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The Thunder Finally Get Their Center

**UPDATE** According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune Tyson Chandler has failed his physical and his trade to the Oklahoma City Thunder has been nullified. Chandler will return to the Hornets and Joe Smith and Chris Wilcox will return to the Thunder for the time being. It makes for an awkward situation for all involved, and we can’t help but think the Thunder missed out on a long-term solution at center by being overly conservative here.

Tyson Chandler Joins the ThunderAs Thursday’s 3 pm trade deadline approaches we can expect to see a few deals go down. For the most part they’ll be salary dumps and won’t be of significant interest on the court. It’s extremely difficult to integrate new pieces mid-season into a successful, championship-contending rotation. With the firing of Terry Porter likely meaning Amare Stoudemire stays in Phoenix for at least a few more months, this year’s trade deadline will likely pass with more of a whimper than a bang – as we’ve come to expect.

However, yesterday we saw one significant move that was not only a financial maneuver but will also have big implications on one team many considered a title contender and on the long-term plans of one of the more exciting young teams in the league.

Yesterday afternoon the New Orleans Hornets agreed to send Tyson Chandler, their starting center, to the Oklahoma City Thunder for the rogues’ gallery of Joe Smith, Chris Wilcox and the draft rights to DeVon Hardin, who was selected No. 50 overall by OKC in the 2008 draft.

Let’s take a quick look at the ramifications of the swap for both teams.

Tyson Chandler Photo Credit: Icon SMI

New Orleans Hornets

It’s a curious move from New Orleans, and clearly one with more of an eye to the pocket book than the low post. Chandler was their best interior defender, best rebounder and only true starting center on the roster. For a squad that many think should have serious title aspirations, dealing your 26-year-old starting center is a major blow. It seems to signal a throwing in of the towel for a team that stands at 31-20 in the standings, good for the sixth seed out West. I feel for you, Hornets fans. But it’s not all bad.

Chandler was also one of the most injury-prone players on the team, an offensive liability and the second-highest paid player on the roster. He’s battled injuries all season, missing twelve straight games with a sprained ankle heading into the All Star break. He’s damaged goods right now, and his ability to stay healthy over the long haul was in serious doubt. New Orleans was also looking at a payroll of nearly $67 million this season and was scheduled to reach almost $77 million next year. Joe Smith’s $4.8 Million and Chris Wilcox’s $6.8 million come off the books this summer, bringing next season’s salary figure down to approximately $65 million and their 2010-11 number all the way down to $52 million. They should now be big players in that ultra-rich free agent market – and who wouldn’t want to come to the Big Easy and play alongside Chris Paul?

Breaking down the Thunder’s end of the deal after the jump…

Oklahoma City Thunder

This move has to be seen as a major coup for the Thunder, regardless of Chandler’s limitations, injuries and slightly oversized contract. Nobody in the league knows better than Sonics/Thunder fans just how difficult it is to land a true starting center. And say what you will about Chandler, he is that. Tyson is one of the better defensive big men in the league, a strong rebounder and at least serviceable on offense – though they shouldn’t expect him to generate much on his own on that end. On this team he won’t have to.

Russell Westbrook Has Star PotentialChandler is a double-double machine, and while his scoring will go down now that he won’t be on the receiving end of Chris Paul’s alley-oops, he fills a major hole. At $11 million this season, $11.8 next year and a player option for $12.7 the following season it comes as a hefty price – he’s easily their highest paid player now by more than $5 million a season – but one the Thunder with their minuscule payroll the next two seasons should be willing to pay. Scoring hasn’t been the major problem on the great plains this year, it’s been consistent interior defense and rebounding to complement the games of their extremely talented swingmen.

Once Chandler is healthy he’ll start at center and combine with Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green and super-stud Kevin Durant to form one of the most talented and versatile young rotations (they’re all 26 or younger) in the NBA. This now gives OKC legitimate starters at four positions who will be better than average and who have a lot of upside and room to grow.

They now have all the most difficult pieces needed for NBA success. Superstar who can take over games on offense? Check. Explosive point who can distribute the ball, play defense and pressure opposing defenses? Check. Versatile swingman who can play defense inside and out and hold his own on the scoring end? Check. Interior presence who can protect the basket and clean the glass? Check.

The final starting piece they need now will be a two-way shooting guard – and that’s not a bad position to be in. Shooting guards are a dime a dozen, it’s the easiest position to fill in the league. After that, it’s just a matter of filling out the bench with role players. With five first-round picks in the two coming drafts and plenty of money to spend it shouldn’t be hard – and it might not be long before we see this team in the playoffs.

Related Reading:
Kevin Durant is Doing Just Fine at Forward
The Five Worst Teams in the West – OKC Thunder

Russell Westbrook Photo Credit: Icon SMI


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