Trade sends Hornets’ Chandler to Oklahoma City

By Jeff Latzke

OKLAHOMA CITY – All-Star point guard Chris Paul could knife his way into the lane, lob the ball up in the air and, almost without fail, Tyson Chandler would be there to slam it down with two hands.

It was the signature move of New Orleans’ thrilling young inside-outside tandem, with the two teaming up for more than 100 alley-oops last season during the Hornets’ surprising run to the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference and a spot in the conference semifinals.

Now, the Hornets will have to find a new crowd-pleasing calling card.

Chandler was dealt to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday in a trade that brings veterans Joe Smith and Chris Wilcox to the Hornets and could give New Orleans some cap room next season heading into the first year of Paul’s new four-year, $68 million contract.

New Orleans also got the rights to DeVon Hardin, a second-round pick out of California in last year’s draft who never signed with Oklahoma City.

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    “We were able to get great depth, leadership and experience by making this trade,” Hornets general manager Jeff Bower said in a statement. “We felt we needed to increase our overall play of the front line and Chris Wilcox is a young, athletic player that can score and fit well in our system. We will be able to take advantage of his athleticism and style of play.

    “Joe provides us with much needed depth and someone who can be an integral part of our rotation.”

    Chandler’s numbers had dropped off even before he missed the Hornets’ last 12 games with a sprained left ankle. He’s averaging 8.8 points and 8.3 rebounds this season, after going for 11.8 points and 11.7 rebounds per game last season.

    Wilcox’s averages of 8.4 points and 5.3 rebounds fell off, along with his playing time, since the Thunder signed restricted free agent Nenad Krstic on Dec. 30. He had a season-high 23 points on New Year’s Eve, before Krstic got into the rotation, but saw his time on the court fall off to practically nothing within a week.

    Smith, the No. 1 pick in the 1995 draft, has been fighting through injury issues of his own. A balky left knee kept him out of the Thunder’s lineup for nearly a month before he returned to play in four of the last five games before the All-Star break. He has averaged 6.6 points and 4.5 rebounds in 36 games.

    The Hornets and Thunder were to play Tuesday night in Oklahoma City.

    Chandler, who played one season in Oklahoma City during the Hornets’ temporary relocation after Hurricane Katrina, brings the franchise a proven talent inside after it tried for years to draft and develop a front-line center. “We are excited to add a young, defensive-minded big man that we feel can help us now and in the future,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti said in a statement. “Tyson has ties to the Oklahoma City community and we are excited to have him with us as we continue to build our organization.”