Some trades are made to improve a team (see: Kevin Garnett). Some trades are made in order to dump salary and ease the burden (see: Richard Jefferson). Other trades are made for teams get rid of a cancerous player (see: Allen Iverson). This latest proposed deal seems to fit nearly all three of these categories, yet it doesn’t easily slide into any of these groupings.
The deal in question is between the New Orleans Hornets and the Charlotte Bobcats where the Hornets would send beleaguered big man Tyson Chandler to Charlotte for former #2 pick Emeka Okafor. The deal, while involving big names with at times big impacts, changes seemingly little for both teams.
The Hornets have been trying to rid themselves of Chandler’s large contract since last year began. He still has eight figures on his contract and trudged his way through an injury-plagued season in which he averaged less than 10 points and rebounds per game. New Orleans thought they rid themselves of Tyson in a midseason trade to Oklahoma City for Chris Wilcox and Joe Smith. After some deliberation, the Thunder thought Chandler’s injury concerns were too much to deal with and rescinded the trade. Knowing that NO was trying to pardon themselves from the Tyson table, motivation became somewhat of an optional action. His play was moderate at best and embarrassing more often than the Hornets would like.
The potential loaded Chandler thrashed in mediocrity as New Orleans barely reached the playoff plateau as star point guard Chris Paul led the charge. After a first round exit courtesy of the Nuggets, the feverish work of the New Orleans front office to send Tyson elsewhere began once again. There were rumors that the Detroit Pistons were interested in the potential draft bust before the additions of Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon. Then whispers boomed out of the rumor mills that Phoenix, after trading Shaq to Cleveland, were interested in acquiring Chandler for the expiring contract of Ben Wallace.
That fell through and has led the situation to this critical breaking point. Chandler has been the big man to Chris Paul’s little man in New Orleans on the way to much success and turmoil. Chandler is one of the most athletic centers in the league, despite his lanky frame. Think of him as a slightly less agile, poor shooting Tayshaun Prince. His offense has always left something to be desired, but his defense is at times spectacular and amazes while it surprises. He has the desired ability to play the counterpart to Paul, able to go get the high lob for alley-oops or run the floor on the fast break.
But the Hornets are tired of waiting for the former #2 overall pick in the 2001 draft to blossom into a dominate presence in the paint. The switch for Okafor isn’t exactly like their previous attempts to infuriate fans by purely dropping as much salary as possible. Okafor, like Chandler, has big numbers left on his contract, but it isn’t expiring anytime soon. So New Orleans have either given up on trying to dump salary, or they have wised up and realized that Chris Paul is a star and can lead a team deep into the playoffs. Perhaps the move is proposed, much to the dismay of the owners of the franchise, in order to satisfy the winning thirst of Chris Paul. Although Paul has shown disenchantment when the failed trade of Chandler was proposed midseason, this move is different. It is a commitment, sort of like a promise ring, that New Orleans is willing to work through this tough period. Okafor provides sturdy play whereas Chandler has the potential to disappear in the paint as Paul operates on the outside. His contract has multiple years remaining with multiple millions guaranteed on it, something the Hornets were previously unwilling to take on.
This, in part, has to be semi-inspired by Chris Paul’s grumbling over the fact that the Hornets were complacent this offseason, only adding through the draft. They haven’t made any splashes in the free agency pool, partially due to the harsh economic times nationally and specifically in New Orleans. Not willing to risk losing possibly the best point guard in the Association, this is a move of desperation, the same sort of move that spurred the Cavs to acquire Shaq.
Emeka Okafor, the #2 pick in the 2004 draft, has been steady and prominently unspectacular. His numbers speak for themselves; he is in a select group that has averaged a double-double over the past 5 years. He has always had a defensive mindset and presence, contributing blocks and hustle on the defensive side. A tad undersized (about 6’10”) for his center position, he compensates with swiftness and power. The Bobcats original pick out of Connecticut, Okafor has had his fair share of injuries and pain.
What he does bring that Chandler didn’t always have is dedication and an unwillingness to give up. While not as ideal to go and grab the alley-oop pass as Chandler is, Emeka is an extremely gifted athlete who works more in the post to get his points. While his numbers might creep upwards, don’t expect a 20 and 10 season for Okafor.
The Bobcats motivation for possibly ridding themselves of Emeka is slightly obscured. They likely would want some salary cap room moving forward, and acquiring Chandler would help with that cause. They are trading an oft-injured big man who had a focus on defense for an oft-injured big man who had a focus on defense with an expiring contract.
Chandler would join a very young and improving squad that is headed by Larry Brown. A midseason trade with the Phoenix Suns landed Charlotte Raja Bell and Boris Diaw for slam-dunk connoisseur Jason Richardson. That trade, along with the move that sent Adam Morrison to the Lakers for Radmonavic, has brought some experience of winning to the once floundering franchise. A nucleus comprised of Gerald Wallace, DJ Augustine, Raymond Felton, and the players traded for make for a very exciting and erratic basketball team.
If the trade is finalized and both Emeka and Tyson pass their physicals, then the teams’ place in the league is shifted. Charlotte is on pace to improve regardless if the move comes to fruition or not, and a Larry Brown mentored Tyson Chandler could be an unholy beast, the likes of which has not been seen yet from Tyson. The Hornets will not be subject to the whimsical moods of Chandler and instead be a sturdier team comprised of professionals who attack each day the same. They wont be the possibly intimidating force they were with Chandler at his best and most motivated, but a 40-point drubbing is certainly doubtful. Okafor on a winning team could also shift his performance, now with his double-double potential on display on a team of prominence.