Tyson Chandler headed to Oklahoma City?

The answer is yes, according to Marc Stein’s sources.

Sources with knowledge of the trade parameters told ESPN.com that the deal was approved by the league office Tuesday afternoon, with the Hornets receiving forwards Joe Smith and Chris Wilcox in exchange for their best interior defender.

ESPN.com reported early Monday that the Hornets — who have been looking to move Chandler mostly for financial reasons — were in talks with the Thunder on a trade that would net the expiring contracts of Smith and Wilcox. Thunder general manager Sam Presti is a long-time admirer of Chandler dating to his time with the San Antonio Spurs.

The Thunder also possess numerous draft picks to sweeten trade packages — including five first-round picks in the next two drafts — but Presti was able to land an accomplished center to complement his promising young trio of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green without surrendering any major draft considerations.

With a payroll at nearly $67 million this season and scheduled to reach almost $77 million next season, New Orleans felt it had to part with Chandler before Thursday’s 3 p.m. trading deadline regardless, even though dealing away the 26-year-old almost certainly takes the Hornets out of serious playoff contention in the West.

“…even though dealing away the 26-year-old almost certainly takes the Hornets out of serious playoff contention in the West.”

This is the first time that I can remember (though I’m sure there have been other cases) that a serious title contender traded away one of its best players for financial reasons. The Hornets are on the hook for almost $77 million next season and they needed to cut salary to stay under the luxury tax threshold. In the process, they are sacrificing a legitimate shot at an NBA championship. This move just goes to show how the bad economy is having a direct effect on NBA personnel decisions.

The Hornets do get Chris Wilcox as part of this deal, and he is having an off year after having three very productive seasons. There’s a chance — albeit a slim one — that the Hornets could still keep their darkhorse status headed into the playoffs if Wilcox gets back to his 14-point/8-rebound days. He isn’t in the same league as Chandler on the defensive end of the court.

I like this trade for the Thunder. They’re getting one of the league’s best defensive centers at a fairly reasonable price. Along with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green, the Thunder have a nice core to build around.

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