The New Orleans Hornets and The Salary Cap
What are the NBA fans who love to use the various trade machines and cook up complex transactions going to do? Especially considering teams were involved in the Jackson talks and is still very much in the market to absorb more salary to improve.
November trades are rare -- though this is two consecutive years there have been early season deals including last November's Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson swap -- because usually teams want to see 25-30 games before making decisions. But if you still need your fix, do what many general managers throughout the NBA are doing and keep an eye on the New Orleans Hornets.
It is a bit of an unfortunate story. Two years ago, the Hornets were among the league's elite as they came home after two years in OKC following Hurricane Katrina. They had young stars, solid role players and a growing fan base. Things have changed fast, already leading to the firing of coach Byron Scott less than a month into the regular season. The general manager, Jeff Bower, is now coaching and many feel his job may be in jeopardy, too, if he can't lead a turnaround.
As the team struggles and fewer fans show up, it is believed the pressure is going to be on from ownership to reduce current and future salary commitments. Owner George Shinn is not nearly as wealthy as most of his counterparts and, in fact, the Hornets are his biggest property.
Last February the Hornets, feeling the pinch of the economy, made a cash-dumping trade by sending Tyson Chandler to the Oklahoma City Thunder for expiring contracts, which would have saved the team more than $10 million this season and put them under the luxury tax. But there was backlash within the team and its fans because the Hornets were headed for the playoffs and because of Chandler's on-court relationship with Paul. Then things changed when the trade was rescinded because Chandler failed his physical with the Thunder.
Perhaps feeling emboldened over the summer, the team traded Chandler again, but this time for Emeka Okafor and his gigantic contract, which has five years and $60 million left on it. But it isn't working and the Hornets simply may have to dump salary. There has already been a rumor that Okafor is back on the market. According to numerous league executives, though, for the most part the Hornets are currently in a holding pattern and aren't looking to make a major trade. But that could change and everyone knows it.
The team has four highly paid players in Peja Stojakovic, David West, Paul and Okafor. Paul is untouchable and Stojakovic is going to be very tough to trade because his game has declined and he's going to make $15 million next year. Which leaves West and Okafor. Expect there to be rumors about those two soon if the Hornets don't turn their record around. New Orleans has other role players who make significant money, especially James Posey and Morris Peterson. They both could be in play, but won't be the prime properties because neither are playing very well and neither are a big man.
West is going to be the most desirable. A two-time All-Star power forward is a talented scorer and has the best contract of the bunch. It is $9 million this season and actually goes down in each of the next two years. Okafor is more of a classic big man and a double double machine, but his contract runs on through 2013-14 and for huge money.
Of course, the Hornets don't want to give any of these players up. They will deny they want to do it, just as they denied they were trading Chandler just to get rid of his salary last year.
But right now the Hornets are bad, expensive and in a small market. That is a terrible combination and the circumstances may force some action. And plenty of conjecture as well.
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