Hornets Happenings | Good Move, Mr. Bower: The Bees Are Better with Okafor

Paul AugustinCorrespondent IJuly 29, 2009

CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 16:  Pops Mensah-Bonsu #44 of the Toronto Raptors tries to block Emeka Okafor #50 of the Charlotte Bobcats during their game at Time Warner Cable Arena on March 16, 2009 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

The print and electronic media are buzzing about the Chandler-for-Okafor deal.  Most sportswriters and analysts think the trade is a wash.  Most fans  think the Hornets have come out on top.

Since I reside in that dark gray area between sportswriter and fan, maybe this analysis will shed some light.

Tyson Chandler's Background

Chandler was drafted second overall by by the LA Clippers in the 2001 draft and the sent immediately along with Brian Skinner to Chicago for Elton Brand.  Chandler did not attend college, electing to go directly from high school to the NBA.

Despite being a stalwart defensive specialist, with his lack of ability to score and after the acquisition of Ben Wallace, the Bulls decided Chandler was expendable.

The Hornets acquired Chandler from Chicago in exchange for forward PJ Brown ( now retired) and guard J.R. Smith (now a backup with Denver) on July 14, 2006.

Chandler greatly improved his game after coming to New Orleans.  It can be argued that some of this was the Hornets' coaching and some of this was the team situation.

The "team situation" is that he was playing alongside all-star David West and being fed by all-world Chris Paul.

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Chandler is considered very athletic and runs the floor well.  He is also prone to foul trouble and has been hampered by injuries for a while.

Chandler has not developed an offensive arsenal outside of the pick and roll, the alley-oop dunk, and the put-back dunk.  His range is withing a few feet of the basket.

There are some intangibles in Chandler's favor, including the fact the he is well-liked as a player and person, and he plays with intensity and passion when he is not injured.

Emeka Okafor's  Background

Chukwuemeka Ndubuisi Okafor the son of Nigerian immigrants, is known for not only for his basketball skills, but also for being a brilliant scholar.  He was a Finance major at the University of Connecticut and graduated in three years in May 2004 with a 3.8 GPA.

Like Chandler, Okafor was a second overall pick.  He was selected second overall in the 2004 draft by the Charlotte Bobcats.  Okafor beat out his friend and former college teammate  Ben Gordon, to win the NBA Rookie of the Year Award that year.

In his second season, Okafor missed more than half of the games with an injured ankle.  He had bulked up in the off-season, going from 260 to 280 pounds.

Many people believe that the bulking up greatly hampered his rehab.  He has since dropped the extra weight and has been healthy since then.  He has proven his durability by playing in 175 consecutive games.

Regardless of what you read from his detractors—his former coach Larry Brown included—Okafor has improved each year in the league.  He now possesses a mid-range jump shot that he did not have his rookie season.

Additionally, Okafor has increased his field-goal percentage almost every season.  He shot 44.7 percent his rookie season and finished last year at 56.1 percent.

Although not spectacular, he has been steady and consistent, averaging a double- double in scoring and rebounding each season.

He is considered a good defender, but slightly weaker than Chandler in the inside. 

Coach Brown has accused Okafor of not being a hustler and not having a passion for the game.  I will have to admit that I have not followed him much in the NBA, but from what I recall when he played for UConn, that was not the case.

The Salaries

Chandler will make $11,850,000 this year as opposed to $10,538,937 for Okafor.  As the Hornets are way over the luxury tax level, the savings of $1.3 million in salaries is actually a savings of $2.6 million for Hornets owner George Shinn.   This is not exactly chump change.

Next season, Chandler has a player option salary of $12,750,000.  There is zero chance that he is going to opt out of that salary.  Next season, Okafor is scheduled to make $11,540,375.

After next season, Chandler becomes a free agent while Okafor is under contract through the 2013 season with raises of roughly eight percent each year.

Some analysts are very disturbed at the long term commitment to a high salaried player by the Hornets.  They assert that the Hornets are trading a short-term salary problem for a long term one.

The reality of the situation is that the center position has the highest average salary in the league.

While Okafor may not be in the top tier of centers (yet), to acquire a center in that tier is going to cost significantly more than the Hornets are paying for him.   For example, the following lists reflects some of the centers who are widely considered better overall players than Okafor with current contracts:

  • Dwight Howard—Superman signed a five-year contract at the end of his rookie contract with an annual average of $17 million.
  • Tim Duncan—Duncan is currently in a three-year, $62 million contract.
  • Yao Ming—Yao is into a five-year, $75 million dollar deal.

I am sure that you get the point.  With a few exceptions, to get a center who is considered "elite," a team is going to need to offer a contract in the $15 to $20 million-per-year range.  Considering this, Okafor's contract is right in line with the rest of the NBA centers.

Overall, the Hornets have come up better financially with the acquisition of Okafor.

The Verdict

According to ESPN’s NBA Trade Machine, this trade will add six wins to the Hornets record next season and subtract five from the Bobcats.  That would put the Hornets into the playoffs, but does not guarantee a playoff run.

Okafor is a better overall player with some significant upside potential being teamed with Paul and West.

The salary exchange puts over $5 million back into George Shinn's pockets over the next two seasons when the luxury tax is taken into account.

The verdict is that, from any angle, this deal was a win for the Hornets.  Thank you, Jeff Bower.


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