Emeka Okafor on the trading block

Sam Amick of the Sacramento Bee reports that the Kings are considering a trade involving Hornets big man Emeka Okafor.

A source with knowledge of the situation says the Kings are discussing a trade with New Orleans that would send Kenny Thomas to the Hornets and bring center Emeka Okafor to Sacramento.

The deal would be ideal for the Hornets, as Thomas’ expiring contract worth $8.7 million is just the kind of contract that would trim their enormous payroll. The question, of course, is whether the Kings see Okafor as a big man solution worth the five years and approximately $64 million left on his deal.

I don’t get the Hornets plan of attack for the last year or so. They have the best point guard in the NBA, yet instead of making a clear commitment to spend to build around him, they’re slashing salary again. The confusing thing is that they tried to slash salary last year when they negotiated a trade that sent Tyson Chandler to Oklahoma City, only the Thunder sent Chandler back after their doctors had a chance to look him over. Then they turned around this offseason and traded Chandler (who has a short, expensive contract) for Okafor (who has a long, expensive contract). So it looked like the Hornets were willing to make a long-term commitment to build a winner.

Now, after a 3-7 start that has Chris Paul sidelined for a few weeks with a sprained ankle, they’re ready to give Okafor away. What kind of signal does this send to Paul? He’s signed through 2011-12, but at what point does he become disgruntled? They’ve already traded away Chandler and fired Byron Scott, and now they’re looking to move a sure double-double guy in Okafor. He’s not worth his contract, but he’s still valuable, and if the Hornets want to get back to competitive, they could really use him manning the middle.

It’s not like jettisoning Okafor’s salary is going to give the Hornets any immediate salary cap space. They’re sitting at almost $72 M for next season and won’t have any flexibility until the summer of 2011. Paul is 24, so he has plenty of basketball left to play, but David West is 29, and by the time the Hornets have a chance to be competitive again, he might be 31 or 32 and on the decline.

This is a sad situation. The Hornets looked to be on the cusp of competing for a title a couple of seasons ago and now they’re starting a rebuilding process that looks like it’s going to take a while.

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In a surprise, the Hornets swap Chandler for Okafor

They tried to dump him last season, but by willing to take on some salary, the Hornets are going to turn Tyson Chandler into Emeka Okafor.

That represents a striking departure from the Hornets’ recent cost-conscious efforts to move Chander.

The Hornets initially dealt Chandler to Oklahoma City days before the league’s annual trading deadline in February for the then-expiring contracts of Chris Wilcox and Joe Smith, only for the Thunder to rescind the trade 24 hours later because of concerns about Chandler’s long-standing toe problems.

The widespread belief around the league at the time and then during New Orleans’ subsequent discussions with Phoenix about swapping Chandler for the expiring contract of Ben Wallace — which Phoenix has since bought out — held that New Orleans was only interested in shedding Chandler’s contract in exchange for an expiring deal to create payroll relief.

Swapping Chandler (due to earn $11.7 next season) for Okafor ($10.6 million) will save the Hornets just over $1 million next season and cost them an extra $40-plus million over the final three years of Okafor’s deal if the 26-year-old exercises his $14.5 million option for the 2013-14 season. Chandler has just one year left on his contract after this season at $12.6 million.

This deal hasn’t been formally announced, but if it goes through, the Hornets look to be getting the better end of the trade. Okafor is no Pau Gasol, but he provides a little more offensive punch than Chandler. He has averaged a double-double for five straight seasons, and has improved his field goal accuracy from 45% in his rookie season to 56% last year.

Chandler’s play was lacking last season, mostly because a foot injury limited his explosiveness. After he failing the Thunder’s physical, one wonders if he’ll ever be the same again. The Bobcats are probably doing this to get out from underneath Okafor’s contract, which runs another five years at the tune of $62 million. While that’s a somewhat reasonable price for a good center, Okafor doesn’t have the offensive skills to justify that contract. He’ll bring some defense and toughness, however, which should help the Hornets stay competitive.

With a declining Chandler and Peja Stojakovic’s out-of-control contract, New Orleans looked to be in a tough spot, but this just goes to show that if you’re willing to spend in this economy, you can acquire some talent. If Okafor works out and the Hornets gel, they’ll be back in the thick of things in the West.

