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Big Easy Confusion

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As many of you no doubt know by now, Tyson Chandler is once again a member of the New Orleans Hornets.

The Oklahoma City Thunder announced late Wednesday that they had rescinded the trade with New Orleans after Chandler failed his physical examination with his new team.

Reading this news last night sparked two instantaneous reactions for me.

  1. Well, that was a lot of Daily Babble word space used for a trade that didn't actually happen (a sentiment also voiced by CelticsBlog member Brickowski).
  2. The N'Awlins plot doth thicken.

As for the first thought, as I mentioned in the comments section of yesterday's Thunder-centric piece, while the trade discussion may be moot, the majority of the thoughts there still stand.  The Thunder are building a nice young core for the future complete with one player on track to be a superduperstar, and they have gradually started to compete more this season as well.  I would imagine they will be looking to move some of their expiring deals for more assets before the deadline today.  Even if they can't, the team will just have more cap room in the summer to come.

Thunder thoughts now at least temporarily concluded, we return to other team involved.  At this point in the basketball and economic landscape, gaining salary cap flexibility is increasingly becoming an accepted alternative goal to pushing hard to win big on the court.  While watching a substandard product on the floor in the short term is often far from a pleasurable experience, fans are becoming desensitized to it and seem at least somewhat willing to tolerate it if there is evident financial gain coming down the road.  Naturally, the problem comes when teams fail in both departments.

With Chandler back on the books, I wonder if that's the way the Hornets are heading.

In making Tuesday's pseudo-trade, the Hornets indicated a clear financial priority.  While my pal ATH from At the Hive made a good case for the cap flexibility not being as helpful and the basketball impact of the trade not being as harmful as it may seem, he still titled his entertaining piece "United States Economy 1, New Orleans Hornets 0."  Whatever cap gains the Hornets may have made for themselves with the expiring deals of Chris Wilcox and Joe Smith's expiring deals are now gone.  The team was rumored to have financial concerns in the couple of weeks leading up to the deal, and obviously none of those have been allayed (barring a move between Babble press time and Thursday's three o'clock deadline).

We move from the accounting books to the basketball court, where it should first be noted that the Hornets are of course not in the mass rebuilding mode in which many salary-dumping teams find themselves.  This is a very good Hornets team.  The bugs have the league's best point guard in Chris Paul, an All-Star power forward in David West and the beloved James Posey coming off the bench.  They're 32-20, and there is no shame in playing better than .600 ball.

The problem is that this very good team was expected to be great.  The Hornets have disappointed this season, partially because they have been hampered by injuries, but partially because, as ATH writes, "The front office, the fans, everybody (me included) underestimated the gap between the Hornets and the Celtics/Lakers."  I'd add the Cavs to that list and agree in whole - and count me guilty as well.

The problem now is that the Hornets appear to be worse off on the court than they were two days ago.  Initially, the presumption was that a healthy Chandler would make a difference in a second-half run for the Hornets.  Having Wilcox and Smith likely wouldn't have been as good as a healthy Chandler, but as ATH pointed out in the post linked earlier, it had a fair degree of upside, too.  Now, given that the Thunder turned the trade down the basis of Chandler's health, it turns out that the Hornets will miss out on both scenarios described above.

Further, even if he does return to health, one has to wonder about how this will affect Chandler and his teammates from a mental standpoint.  We've seen a bad situation begin to play out in Phoenix, where Robert Sarver's penny-pinching ways and Steve Kerr's general mismanagement of his personnel have led to Amar'e Stoudemire making the comments below, as reported by Johnny Ludden:

“I’m trying to figure out what the focus is,” I thought I was the future of the franchise, we were trying to win a championship here. It doesn’t seem that way anymore...I’m not sure if the ultimate goal is to win a championship or just to save money.”

We know how interested Stoudemire has looked this year.

That isn't to say that the Hornets' situation is necessarily parallel to the Suns or that Chandler will demonstrate the same frustration that Stoudemire has (STAT had the issues of a new coach and new offense to deal with as well and has since exploded in two games against the Clippers under Alvin Gentry).  But the point remains that there is a human-relations aspect to management.  When employees feel as though they are significant in the eyes of management, they are more likely to be productive (think Hawthorne effect). 

As Columbia Missourian reporter Bill Powell said to me last night, "That has be awkward for everyone: 'Yeah Tyson, of course we value you, that's why we dumped you for two [inferior] guys with expiring contracts."  These guys aren't robots.  They are human beings, and it is hard to imagine there isn't something interesting going through Chandler's head when he considers that his employers tried to sell him off this week.  Or in the minds of his teammates' as they ponder whether or not the organization's goal is to win or clear salary space.  The team has won twice since the pseudo-deal, but how the Hornets react in the long term remains to be seen.

So after a lot of thoughts-all-over-the-place rambling, what we've got is this: The Hornets still have cap problems, we now know they have an even less healthy Chandler than initially thought, and there is reason to wonder about player and team psyche issues on an already-underachieving squad, courtesy of the whole pseudo-trade process. Count me curious to see what happens from here in N'Awlins, with regard to both whether they try to make another move (buy or sell at this point?) before the deadline and how the season plays out.

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