Thunder trade stubbed by Chandler’s toe

In the hours after the Oklahoma City Thunder stunningly voided their trade for New Orleans Hornets center Tyson Chandler, league executives questioned why the Thunder would give up on what appeared to be such a promising deal.

The weight of the trade, four league officials said, rested on Chandler’s left big toe. During Chandler’s physical, the Hornets’ medical staff, in consultation with outside doctors, raised concerns about a lingering turf-toe condition.

“It’s not going to end his career,” one source familiar with Chandler’s medical history said, “but it could hinder it.”

One of the reasons the Hornets wouldn’t have expected any complications with the trade was that Chandler had surgery on the toe in April 2007 when the Thunder’s team doctor, Carlan Yates, had been the Hornets’ doctor in Oklahoma City. The Hornets had reason to assume that Thunder management had thorough access to Chandler’s medical records.

Thunder GM Sam Presti, who would not discuss the specifics of why Chandler failed the team’s physical, said the team sought additional opinions from outside doctors before making its decision to rescind the trade.

“You try to take emotion out of the equation and make as objective a decision as possible,” Presti said by phone Wednesday night. “This was extremely disappointing for everyone involved.”

The Thunder had sent forwards Chris Wilcox and Joe Smith and the rights to second-round draft pick DeVon Hardin to the Hornets. Smith, in particular, could still attract interest from other teams. If Smith could get a buyout from the Thunder, the Boston Celtics are believed to be eager to sign him with the roster spot that opened with Sam Cassell’s departure.

The Thunder considered Chandler a good fit for their young core because, when healthy, he has proven to be one of the league’s better rebounders while providing a sizable defensive presence in the lane. Kevin Durant is fast developing into one of the league’s most dynamic scorers, and forward Jeff Green and rookie guard Russell Westbrook have also created matchup problems for opponents. Oklahoma City, however, still has considerable room to grow defensively, and Chandler could have helped in that area.

Chandler has two years and $25.4 million left on his contract after this season. He has not played since Jan. 19 because of a sore left ankle.

“We’re disappointed,” Presti said. “But we’ll have to move forward with the same disciplined approach.”

For the Hornets, the voiding of the trade was a terrible setback after maneuvering a two-fold strategy of shedding Chandler’s contract in hopes of getting under the luxury tax next season and bringing back two solid frontcourt players to help the NBA’s worst rebounding team. Bower was up late Wednesday night at his suburban New Orleans home, still determined to find an improbable deadline-day deal that might make financial and frontcourt sense.

“Our goal is to still improve our team, and that doesn’t change with Tyson coming back,” Bower said by phone. “We welcome him back now.”

Bower called Chandler midway through the fourth quarter of the Hornets’ victory over the Orlando Magic on Wednesday, and told him he would be returning. “We had a good talk right after the trade was made, and then again tonight,” Bower said.

As much as anything, the Hornets must use the rest of the season to rebuild Chandler’s trade value around the league. He must show that he isn’t damaged goods and that he can return to a semblance of the form that made him one of the most improved players in the league the past two seasons.

The Hornets have no worries about him assimilating back into the locker room after the trade. Chandler is one of the most popular players with his teammates, easygoing and well-suited to take the wild past 24 hours in stride.

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Updated Thursday, Feb 19, 2009