(UPDATE: The trade is official. The team emailed the press release and everything.)
We've all seen the FanShot. We've all had our knee jerk reactions to the possible Emeka Okafor for Tyson Chandler trade. The SB Nation Hornets blog, At the Hive, is cautiously optimistic. I brought the FanShot to the front page, then went to my yoga class to seek serenity. (Really, I did.) Now that I'm back, I think I've settled into a tentative position on the trade as reported.
There is no way this is about present day talent and it can't be about saving money in the present day; look up all the stats and scouting reports you want, but Chandler doesn't quite match up to Okafor, and he makes more money each of the next two seasons. If the Bobcats make this trade thinking they are getting the better present day player, it will be dumb luck if it works out in our favor. Okafor is an elite defender, whereas Chandler is very good when he's at his best, but Okafor's also had a better or equal PER each year they've both been in the league, and that's with lesser PGs in Charlotte (to say the least).
I get the sense Chandler is in a similar place today that Okafor was two seasons ago. He is coming off injury-marred seasons, his offense is stagnant, and he's at a crossroads, in the sense that nobody's sure if he has any room to develop further. Except... he's also the same age as Okafor, so he's older than Mek was then, and he also has never been quite the defender Okafor is and was.
All that said, from pure talent, Chandler certainly has the capacity to match Okafor's production. I'd bet on Okafor to perform better next season, but it wouldn't be a shock if Okafor regressed a little and Chandler improved a little, and they were either equal or Chandler did better. I would also bet on Okafor playing more games next season, since Chandler's toe injury is pretty scary, but it wouldn't be shocking if Chandler stayed healthy.
Which leads to the possible silver lining, and the point to start talking yourself into the trade. Okafor's contract expires in 2014. Chandler's expires in 2011. Mohammed and Radmanovic also expire after the 2010-11 season. All this time, I've been advocating that the Bobcats start paying more attention to contracts and gaining flexibility so that they could actually have a possibility open to bring in a superstar. Having those three contracts all expire at the same time is a significant advantage going into the summer that Carmelo Anthony will likely be available, plus a few other very desirable free agents. All that, and it provides some payroll clarity through a projectable time frame; teams should almost always want short term contracts so that they can roll with any punch.
In the end, though, I can't support the trade wholeheartedly. Okafor is better today. He's a better bet to be better next season and beyond. He's a better bet to actually play more games next season and beyond. Though his contract runs longer, he produces in line with the salary he's paid, so it's not like we'd be gaining any present or future payroll equity with the trade. And finally, while payroll flexibility is a very good thing, it's good in the service of getting championship caliber players. Emeka Okafor, a guy producing up to his pay grade, is the kind of player you want around when you're trying to convince a future Hall of Famer to come to Charlotte and lead a championship squad.