Okafor Trade Represents Best-Case Scenario for Hornets
By: Jim Eichenhofer,

August 6, 2009

From the conclusion of the Hornets trip to the 2009 NBA playoffs, all the way through the end of July, non-stop Internet speculation surfaced that center Tyson Chandler may be traded. Amid several widely-circulated rumors, Chandler was discussed as potentially landing in Phoenix, Detroit or Cleveland. In the majority of the proposed deals, however, the Hornets were projected to acquire role players or expiring contracts or a combination of both not a player who would tangibly improve the 2009-10 roster.

That explains why so many NBA observers were blindsided by the July 28 news that New Orleans had traded Chandler to Charlotte for center Emeka Okafor. A five-year NBA veteran, the 6-foot-10 Okafor is the same age as the man he was traded for (both turn 27 within the next two months) and a comparably productive rebounder. But Okafor is a more versatile offensive player and prolific shot-blocker than the 7-1 Chandler.

Although Chandler was an extremely popular member of the team among Hornets fans in New Orleans arguably the second-most beloved player on the roster, behind the teams All-Everything point guard the reaction to the Okafor trade has been overwhelmingly positive.

Here are a few reasons why the Okafor acquisition appears to have been a logical move for the Hornets:

An ideal fit on the floor

Over 330 career NBA games, Okafor has averaged 14.0 points, never averaging less than 13.2 points in any single season. His rebounding stats have been similarly consistent, with him pulling down 10.7 boards per game in his career and never fewer than 10.0 in a season.

Statistically, you can look at his numbers and see the consistency that he brings from a scoring and rebounding standpoint, New Orleans general manager Jeff Bower said. This is a young man who has the ability to play in the paint as an offensive player. This is a guy who is used to playing against double-teams in the past in Charlotte.

His ability is going to have an impact on David West and (Wests) mid-range game. Its going to have an impact on our shooters and the quality of shots they get on the perimeter. He will have an impact on Chris Paul and the pick-and-roll game.

One of the concerns about including Chandler in any deal was that it seemed extremely unlikely that the Hornets would be able to replace two of Chandlers biggest strengths, interior defense and rebounding. But even in both of those areas, Okafor has better career statistics, rejecting 1.8 shots per game along with the aforementioned 10.7 boards (granted, Okafor has also averaged 6.0 minutes more per game than Chandler, some of which can be attributed to foul trouble being a more common problem for Chandler).

Of course, Okafor and the teams management also believe that while the Hornets will benefit greatly by acquiring their new center, the cast of new teammates surrounding Okafor will likewise help him thrive in New Orleans.

Chris (Paul) is one of the premier point guards in the league, Okafor said. Having a good, experienced point guard makes all the difference in the world, so Im interested to see how that dynamic works.

From his style of play and set of strengths that Emeka brings, it will change our team, Bower said. Surround those skills and traits with our shooters, and the mid-range game of David West, and all of a sudden now its hard to double-team (Okafor) and leave those players (open). That will create openings for them. (Okafor) fits our personnel and can make our other players better, and we can make Emeka better.

For his part, Okafor describes his game in blue-collar terms. He realizes that the Hornets already have plenty of proven, big-time scorers in Paul, West and Peja Stojakovic. He has no problem providing some of the necessary less glamorous tasks in the paint that all NBA teams need to be successful.

Im going to be that consistent hard worker, he described. Im going to put on my hard hat and work boots, go out there and do all the dirty work, grab rebounds and block shots, provide an offensive threat when needed, and do that night in and night out the Hornets were already a contender. I just hope I can do my best to make them an even stronger contender.


In two of the past three seasons, injuries have been an unfortunate factor in the Hornets results on the floor. During the 2006-07 season, significant stretches of games missed by several key players ruined the clubs realistic hopes of qualifying for the NBA playoffs. By the end of the 2008-09 campaign which began with some observers calling New Orleans a title contender the banged-up Hornets limped into the postseason. Although the players were loathe to list health as an excuse for their late-season tailspin, New Orleans did not look like the same team in April, losing 10 of its final 13 games.

