Disclaimer: a lot of friends have asked for my take on the Tyson-to-OKC-and-back-again non-trade that has been the NBA's big drama of the week. Not wanting to repeat myself, I cancelled a lunch date (who am I kidding? I got stood up) and wrote this earlier today. I hope my thoughts can help put the whole ordeal in perspective.
Tuesday morning, I heard strong rumors -- and eventually learned -- that the Hornets were planning on shipping Tyson Chandler to the Oklahoma City Thunder (please get a better name) in exchange for Joe Smith, Chris Wilcox, and the draft rights to a kid whose chances of making the NBA seem about as good as my own. My intial thoughts? Let me transcribe a text message I sent to HH founder and my good friend Lee:
No no no. F**k no.
I, like many in the Hornets Blog-o-sphere, believed this team's core to be made up of three individuals: Chris "The Chef" Paul, David West, and the aforementioned Chandler. Seeing the team part with one of those three -- only to return with spare parts in his place -- hurt.
I've admitted that the Hornets' chances of making the NBA Finals (much less winning the championship) are pretty slim this year. But I always thought they'd be able to tweak the roster and make a strong run at a title next season. Or the next. When I got the news of the Tyson trade, all those hopes were gone. The trade with OKC didn't do enough to improve the Hornets this year, and it didn't necessarily put the team in a better position over the next two or three years. All I could do was hope that the move was setting up the team for another trade further down the road. Meanwhile, all sports analysts and their mothers were painting the trade as nothing more than a salary dump that was a great basketball move by the Thunder and an unfortunate one by the Hornets.
As the day went on, I heard whispers that Tyson's injury might be more serious than we thought. That got me thinking. Over the course of his career, he has had a few toe/ankle/foot injuries that have kept him out of the lineup. The only time his toe was a major issue was when it prevented him from playing with Team USA. What if the injury was keeping him off the floor for the rest of the season? What if this most recent diagnosis had discovered that he would never be the same? What if all the waiting and hoping for Tyson to regain his status as a dominant center were in vain? Yes, he put up nearly 12 points and 12 rebounds a game last season. But he's managed just under 9 points and just over 8 rebounds a game this season. A contract paying a player $24.6 million over the next two years? It's worth it for those first stats. Not so much for the latter. Especially if a recurring injury is keeping said player out of the lineup on a regular basis. What if his career is shortened?
Taking these concerns and playing the eternal optimist, I figured the team was making the best out of a bad situation. Sure the Hornets brass would want to keep their young core intact. But they definitely wouldn't want to be saddled with a big contract for a player who might not be able to perform on the court. They did what (they thought) they had to do: get the best value for damaged goods. When the trade went through, I wished Tyson the best, lamented the fact that we'd have no more Crescent | City | Connection, and did my best to look forward to the depth that Wilcox and Smith would provide.
I went to last night's game against the Magic, finally starting to accept that the Hornets were living post-Tyson. I was treated to a big surprise when the Hornets, playing without Tyson or the newly acquired Wilcox and Smith, absolutely dominated the Magic. And dominated them in the post: a stunning 44-18 Hornets edge on points in the paint and a 46-35 margin on rebounds. As soon as I got home from that game, I logged into my email and saw the following subject line: Chandler Re-joins Hornets.
As we now know, Ty failed his physical for the trade, putting some stock in those whispers about his injury being fairly serious. And the result of the failed physical is that the Hornets will keep their core three guys for at least the remainder of this season. Beyond that, who knows? But we know who we've got for the stretch run and the playoffs. And I'm happy with it. That said, I am, without a doubt, concerned about Tyson's longterm health (see: all the above "What ifs").
However, I can't post those hypotheticals without thinking about the flip side. What if Tyson re-joins a team that shows the sort of hustle from last night on a regular basis? What if his numbers improve to last season's levels? This Hornets team defeated Orlando (home of the best center in the league) 117-85... add a 7'1" defensive post presence to the mix, and you have to like it. Maybe Tyson's career doesn't succumb to the injury. After all, he has been playing with it since the Spring of 2007. Those 12 points and 12 rebounds a game? He put those numbers up during the 2007-08 season -- after the original diagnosis of the injury. Who's to say he can't do it again? And if he does do it again, I'd love to have him on my home team. For the forseeable future, he will be. And I can't complain about that.