New Orleans and Charlotte Get Nuts, Swap Tyson Chandler for Emeka Okafor

Emeka OkaforMonday evening the AP reported that the Hornets and Bobcats were on the verge of a deal to swap centers Tyson Chandler and Emeka Okafor. The news was a bit of a shock as little warming or hype had preceded the trade. It’s a rare occurrence that two starting centers can be in a deal nobody knew about during the NBA’s slow season – when just two weeks ago Marcin Gortat updates were a daily event. However, it’s been no secret that New Orleans has been desperate to move Chandler for months, including a curiously and regrettably botched deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Emeka Okafor Photo Credit: Icon SMI

A few initial observations on the exchange of 26-year-old centers come to mind. The move clearly has significant financial considerations involved, but curiously the Hornets will be the team taking on the larger financial commitment. It was just a few short months ago, before the trade deadline and their embarrassing collapse against the Nuggets, that New Orleans wanted nothing more for Chandler than salary cap relief. While it’s true that Emeka will earn about $3 million less than Chandler over the next two seasons, Chandler has only one guaranteed season left with a player option for 2010-11. Meanwhile, Okafor signed a six-year, $72 million contract last July.

Mr. Paul, meet Mr. Okafor. Mr. Okafor, Mr. Paul. Hopefully you two get along, because you’re going to be in business together on a nightly basis for the foreseeable future regardless.

Contracts aside, on paper this is a great fit for Okafor. He’s a tad undersized as a center, but the former U Conn standout is defensively proficient and a solid rebounder. Emeka is an opportunistic shot-blocker who boxes out well, takes up space defensively and provides some much-needed muscle. The knock on him is his complete lack of offensive game, and as such Okafor needs to be paired with another big man who can not just compensate for the lack of point production but also hit mid-range jumpers to stretch defenses and make his job a lot easier in the post and on the glass. Charlotte tried to find that complement, failing with both Sean May and Nazr Mohammed. David West can be that scoring big man Okafor needs to be effective.

The style of play in New Orleans is a concern. There are few players in the league who wouldn’t look better, and put up better offensive numbers, as the recipient of Chris Paul’s prolific passing. Tyson Chandler and Charlotte Bobcats fans are about to become painfully aware of that fact. However, Okafor doesn’t get up and down the floor, or above the rim, nearly as well as a healthy Chandler does. He’s significantly less lithe and agile, which won’t play quite as well alongside Paul’s fast-break and alley-oop heroics. Okafor is more of a pillar on both ends, for better and worse.

Meanwhile, it’s hard to get too excited about this as a Bobcats fan. Clearly Charlotte brass have soured on their former No. 2 overall pick. Late in the season Larry Brown questioned Okafor’s passion and commitment (shocking, I know). If you don’t think Okafor is a significant building block (and I’m not 100% convinced), then seeing that six-year, $72 million deal cleared off the books is quite a relief. Frankly though, who didn’t expect the Bobcats to regret that bloated contract? Still, Chandler doesn’t seem like a much of an upgrade now or very likely to be around long enough for it to matter, even if he is perhaps better suited to run alongside Boris Diaw, Gerald Wallace and DJ Augustin. Essentially, Charlotte is still a franchise completely adrift, and this does nothing to clarify their direction. Hey, at least Chandler’s expiring deal will eventually be a valuable trade chip. Woo.


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