NBA Trade Deadline: Hornets Will Secure a Playoff Spot Thanks to Their Under-the-Radar Deal for Montrezl Harrell

Despite entering the trade deadline on a six-game losing streak, the Charlotte Hornets are feeling good.

With a clear need for a big man, Charlotte acquired veteran Montrezl Harrell in a three-player deal with the Washington Wizards. The Hornets sent backup guard Ish Smith, young center Vernon Carey Jr., and a 2023 second-round pick to the nation’s capital.

Harrell doesn’t just inject new life into a club going through a miserable stretch. He also just ensured that LaMelo Ball, Miles Bridges, and the rest of his Hornets teammates will be playing postseason basketball.

The Hornets’ recent slide made the Montrezl Harrell acquisition necessary

On Jan. 29, the Hornets were a solid 28-22 and in firm control of a top-eight seed. Entering Friday, they were at .500 after suffering a season-worst skid.

After narrowly defeating the Los Angeles Lakers on the 28th, Charlotte dropped six consecutive games to the LA Clippers, Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, Toronto Raptors, and Chicago Bulls. Not only were all except the Clippers Eastern Conference competitors, but five of those losses came at home. Worst yet, the Hornets’ average margin of defeat was a sad 12.8 points.

Needless to say, Harrell’s arrival couldn’t come at a better time.

The 28-year-old has had a solid half-season in Washington, even though it ran its course near the end. Since arriving as part of last summer’s Russell Westbrook blockbuster, Harrell averaged 14.1 points and 6.7 rebounds in only 24.3 minutes a game. He ranked 10th in the NBA with a 24.4 PER, placing him ahead of superstars like Anthony Davis, Luka Doncic, and Karl-Anthony Towns.

With Harrell’s two-year, $19 million contract up after this season, Charlotte was able to acquire him without diving into its rotation. Smith averaged 13.8 minutes a night off the bench and now moves back to the Wizards, where he spent each of the last two seasons. Meanwhile, the former Duke standout Carey has played in just four games all season.

Harrell isn’t a perfect fit, but he makes the Hornets significantly better

As the trade deadline neared, it became painfully evident the Hornets needed a frontcourt upgrade. Charlotte has used journeyman Mason Plumlee as its primary starter at the 5. While Plumlee has his strengths, he was the clear weak spot for one of the top offenses in the NBA.

Even though he’s undersized for the position, the 6-foot-7 Harrell adds another threat to Charlotte’s surprisingly-deep roster.

The North Carolina native adds grit and toughness. Charlotte has often fallen into the trap of falling behind in the first half, giving up the second-most points per game after the first two quarters. With Harrell, the effort and energy can remain constant during those forgettable stretches.

Harrell is also a much better athlete than Plumlee. The former Sixth Man of the Year should feel right at home running with LaMelo on the league’s second-fastest team according to pace.

While Trez does add toughness, will he help fix the Hornets’ shaky defense? While Plumlee is a minus on the offensive end, Charlotte is a disaster on defense when he sits. That’s going to put immense pressure on Harrell when he takes over some of those minutes. Though to his credit, Washington’s defensive rating was significantly better when he was on the court (109.7) than off of it (115.4).

Even if he is a slight downgrade on defense, there are enough upgrades elsewhere to consider this deal a win for Charlotte. And in a loaded Eastern Conference, this lowkey move could make a major difference.

Montrezl Harrell’s arrival will help the Hornets make the playoffs

There is another reason why the Harrell trade is a win for the Hornets. With Smith’s departure, rookie James Bouknight now has a real opportunity to become the team’s number two point guard behind Ball. The 11th overall pick has only seen action in 26 games but has made the most of his limited opportunities.

Not to mention, Charlotte is reeling after the loss of Gordon Hayward. The former Celtics star is out indefinitely due to sprained ligaments in his surgically-repaired ankle. At least now, Harrell and Bouknight can help replace some of the production Hayward leaves behind.

In the end, this trade should be enough to lead the Hornets back to the playoffs for the first time since 2015-16. With Harrell on board, Charlotte addressed their primary position of need without giving up any real value. Assuming his defense carries over from D.C., Trez should also serve as a net positive there as well.

The Hornets hold a 2.5-game lead over the Wizards for a playoff spot, the very team they just made business with. But even though they’re hanging on by a thread during their losing streak, Harrell and company should bring postseason basketball to Queen City.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and contract figures courtesy of Spotrac.

RELATED: LaMelo Ball Just Gave the Charlotte Hornets 38 More Reasons to Seek out Help at the Trade Deadline