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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, July 28, 2009

NBA: Bobcats, Hornets complete Okafor-Chandler deal

AP Sports Writer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The New Orleans Hornets have 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 dealt to the Hornets on Tuesday for Chandler 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 Last season they sent him to Oklahoma City, but the trade was rescinded after Chandler failed a physical amid concerns aver a lingering toe injury.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 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.”
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.
“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.”
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 last 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, who. questioned his basketball fire at the end of the season.
Chandler gives the Bobcats a center who can better defend big players and a more athletic player who was often at the receiving end of alley-oop passes from the Hornets’ Chris Paul.
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.
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 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.
“We’d like to thank Emeka for all that he has done for this franchise and for serving as the organization’s ambassador and first-ever draft pick,” Higgins said. “His hard work and dedication to the Charlotte Bobcats will be missed, and we wish him well with his new team.”