NBA: Bobcats, Hornets complete deal
CHARLOTTE ó The New Orleans Hornets finally found a taker for Tyson Chandler. It took a deal with tinkering Charlotte coach Larry Brown, who was willing to jettison the Bobcats’ first draft pick.
Emeka Okafor was sent to the Hornets on Tuesday for Chandler, another former No. 2 overall pick. The trade involving 26-year-old centers brought financial relief to both teams and confidence they’ll each thrive with a new man in the middle.
The Hornets have been trying to unload the 7-foot-1 Chandler for several months. A trade last season to Oklahoma City was rescinded after Chandler failed a physical amid concerns aver a lingering toe injury.
“I’m very, very excited and thrilled about this new opportunity,” Chandler said in a conference call.
Brown was willing to gamble on the injury-prone, athletic big man who can also play power forward and is three inches taller than Okafor.
“We’re getting a young kid who is long and athletic and can play multiple positions and fills a need that we obviously have,” Brown said.
The Hornets were intrigued by Okafor’s superior rebounding and durability. New Orleans gets a reliable big man with a longer contract as it tries to recover from last season’s first-round playoff exit.
“Emeka is one of the premier centers in the NBA with All-Star caliber scoring and rebounding averages throughout his career,” Hornets general manager Jeff Bower said. “His potential to improve is endless once you put him on the court running with Chris Paul.”
Chandler had the best season of his career (2007-08) playing with Paul. The pair comprised a constant alley-oop threat when Chandler was healthy, and the two were close off the court.
“I’m losing a great friend, a brother. T.C. is my man. … I’m going to miss him,” said Paul, who was attending a basketball camp in New Orleans.
“It’s going to take some time to see how this works out,” Paul continued. “I want Emeka to come in here and be the best player he’s ever been. From today on out, that’s my teammate. … Hopefully we can eventually have the same relationship that me and Tyson had.”
The deal is the fourth trade Charlotte has made since managing partner Michael Jordan hired Brown before last season. Brown, in his record ninth NBA head coaching job, has continued his history of numerous trades to mold the team into his versatile, defensive-minded liking.
Now it includes sending the centerpiece of Charlotte’s new franchise to the city’s old team.
Two years after the Hornets bolted Charlotte, the expansion Bobcats took Okafor with the No. 2 pick in the 2004 draft ó after Orlando grabbed Dwight Howard.
Okafor had injury problems early in his career, but played all 82 games in each of the last two seasons. He averaged 13.2 points and 10.1 rebounds in another solid, but unspectacular season under Brown, who later questioned his basketball fire.
“I wanted him to have a passion and work on his game,” Brown said Tuesday. “I think he made unbelievable progress in that regard. When we had an exit meeting this past season he told me he was going to do that, he was going to work on his game. … This was a basketball decision. It had nothing to do with Emeka.”
But Chandler, the No. 2 pick in the 2001 draft after declaring for the NBA out of high school, faces injury questions.
Chandler averaged 8.8 points and 8.7 rebounds in only 45 games last season. He then underwent procedures on his left ankle and toe in May after being ineffective in the first-round series loss to Denver.
Chandler will be in Charlotte for a physical later this week and is confident he is healed.
“For the first time in the last couple of years, I have had really good movement in my toe,” Chandler said. “Now I am just trying to gain confidence on my ankle again.”
For the Hornets, it immediately lowers their payroll and could reduce luxury tax payments. Okafor will make $10.5 million next season and Chandler $11.8 million. The Hornets entered the week with a payroll of about $78 million, triggering a dollar-for-dollar tax on the amount over the NBA’s luxury tax threshold of $69.9 million.
However, the Hornets also take on the last five years of an escalating, six-year, $72 million contract.
“We have a long-term option for us now at the center position and one we feel we can grow with,” Bower said. “We looked at that as an asset, the fact that Emeka is under contract. … It shows we are interested in improving and we are interested in competing in the Western Conference and we are willing to pay the price.”
The Bobcats, meanwhile, unloaded a longer contract. Chandler would make $12.7 million in a player option in 2010-11, the final season of his deal.
Bobcats owner Bob Johnson, who is looking to sell the team after losing millions of dollars, has ordered management not to reach the luxury tax threshold. Shedding Okafor’s contract will help achieve that goal.
Brown, meanwhile, is convinced Chandler will improve Charlotte’s frontcourt.
“Emeka is a great kid, but we all felt that with the way Tyson plays, with his quickness and his ability to handle the ball and his length, that was something that was very important to us,” Brown said. “That was the overriding factor.”
AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed to this report.