Better late than never for Hornets

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 28, 2009

by ryan arena

Better late than never.

After weeks of frustration by Hornet fans due to the team’s inactivity in the NBA’s trade and free agent market, it appears Tyson Chandler is headed out in exchange for Charlotte center Emeka Okafor, if reports Monday were accurate and a deal has been finalized.

That’s a pretty interesting turn of events, to say the least. When Chandler was “dealt” to Oklahoma City in the middle of last season, it happened to be for two big men, but two who had expiring contracts — Joe Smith and Chris Wilcox. That deal, of course, was blocked when Chandler failed a physical.

Not so with the 6-10, 26 year-old Okafor. He’s got five years left on a six year, 72-million dollar deal.

The Hornets were roasted for the first deal, with many believing it was the result of team ownership looking to slash payroll and increase the team’s bottom line. Since then, we’ve learned Chandler has what could be a chronic toe injury, one that led the Thunder to say “thanks but no thanks.” He never truly regained his form for the rest of the season, despite flashes, and in fact reinjured his ankle — another recurring issue he’s had.

This deal can’t be mistaken for cutting salary, as Okafor’s deal is even more cumbersome than Chandler’s, which expires in two years. Contrarily, it shows the team is willing to pay for a winner, as Okafor’s health has allowed him to play in every Bobcat game in each of the past two seasons.

With Okafor, the Hornets gain one of the league’s top rebounders and shotblockers — he averages almost two blocks a game in his career, and has never dropped below 10 rebounds per game in a given season.

His drawbacks are similar to Chandler’s, however. He’s a poor foul shooter — sub 60-percent for his career — and a limited offensive player. Chandler’s 7-1 frame will also be missed. When healthy, he’s a handful for the league’s better post scorers to get theirs against.

It does warrant mentioning, however, that while their production has been similar at times, Chandler reached his current level playing with Chris Paul. Okafor has never had anyone remotely like Paul to help his game. One could probably safely project him to establish numbers above all of his career norms this coming season, health permitting.

Given Chandler’s health concerns, the deal seems more like a salary dump from the Bobcats perspective, if anything — quite a turn from a season ago.

If the move were to be final, it in and of itself might not lift the Hornets to that second spot in the West, where they sat two season ago.

But it would go a long way to correcting the fall that inevitably happens when two of your four stars (Chandler and Peja Stojakovic) are rendered ineffective at the same time.

This deal would take them out of the unenviable position of hoping one returns to form, or else the season be rendered pointless.