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John Schuhmann

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Analysis: Chandler's return brings new life to Hornets

By John Schuhmann,
Posted Mar 4 2009 5:13PM

PHILADELPHIA -- New Orleans Hornets All-Star forward David West has tattoos on the back of his calves that read "Carpe Diem." Given a second chance at a title run with their core intact, the Hornets will need to seize the day, every day, for the next few months.

It's very possible that Tyson Chandler, who was traded to Oklahoma City on Feb. 17 and then sent back to New Orleans after failing his physical with the Thunder, could be dealt again this summer. The Hornets' fiscal issues behind the trade, which would have brought Joe Smith and Chris Wilcox and their expiring contracts to New Orleans, are not going away. And Chandler is still owed almost $25 million over the next two seasons, assuming he exercises his player option for the 2010-11 season.

The trade upset every player and coach in the Hornets' locker room. In a way, it was as if management had given up on their championship dream and the opportunity to recapture last season's magic. Sure, the team wasn't living up to the expectations that followed a 56-win campaign and trip to the conference semifinals. But even though the decreased production from Chandler was a big factor in their inability to meet those expectations, the trade wasn't about the product on the floor.

So, when the deal was rescinded, the team, their coaches and their fans were all happy. "I think there were a lot of people in New Orleans jumping up and down for joy," Hornets coach Byron Scott said Sunday.

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The NBA TV crew chats with Tyson Chandler.
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Now, nearly a week and a half since the Chandler trade failed, the Hornets are moving on. It's time to prove that the trade was a bad deal, and that this team can still improve upon last season. After all, through 59 games last season, they were 40-19. At 37-22 after Monday's 98-91 win in Philadelphia (Highlights | Box Score | Recap), they're just three games off that pace.

With Chandler back in the lineup after missing a month of action with a sprained right ankle, the Hornets have won five straight games for the first time this season. They're now 26-11 when Chandler plays and 11-11 when he doesn't. He admits that his ankle is still not 100 percent and that it stiffens up in the second half of games, but he's not about to sit back down and he's averaged more than 35 minutes since returning.

In those minutes, Chandler has averaged 11.0 points and 11.4 rebounds, and he's made big plays down the stretch. Against Milwaukee on Friday, he tipped in a West miss with three seconds to go to win the game. In New Jersey on Sunday, he grabbed an offensive rebound that helped seal the win in the final seconds.

More important, the Hornets have outscored their opponents by 54 points while Chandler has been on the floor (and have been outscored by 34 when he's been on the bench). His value goes beyond the numbers and it's no coincidence that West has had his best five-game stretch of the season (28.8 points and 10.4 rebounds per game) with his frontline-mate back in action.

"A lot of his stuff probably goes unnoticed," Scott said. "We all look at the points, rebounds, blocked shots and things like that, but his presence on the offensive end gets us open shots. He's our best screener when we run our pick-and-roll and he rolls the hardest. He puts a lot of pressure on the defense to pick and choose what they're going to do."

On the other end of the floor, it's no secret that Chandler is one of the best interior defenders in the league. "He's just got so much heart," Scott said. "He doesn't back down to anybody. He'll give away 40 or 50 pounds, but he will battle all night long."

Chandler has taken a negative of being traded and turned it into a positive, playing with a chip on his shoulder. "This situation that happened is not going to change anything, except light a little fire under us," he said Monday.

"It's probably going to be something that's going to help us in the long run," Scott added.

Chandler blames his multiple ankle injuries for his decreased production earlier in the season, but with pain and stiffness still an issue, he realizes he needed to change the way he deals with it.

"I've always been a guy to come out and give 100 percent," he said. "I've changed my approach as far as not allowing things to get in the way, where before I was favoring certain things and because of my injuries, thinking about it out there."

The new mentality seems to be working. And maybe what the Hornets do from this point forward won't affect the chances of Chandler being traded in the summer. But maybe it will.

"I don't think we're necessarily looking at [the possibility of another trade]," West said. "I think we are really just committed to finishing this year as strong as we possibly can. And hopefully, what we do dictates what happens for us in the summer."

The Hornets are tied for fifth in the Western Conference. If they stay healthy from here on out, they can certainly get back to where they were last season. Getting past the Spurs or Lakers in the playoffs is another story, but we have yet to see how good this team really is.

"Right now, we've just got to keep going out there, competing, and working with what we've got," Chris Paul said. "We've just got to do us, and that just comes down to making shots and defending. If we do that every night on the constant, it's pretty tough to beat us."

They've got their second chance. Now they must make the best of it.

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