To say the Hornets did not appear lost this March would have been a lie. The James Posey signing froze out any financial flexibility, the Tyson Chandler injury rendered useless a valuable trade asset, and the economic climate ensured that events would only spiral further out of control. Ownership felt like it may have been well past its budget, the salary cap and luxury tax were both sure to shrink, and trading players to alleviate that financial burden- for example, Chandler- would have left glaring holes across the roster, with no money to fill them. The front office had come to the edge of a precipice, liable to fall off at any moment, at the mercy of the winds of the NBA.
So the events of the past week came as nothing short of stunning. The longer the Chandler situation lasted, the likelier the Hornets were to put the "dump" in salary dump.
And yet they defied the odds. Nearly six months after trading for Chris Wilcox, they found a more established, offensively and defensively more complete player in Emeka Okafor. Unlike Wilcox, who could have bounced on the 1st of June, Okafor will be around until at least 2013, possibly 2014. Saying farewell to Tyson Chandler will be a difficult process for sure. Personally, I don't think it's going to hit me until the first time I open up League Pass and see him in that awful grey purple jersey. But it makes so much sense organizationally, and that's what Jeff Bower is paid to do. We traded a valuable but potentially highly risky asset for a real known entity. I won't sit here and say high risk, high reward for constancy is always the best strategy, period.
But for a team peering over the cliff, swaying back and forth, fantastically unsure of its next step? That we jettisoned uncertainty and acquired certainty simultaneously seems, to some degree, quite quixotic, quite impossible.
It's not that we traded Chandler for Okafor, and that is inherently some super awesome unfair deal. Perhaps there is some evidence that Okafor would be the better bet moving forwards (there is), but to confidently assert that one player will obviously vastly outplay the other is silly. No, forget Charlotte and Tyson for a second; the impossibleness of this trade stems from our perspective alone. We sought stability where every option seemed to be a straight salary dump, certain to sink us further into frailty and weakness. We sought talent where every team would fight tooth and nail to eschew parting with its own. Out of nowhere, we got both. Then there's my favorite aspect, the one I haven't seen mentioned often. As a methodical, half-court team, we got a player with legitimate, half-court post moves. Sure Tyson could run, but how often were we really running? Twenty seven teams were leaving us in the dust. It looks time to embrace who we really are, and Okafor could be the catalyst to that metamorphosis.
Then there's the matter of Ike Diogu. There were three guys I put on my summer shopping list that I really, really wanted: Ike, Drew Gooden, and Chris Wilcox. Just based on his performance on the floor, Diogu deserves NBA minutes, and the Hornets were wise to appreciate that. He's been put in a series of unfortunate situations, deadening his playing time and value. Surely there will be many more rehashed arguments all summer about Diogu. He's too small, he's too fat, he can't play defense. He's also one of the most undervalued, super efficient scoring bigs in the league right now. He's young, and this will be his first real chance in the NBA- Don Nelson stifled him with the Warriors, he was hurt before he could make an impact in Indiana, and the Blazers had absolutely no need for another big. Personally, I've been on the Ikechukwa Train since Golden State drafted him, and I'm not about to get off now.
In a matter of days, we've been guaranteed at least three legitimate front court options, saved nearly 2 million for the year's cap calculations, and virtually mandated that filler big men won't be receiving significant roles.
Really, the front office this week brings to mind one of my all-time favorite NBA quotes, fittingly given by Emeka Okafor after a Charlotte loss: "It's like they were using cheat codes or something."
We slipped into this tunnel suddenly and unknowingly, but hey look, there's the light.