- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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The New Orleans Hornets have agreed in principle to a trade that will send center Tyson Chandler to the Charlotte Bobcats for Emeka Okafor, signaling an unexpected shift in thinking that suggests New Orleans does plan to try to keep up with the contenders and spenders in the Western Conference.
NBA front-office sources told ESPN.com that the deal was nearly consummated Friday and that talks had advanced to the point that the swap is on course to be submitted to the league office for approval Tuesday, barring any unforeseen snags.
Just days after star guard Chris Paul wondered aloud about the team's relative inactivity this offseason at the NBA's annual summer league in Las Vegas -- "I'm not sure if we're going to make any moves," Paul told ESPN.com's J.A. Adande -- New Orleans stunned numerous league observers by moving ahead with a deal that will bring them limited savings next season and force them to take on three extra years of eight-figure salary commitments to Okafor.
That represents a striking departure from the Hornets' recent cost-conscious efforts to move Chander.
The Hornets initially dealt Chandler to Oklahoma City days before the league's annual trading deadline in February for the then-expiring contracts of Chris Wilcox and Joe Smith, only for the Thunder to rescind the trade 24 hours later because of concerns about Chandler's long-standing toe problems.
The widespread belief around the league at the time and then during New Orleans' subsequent discussions with Phoenix about swapping Chandler for the expiring contract of Ben Wallace -- which Phoenix has since bought out -- held that New Orleans was only interested in shedding Chandler's contract in exchange for an expiring deal to create payroll relief.
Swapping Chandler (due to earn $11.7 next season) for Okafor ($10.6 million) will save the Hornets just over $1 million next season and cost them an extra $40-plus million over the final three years of Okafor's deal if the 26-year-old exercises his $14.5 million option for the 2013-14 season. Chandler has just one year left on his contract after this season at $12.6 million.
Although Chandler was a favorite of Paul's for his ability to run the floor and finish lobs, making a so-called "basketball trade" as opposed to a salary dump will come as a welcome surprise to Hornets fans and will undoubtedly be interpreted as a message from management to their point guard that it is intent on keeping a quality team around him.
Initial indications Monday were that no other players will be added to the deal. Sources with knowledge of the talks said this proposal featuring Chandler and Okafor as the main components has been pursued since late last week.
The Bobcats would be giving up their first-ever draft pick and the only starting center in franchise history for Chandler, who was restricted to just 45 games last season because of myriad foot injuries. Okafor averaged 13.2 points, 10.6 rebounds and 1.7 blocks last season in the first year of a new six-year, $72 million deal with the Bobcats.
Chandler averaged 8.8 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game last season. It remains to be seen whether Charlotte wanted him because coach Larry Brown, who has at times struggled to mask his frustrations with Okafor's offensive limitations, craves the mobility and athleticism Chandler can supply when he's healthy.
Another possibility, given the uncertainty surrounding Chandler's health after Oklahoma City rescinded the February trade, is that the move is financially motivated on the Bobcats' side. Reducing the team's long-term salary obligations would likely only enhance owner Bob Johnson's stated intention to sell the team.
Provided there are no complications with Chandler's physical in Charlotte, his arrival and Okafor's exit will leave swingman Gerald Wallace as the only holdover from the Bobcats' original roster in 2004-05. Okafor stands to be the fourth of Charlotte's seven lottery picks to leave town, joining Sean May (waived), Adam Morrison (traded last season to the Los Angeles Lakers) and Brandan Wright (traded to Golden State on draft day in 2007).
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.
7dEthan Sherwood Strauss