Hornets must value cap more than ring

FRANK ZICARELLI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:18 AM ET

It makes no sense but when every cent is precious given the economic climate, trades that see Tyson Chandler peddled for two expiring contracts get completed.

If you're a New Orleans Hornets player or a fan today, you're recoiling in horror.

And you can forget about any post-season run after coming close last spring.

On paper, there is absolutely no way a contending team such as New Orleans would dare jettison an athletic post presence such as Chandler for Joe Smith and Chris Wilcox, two serviceable bigs best used in subordinate roles.

But when the team's goal is to cut salary, it is easy to cut bait with an expensive piece in the name of financial responsibility and viability when a willing dance partner emerges, such as the Oklahoma City Thunder.

What the Hornets did yesterday, and what teams are more apt to do in the hours leading up to the trade deadline of 3 p.m. tomorrow, basically was throw in the towel.

NBA commissioner David Stern sounded the alarm bells during his annual state-of-the-union address as part of all-star weekend that the league's salary cap and attendant luxury threshold will decrease next season for the first time.

The Hornets were right up against the tax, which results in a very punitive dollar-for-dollar fine, in a market where money isn't exactly flowing.

By ridding themselves of Chandler, no longer will New Orleans be on the hook for his 2009-10 salary slot of close to $12 million US, and no longer will the Hornets be fretting about the dreaded tax threshold.

"I'm not sold on that idea,'' Hornets forward David West said of trading away Chandler. "You just don't find a 7-foot-1 athlete like that and he's the only seven-footer we have.

"Especially if we're planning on making a run into the playoffs, we're going to need size to compete with Portland, San Antonio and the Lakers. I'm not sure that would help us.''

It won't, and it won't prevent teams from following the Bugs' lead, either.

The Milwaukee Bucks are another small-market team looking to shed salary with Richard Jefferson's name front and centre.

The New Jersey Nets are said to be keen on cutting payroll and apparently are dangling Vince Carter, a name that has been floated in trade talk for the past two weeks.

"There's always a market for extraordinary players," Nets president Rod Thorn has stated whenever V.C.'s name is mentioned in trade speculation.

"It (moving Carter) would take something that we felt very strongly would make us better in the future or something that would make us better right now."

Carter has undergone a transformation in the swamp, assuming a leadership role on a young team and playing at a very high level.

Portland, San Antonio, Cleveland, Dallas and Houston, where the Rockets aren't sure how long Tracy McGrady's problematic left knee will hold up, are said to be atop of what could unfold as a Carter sweepstakes.

Rest assured that if Carter does get moved, he will fetch a price superior to the one the Raptors received.

Phoenix has been mentioned as a possible destination as well, but the Suns are sending mixed messages after the firing of Terry Porter.

Owner Robert Sarver is salivating at the prospect of dumping big-money contracts to avoid paying the tax.

Amare Stoudemire and even the Big Cactus himself, Shaquille O'Neal, could be on the move in the next few days.

When he dumped Porter and installed assistant Alvin Gentry as the team's new head coach, GM Steve Kerr sounded as though he's less inclined to make a major roster move.

"I'd like to keep what we have and go forward and see what we can do,'' he told reporters.

Keep in mind, though, that the days leading up to the trade deadline are very similar to the days preceding the NBA draft.

In other words, there's plenty of misinformation and speculation, most of which is completely unfounded or fabricated.

In a few days, fact will supplant fiction, which always is the most sensible conclusion.


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