Based on recent results, Okafor has been one of the most durable players in the NBA, appearing in all 82 games for each of the past two regular seasons. After Okafor battled a back injury early in his career, playing in only 29 games in his second season in the league, he made a conscious decision to alter his stretching and exercise regimen. It appears to have paid dividends. Hes one of only 10 players in the league to have not missed a game in either the 2007-08 or 2008-09 regular seasons.

I had a couple injuries early on. Ive learned from them, Okafor said. Ive learned how to properly maintain my body. I cant help my team if Im not on the court, so its been a priority of mine to make sure that my body is well, that I can go out there and play hard, so I can help my teammates every game.

Off the court

Chandler was one of the Hornets most active players in the New Orleans community since its full-time return to Louisiana in 2007, frequently volunteering his time to participate in team-related events. Prior to the tip-off of home games, Chandler met with Hornets fans on the New Orleans Arena court, as part of the clubs Season Ticket Holder of the Game promotion. He had also served as the player representative for the teams rapidly-growing fan club for kids, graciously signing autographs and getting his picture taken with some of the youngest Hornets fans. In addition, he made significant donations to the Hornets Hoops for Homes program, based on the number of rebounds he collected each season. Those donations helped New Orleans-area teachers rebuild and return to their homes after Hurricane Katrina.

Chandlers replacement in the starting lineup is similarly community-minded. Okafor whose parents were born in Nigeria has been one of the NBAs most fervent supporters of causes in Africa, partnering with a charity foundation to create the One Million African Lives Initiative. The initiatives goal is to save 1 million lives on the continent through proper blood testing.

The interesting thing is we all know how respected Tyson was in the community, Bower said. And we certainly know why: it was because hes a quality, quality young man.

It was so important that we continue to add players of that quality (to the New Orleans roster). Obviously, Emekas off-court activities are something that people (in New Orleans) are going to really relate to, and see the initiatives that he has worked on in the past. We know Tyson was a high-quality individual, and Emeka will be able to fill that void. Emeka is going to have a huge impact on our locker room, as well as this entire community.

Okafors intelligence and academic accomplishments at the University of Connecticut have also been well-documented. The Houston native tallied an impressive 1,310 on his SAT test, then proceeded to graduate from UConn in just three years, with academic honors. According to one online biography of Okafor, the NCAA was so impressed by his track record as a student-athlete that the organizations leadership liked to point to Okafor as proof that college players could excel in both sports and school.

The long haul

Bower was asked by reporters on several occasions if, in hindsight, he believes that Oklahoma City inadvertently did the Hornets a favor by rescinding the February 2009 trade, because New Orleans ended up getting a better deal by landing Okafor than the one it had completed with the Thunder. Bower never took the bait, instead opting for the high road by saying that the Hornets front office does not have the luxury of hindsight.

Still, the Thunder trade consisted of acquiring Joe Smith and Chris Wilcox, who both became unrestricted free agents this summer and therefore wouldve had to be re-signed in order for the Hornets to retain them beyond the 2008-09 season. In Okafors case, the Hornets made a long-term commitment to a player who has five years remaining on the six-year extension contract he signed with the Bobcats in the summer of 2008.

Although nothing is ever really guaranteed in sports, Okafor would appear to be another significant piece to the future of the Hornets along with two-time All-Stars Paul and West as the franchise tries to establish staying power as a consistent Western Conference contender.

Obviously, we feel like weve added a player for the long term, Bower said. That (Oklahoma City trade) scenario wouldve provided us with more depth last season, and then we wouldve had to add a player in free agency this summer. (Via the Charlotte trade), we got the best of both worlds, where we were able to add a quality center at a position we need now and we have a long-term commitment with him.

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