Center swap: Okafor for Chandler
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Hornets have officially found a taker for Tyson Chandler in the Charlotte Bobcats, trading for fellow center Emeka Okafor and 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.
Charlotte coach Larry Brown was willing to jettison the Bobcats' first draft pick in a deal involving 26-year-old centers, a trade that brought different financial relief to both teams and hopes they'll thrive under different big men.
The Hornets have been trying to unload the 7-foot-1 Chandler for several months. Last season they sent him to Oklahoma City, but the trade was rescinded after Chandler failed a physical amid concerns over a lingering toe injury.
Brown was willing to gamble on the injury-prone big man. It comes at the expense of Okafor, who at 6-foot-10 is smaller than Chandler and had trouble guarding the NBA's top big men.
"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.
But the Hornets were intrigued by Okafor's superior rebounding and durability, giving New Orleans a reliable big man with a longer contract as they try to recover from last season's first-round playoff exit. The deal was consummated just days after star guard Chris Paul wondered aloud about the Hornets' relative inactivity this offseason at the NBA's annual summer league in Las Vegas.
"We looked at this trade as an opportunity to improve our team," Bobcats general manager Rod Higgins said. "Tyson brings that unique level of athleticism in a 7-footer that puts us in a position to compete night in and night out with the other quality centers in the league."
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"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."
Paul and Chandler 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 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 left Charlotte for New Orleans, the expansion Bobcats took Okafor with the No. 2 pick in the 2004 draft -- after Orlando grabbed Dwight Howard.
Okafor, who won a national championship at Connecticut, had injury problems early in his career. But he has played all 82 games in each of the past two seasons while providing Charlotte with solid, if unspectacular, play.
Okafor averaged 13.2 points and 10.1 rebounds last season, but his style didn't mesh with Brown. The coach questioned his basketball fire at the end of last season.
"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."
Chandler gives the Bobcats a center who can better defend big players. But Chandler is coming off surgery, and despite their identical ages, Chandler has played four more seasons than Okafor because he came to the NBA directly from high school in 2001.
"We appreciate what Tyson has done for our club in the past and wish him the best, but our intention this summer was to improve our team and this trade is definitely a positive move in that direction," Bower said.
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.
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).
The Bobcats were willing to take a chance that Chandler will be fully recovered by the start of next season and pulled the trigger on the deal that brought financial relief to both sides.
For the Hornets, it immediately lowers their payroll and would reduce luxury tax payments. Okafor is scheduled to 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 over the NBA's luxury tax threshold of $69.9 million.
But the Bobcats unload a much longer long-term commitment. Okafor still has five years left on a six-year, $72 million deal he signed last year. 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. Getting Okafor's big contract off the books will help achieve that goal in future seasons.
"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."
Information from The Associated Press and ESPN.com senior NBA writer Marc Stein was used in this report.