Analysis: Trade deadline day makes some teams better now. Charlotte hopes to see future returns

Oklahoma City got Gordon Hayward, Dallas got PJ Washington, Miami got Terry Rozier and Philadelphia wound up getting city native and Villanova alum Kyle Lowry following a buyout after he was traded.

The Thunder, Mavericks, Heat and 76ers must feel good about that.

The Charlotte Hornets should feel good as well — even though they were the team on the other end of all those transactions.

It’s a natural inclination when the trade season in the NBA passes: Everyone feels compelled to decide which teams won and which teams lost. New York made some smart moves and surely believes it can now make a serious run in the Eastern Conference. Phoenix added depth and versatility. Boston found a way to perhaps upgrade its bench a bit.

Thing is, the winner of the trade deadline might not be decided until someone hoists the Larry O’Brien in June. Or maybe, teams like the Hornets hope, it won’t be decided until 2026 or 2027. The only place they’re going when this season ends is the draft lottery. So, they did the prudent thing — they blew it up, as those in the roster-building business say, and started starting over once again. Time will tell if it works out, but seeds have clearly been planted.

“It’s a different dynamic,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “Look, not that they’re not meaningful games — they’re always meaningful — but it’s not like we’re two games out of the playoffs.”

Credit to Clifford for saying that. Credit to the Hornets for evidently agreeing and looking to change it.

Nobody knows how this will end in Charlotte; Michael Jordan just sold the team and when teams sell new ownership tends to want to bring in its own people to run things. One of those dominoes fell Monday, when general manager Mitch Kupchak transitioned to an advisory role. Clifford might go next. But it’s clear: new owners Rick Schnall and Gabe Plotkin aren’t waiting for the summer to start changing the roster — they did it now.

Here’s basically what Charlotte ended up with after trade season: Seth Curry (wearing the No. 30 jersey that his father Dell did in Charlotte; think a few Hornets fans might buy that now?), Grant Williams, Davis Bertans, Tre Mann, Vasilije Micic (a rookie who only had career-bests of 18 points and nine assists in his Charlotte debut), two first-round picks, two second-round picks and salary cap space.

That’s almost as many assets as they have wins this season. An added bonus: Not only is Curry, Steph Curry’s brother, a native of Charlotte from his father’s playing time there — “it’s a dream come true as a dad,” said Dell Curry, now one of the team’s broadcasters — but Williams is as well.

Curry said all the right things. He’s thrilled to be back, thrilled to be around Duke again, thrilled to have a chance to eat a little bit of Bojangles food (if you’ve been to Charlotte, you understand). Same goes for Williams.

“It’s kind of funny that it happened this way, because it allows you to be a part of something that can be built from the ground up,” Williams said. “New ownership, new team, a bunch of guys who are young and talented, a chance to build something special here in the city. … Coming home is a really unique opportunity and I’ve got to take full advantage of it.”

The Hornets have 29 games left in this season, which will be their seventh in the last eight years without a winning record and could finish as the second-worst in the city’s NBA history — only the unspeakably bad 2011-12 team that finished 7-59 was worse.

Whatever. This season no longer matters from a won-lost perspective. Charlotte had high hopes entering the season and won on opening night with this lineup: LaMelo Ball, Mark Williams, Hayward, Washington and Rozier. Ball and Williams have been hurt for most of the season. Hayward was too, and now he, Washington and Rozier are gone.

So, these last 29 games are a building block to the summer and to figure out what could be next season, and the season after that, and the season after that. The Hornets think Brandon Miller — the No. 2 pick behind Victor Wembanyama in next year’s draft — will be a star. They have Ball; he’s already been an All-Star.

There are good pieces on the roster, most of whom are under contract for at least next season and in many cases beyond. There will be cap space. Miles Bridges will be a free agent this summer and he and Charlotte have decisions to make.

What they did at the trade deadline won’t matter much this year. But down the road, it sure might.

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Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at treynolds(at)ap.org

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