Amid a tight playoff race without their starting point guard, the Hornets traded Gary Neal and a 2019 second-round pick to the Timberwolves on Tuesday in exchange for Mo Williams and Troy Daniels. The draft pick originally belonged to the Heat.
For Charlotte, this is a "patch up a leaky roof with some duct tape" quick fix. Kemba Walker, the Hornets' leading scorer, underwent knee surgery recently and is expected to be sidelined for more than a month. That loss left coach Steve Clifford with career back-up Brian Roberts as the only point guard on his roster.
The well-traveled Williams, 32, will be joining his sixth team since 2010-11. Charlotte adds a small, quick and experienced point guard who isn't shy about putting shots up. The 12-year veteran averaged 12.2 points and 6.4 assists in Minnesota but shot just 40.3 percent overall and 34.7 percent from deep. Williams did provide the highlight of an otherwise dreary Timberwolves season when he scored 52 points against the Pacers last month. Williams is earning $3.8 million this season in a one-year deal.
Daniels, 23, is a three-point shooting specialist who has struggled to find his stroke this season. A late addition to Houston's playoff roster last season, Daniels hit a key three-pointer against Portland in round one. This season, he is averaging just 2.8 points in limited minutes and shooting just 31.7 percent from deep. Minnesota acquired Daniels from Houston in a December trade involving Corey Brewer. Daniels is signed to a minimum contract.
Neal, 30, is a shoot-first, shoot-second, shoot-third two guard who has bounced around in recent years. The five-year vet averaged 9.6 points this season but shot a dreadful 35.9 percent and 29.3 percent from the field. His usefulness at this point in his career is highly questionable; Charlotte's defense was much worse with him (103.2 defensive rating) than without him (98.3 defensive rating). Neal is earning $3.3 million in the final year of his contract.
The exchange requires Charlotte to add roughly $1.3 million to its payroll this year and take on Daniels' $1 million salary next year, investments the franchise wouldn't bother to make unless it was serious about chasing a playoff spot. Entering Tuesday's action, the Hornets (22-29) sat in the East's No. 7 seed, tied with the Heat and just one game ahead of the Nets. The Pistons, Celtics and Pacers are all within striking distance, too, sitting just three games back.
Last year, Charlotte made the playoffs for the first time since 2010 and owner Michael Jordan has indicated that he wanted to build on that success this season. After a rough start, multiple injuries to key players, and the slow acclimation of Lance Stephenson, the Hornets have turned things around thanks to an improved defense, posting a 12-5 since Jan. 3.
Although adding Williams isn't a game-changer by any means, the move should help shore up Charlotte's backcourt until Walker returns. The price paid is modest, particularly because losing Neal doesn't qualify as a cost, and the trade fits in theory with Jordan's desire to bolster his reputation as someone who is committed to winning.
Minnesota's initial signing of Williams last summer was curious because he didn't appear to fit in with Minnesota's youth movement and rebuilding cycle, prompting many to wonder whether he was being signed mainly as a trade asset. If that's what Timberwolves president Flip Saunders had in mind, his return for investing in Williams proved to be better than nothing -- barely. The second-round pick gets added to the coffers while Neal is unlikely to make any impact.