The NBA’s 68 worst contracts

The economy is really starting to take its toll on professional sports, and the NBA is no different. Bad contracts are bad even when the economy is pumping, but they really stand out in tough times like these. So I decided to look through the payrolls team-by-team to try to identify the worst contracts in the NBA. I expected to list 15-20 names, but I ended up scribbling down 68. That’s right, there are no fewer than 68 bad contracts in the NBA.

I didn’t include any of the players that are in the final year of their contracts because…well, what’s the point? They’ll be off the books in a few months anyway. Instead, I wanted to focus on those contracts that are going to haunt teams for years to come, so to be eligible, players have to have at least a year left on their current deals.

It’s tough to compare someone making superstar money to an average, everyday role player, so I split these 68 contracts up into three groups: the Overpaid Role Players, the Not-So-Super Stars and the Injury-Prones. I will rank them from least-worst to most-worst with the thinking that I wouldn’t trade the player for anyone further down the list but I would trade him for anyone previously mentioned. So, for example, if a guy is listed #7 within a particular group, I’m not trading him for anyone ranked #6-#1, but I would think seriously about moving him for a guy that is ranked #8+.

So let’s start with the role players and go from there…

(Note: In most cases, I don’t blame the player himself for his outrageous contract. The fault lies with the general manager that inked the guy to the deal. However, this rule goes out the window if the player has a history of only producing in his contract year – I’m looking at you, Tim Thomas.)

Read the rest after the jump...

2008 NBA Preview: #24 Charlotte Bobcats

Offseason Movement: The Bobcats re-signed Emeka Okafor to a big contract, which will keep the big man in Charlotte for the foreseeable future. The team hired Larry Brown to take over as head coach.
Keep Your Eye On: D.J. Augustin, PG
The Ray Felton Era may be over in Charlotte. The team drafted Augustin #9 overall, and it looks like they want him to be the point guard of the future. Brown is notoriously tough on his guards, so it will be interesting to see how this position battle evolves over the course of the season. The team has talked about playing Felton at off guard, but he doesn’t shoot the ball well and Jason Richardson will likely get most of the minutes there, so I’m not sure how that’s going to work.
The Big Question: Does Larry Brown still have it in him?
Brown is known for turning teams around. With the team building around Okafor, Richardson and Gerald Wallace, he does have some talent to work with. Can Brown get something out of Adam Morrison? It’s not a given that the 68 year-old has the energy or the stamina to succeed during the grind of another NBA season.
Outlook: The potential is there for a playoff berth in the East. If Brown can coax good play out of Augustin/Felton at the point, Richardson provides efficient shooting at off guard, and Wallace and Okafor continue to produce on the front line, then the Bobcats might be in business. The bench is a question mark, but that’s true for most of the teams in the league. If the team doesn’t buy in to what Brown is selling, we could be looking at another season of New York Knicks-style griping and complaining, only no one will care because it’s Charlotte.

Check out our NBA Preview page for a look at every team. We’ll be posting three previews per business day, which will take us up to the start of the season on Tuesday, October 28th.

Bobcats sign Okafor for $72 million

I estimated Emeka Okafor’s value to be $12-$12.5 million per season, and apparently the Bobcats agree.

The Charlotte Bobcats have agreed in principle on a six-year contract worth at least $72 million with restricted free agent Emeka Okafor.

The agreement with Okafor by far represents Charlotte’s biggest expenditure on one player as the club readies for its fifth season. Okafor turned down a five-year deal with a similar $12 million annual average before last season, preferring to wait for restricted free agency.

Okafor averaged 13.7 points, 10.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks last season in 33.2 minutes per game but never clicked with coach Sam Vincent, who was fired by team president and former teammate Michael Jordan after just one season. Okafor has already played for Brown on the 2004 U.S. Olympic team and has generated plenty of praise from the bench veteran lately.

An annual salary of $12 million would be in line with the contract extension 2005’s No. 1 overall pick Andrew Bogut received from the Milwaukee Bucks earlier this month. Bogut signed a five-year deal for $60 million with hard-to-reach incentives that, if realized, could take the overall worth of the contract past $70 million.

Bogut and Okafor have very similar PERs, but Bogut is a true center while Okafor is more of a defensive-minded power forward type. I’d rather have Bogut because he’s a legitimate threat in the post and a terrific passer. Both players averaged 1.7 blocks per game.

The Bobcats didn’t overpay for Okafor, so it looks like a good deal for both sides.

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