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Hornets send Chandler to Thunder for Wilcox, veteran Smith

By staff reports
Posted Feb 17 2009 9:10PM

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- All-Star point guard Chris Paul could knife his way into the lane, lob the ball up in the air and, almost without fail, Tyson Chandler would be there to slam it down with two hands.

It was the signature move of New Orleans' thrilling young inside-outside tandem, with the two teaming up for more than 100 alley-oops last season during the Hornets' surprising run to the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference and a spot in the conference semifinals.

Now, the Hornets will have to find a new crowd-pleasing calling card.

Chandler was dealt to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday in a trade that brings veterans Joe Smith and Chris Wilcox to the Hornets and could give New Orleans some cap room next season heading into the first year of Paul's new four-year, $68 million contract. Chandler is due to make about $12 million next season.

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Read the official release from about Tuesday's trade between the New Orleans Hornets and Oklahoma City Thunder. Read Full Article

"I think it frustrates you to a certain extent. As a coach, you want to win no matter what. That's the bottom line. Your job kind of depends on that obviously," Hornets coach Byron Scott said before the team's game at Oklahoma City on Tuesday night.

"Deals that are made that are money-driven are always tough from a coach's standpoint. I don't think this was so much money-driven. I think obviously there's a lot of owners in this league that don't want to pay luxury tax and things like that. But I do think we got two guys in Chris and Joe that are very, very good quality basketball players."

New Orleans also got the rights to DeVon Hardin, a second-round pick out of California in last year's draft who never signed with Oklahoma City.

General manager Jeff Bower said the Hornets' primary reason for making the trade was that the team wasn't running the floor enough and needed better defensive rebounding to set up transition baskets. Chandler was New Orleans' top rebounder and particularly strong on offensive rebounding, easily leading the team with 112 despite missing 18 games.

"There's no question with this transaction we accomplished some other objectives as well and were able to put ourselves in a position to have greater flexibility down the road and to be in a situation where we have flexibility financially, but it was driven first by the decision that we need to get better, we need to improve. And then it takes you down to, how do you do it and what are your objectives?" Bower said.

Chandler's numbers had dropped off even before he missed the Hornets' last 12 games with a sprained left ankle. He's averaging 8.8 points and 8.3 rebounds this season, after going for 11.8 points and 11.8 rebounds per game last season.

Still, it could be a tough move for Hornets fans to swallow since Chandler was a true starting center and 2008 Olympic alternate while Wilcox and Smith are more natural power forwards who were struggling to find playing time on a team that's been searching for a franchise center for years.

Guard Rasual Butler had a hard time fathoming why the Hornets, who came into Tuesday in sixth place in the West, made the deal.

"It's a little bit of a shock to me. Tyson was a great teammate, a great asset to our team," Butler said. "This is nothing against Wilcox or Joe Smith, but we'll definitely miss Tyson."

Wilcox's averages of 8.4 points and 5.3 rebounds fell off, along with his playing time, since the Thunder signed restricted free agent Nenad Krstic on Dec. 30. He had a season-high 23 points on New Year's Eve, before Krstic got into the rotation, but saw his time on the court fall off to practically nothing within a week. He played in only one of Oklahoma City's last five games.

Smith, the No. 1 pick in the 1995 draft, has been fighting through injury issues of his own. A balky left knee kept him out of the Thunder's lineup for nearly a month before he returned to play in four of the last five games before the All-Star break. He has averaged 6.6 points and 4.5 rebounds in 36 games.

None of the players were at the Ford Center on Tuesday night, and neither team provided a timetable for when they might be ready to play with their new teams.

Chandler, who played one season in Oklahoma City during the Hornets' temporary relocation after Hurricane Katrina, brings the franchise a proven talent inside after it tried for years to draft and develop a front-line center. The former Seattle SuperSonics used first-round picks on Robert Swift, Mouhamed Sene and Johan Petro in recent years and have another 7-footer developing overseas in last year's 20th overall pick, Serge Ibaka.

"It's never easy to find big guys, for sure," Thunder general manager Sam Presti said.

Oklahoma City has been stockpiling draft picks to supplement a young core that includes Rookie of the Year Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook.

"I think this move is a strong statement from our ownership group as to their commitment to put an elite basketball operation together, and we're grateful that we have that kind of support from the people that are in charge," Presti said.

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