep Drummond in Detroit and the Hornets would have to give in and be aggressive on the trade market.
But Charlotte has some good young perimeter players and it’s had an eye on Drummond for some time. They can make a pitch for him this summer. Should Detroit be getting desperate, though, bringing on Drummond in a trade makes some sense, for the near and short terms.