Rockets pull trigger on deal with Hornets

February 22, 2008 3:05:39 AM PST
Looking to solidify their bench and protect their perch atop the Western Conference, the New Orleans Hornets acquired swingman Bonzi Wells and guard Mike James on Thursday in a trade that sent veteran guard Bobby Jackson to Houston. "We wanted to add a little bit of presence on our bench in the form of players who could give us some scoring punch," Hornets general manager Jeff Bower said. "This trade dramatically improves our team by giving us proven veteran scorers at the backup guard and swing positions."

The trade involved three teams. The Hornets also sent rookie guard Adam Haluska and second-year forward Marcus Vinicius to Houston, then Houston sent Vinicius, the rights to Malick Badiane and cash to Memphis in exchange for the rights to Sergei Lishouk.

New Orleans and Houston agreed to exchange second-round draft picks if the Hornets' second pick is higher than Houston's.

The Hornets also received cash from Houston so that the combined salaries of James and Wells would not exceed Jackson's salary by more than the NBA mandated threshold of 25 percent.

Jackson is earning $5.7 million this season and $6.1 million next season.

Wells' contract expires after this season, but James is signed through 2009-10 and is scheduled to be paid $12.7 million during the final two seasons of his contract.

The deal means the Hornets now have two open spots on their 15-player roster, allowing them also to pursue free agent and former Hornets power forward P.J. Brown, who is mulling offers from several contending teams as the stretch run of the regular season begins.

New Orleans also is interested in center Chris Anderson, who was suspended for drug use in 2006 but recently applied for reinstatement.

Jackson has averaged 7.1 points this season backing up Chris Paul, but has proven he can still be an explosive scorer. He hit five 3-pointers, including two in the fourth quarter, and finished with 17 points Wednesday in a victory over Dallas.

Wells has played about 22 minutes per game in Houston, averaging 9.2 points and 5.1 rebounds. James has averaged about 16 minutes of playing time and 6.5 points.

Hornets players said Jackson was very well liked and will be missed on and off the floor, but added that they understood the logic behind the trade.

"It's going to be tough off the court, when you're hanging out and realize Bobby's not there," reserve guard Jannero Pargo said. "To get those two guys for Bobby, it was almost like a no-brainer as far as basketball was concerned. On paper, there's no doubt we got better but hopefully it works out on the court."

The Hornets will see Jackson soon. Houston visits New Orleans on Friday.

The trade is only the latest involving Western Conference leaders.

In the past several weeks, the Los Angeles Lakers have acquired Pau Gasol, the Phoenix Suns have traded for Shaquille O'Neal and the Dallas Mavericks landed Jason Kidd.

Bower said the Hornets simply wanted to address inconsistent play on the part of their reserves and weren't trying to play catch-up before Thursday afternoon's trading deadline.

"It wasn't as a reaction to these other deals because we had interest and were looking hard at that before all those other deals took place," Bower said. "Those other deals really didn't influence us. We thought this was a good deal and a way to help our team, completely separate from what everybody else had done. We were trying to get a little more support."

If Wells produces, he could push for Morris Peterson's starting slot at shooting guard, but Bower said that was not the intention of the trade.

Peterson played only 13 minutes and finished with two points against Dallas on Wednesday night, dropping his average to 8.6 points. Bower said Peterson's inconsistent scoring hasn't bothered him.

"It's just a role he's settling into ... as piece on a team that has Chris Paul and Tyson Chandler and David West and Peja (Stojakovic)," Bower said. "There's a lot of sacrifices that have to be made to be on a team like that. He's handling that very well and adding things that go beyond the box score.

"We brought Bonzi in with the intention of him providing a lot of strength coming off our bench, giving us a post-up presence as a wing player and some rebounding help."

James, in his seventh NBA season, has already played for seven different teams. His best season as a pro was in 2005-06, when he averaged 20.3 points with Toronto.

"He's a player that's hungry and feels he's got more to offer a team than he was doing in Houston, obviously," Bower said. "Guys have come here and done well with a change of scenery and we're hopeful Mike follows suit."

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