Mere minutes after my deadline-related post, we have our first big deal of the week. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reported that the New Orleans Hornets are sending Tyson Chandler to Oklahoma City for Joe Smith and Chris Wilcox, with The Oklahoman’s Darnell Mayberry reporting the Hornets will also get the draft rights to former Cal center DeVon Hardin, drafted No. 50 overall by the Thunder last June.
This is being reported as a straight salary dump by New Orleans, which is reportedly experiencing financial issues and desperately wants to avoid the luxury tax next year. Hence the acquisition of two expiring contracts in Smith and Wilcox. I do wonder about the fact that the Hornets chose to move Chandler without a lot of reports indicating they were shopping other players. Maybe no one wanted James Posey’s contract, and certainly Peja Stojakovic’s would have been nearly impossible to move in a buyer’s market. Still, it seems odd that this is twice now that Chandler has been dumped for pennies on the dollar during or after down seasons.
New Orleans will miss Chandler more down the road than this season. Already, they’d played the last 12 games without him because of a sprained ankle, and his absence wasn’t devestating. Over the course of the season, they’re 3.6 points worse per 100 possessions without Chandler. The upside is the Hornets now have more depth in the frontcourt, with Wilcox and Smith taking minutes that had been going to the likes of Melvin Ely and Sean Marks. For the next two months, Wilcox will be on the receiving end of the alley-oop lobs that once went to Chandler. While he’s a major defensive liability, especially at center, a Wilcox-David West frontcourt would present problems for opposing defenses. New Orleans figures to lose a little ground in the crowded race for positioning in the Western Conference playoffs, but this doesn’t look like a tremendous hit in the short term.
My friend Seth joked last night about how most of the Sonics’ problems could be traced to the search for a starting center, which led to overpaid free-agent signings (Calvin Booth, Jerome James, Jim McIlvaine) and a string of failed draft picks (Robert Swift, Johan Petro, Mouhamed Sene). Well, it looks like at long last the franchise has found its center in the first year after moving from Seattle. Chandler’s athletic defensive-minded style is a perfect fit for the Thunder’s lineup, which has struggled at the defensive end since going small and moving Jeff Green (a poor rebounder) to power forward. With Kevin Durant, Green and Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City didn’t need much scoring out of the position, and Chandler is enough of a threat to keep defenses honest.
By dealing expiring contracts, the Thunder is essentially making Chandler its free-agent pickup. That makes a lot of sense because it is going to be challenging to lure free agents to Oklahoma City, and it is looking like cap space will be hard to come by with the cap potentially going down the next two summers. Adding Chandler gives the Thunder four pieces in place, needing only a guard to complement Westbrook and offer additional perimeter shooting. The one downside? I suspect if Sam Presti knew this deal would come available two months later, Oklahoma City probably would not have signed Nenad Krstic, since Nick Collison has been more effective this season and it will be hard to find playing time for three big men with Green at power forward.