The Hornets and Kings agreed Wednesday on a trade sending forward Carl Landry to New Orleans in exchange for shooting guard Marcus Thornton and cash.
The deal gives the playoff-contending Hornets depth in the front court, but at the cost of a popular former LSU star who can score in a flurry.
It also upset at least one NBA owner — the Dallas Mavericks' Mark Cuban — who questioned the fairness of the NBA allowing a league-owned team to absorb more salary while at the same time sending cash to the other club involved in the trade.
"It's cash out of pocket right now — cash out of my pocket," Cuban said before the Mavericks hosted Utah. "You want to trade players for quality of players, no problem. You want to trade apples to apples, no problem. You want to take on salary using my money? You're kidding."
The NBA took over the Hornets in December from founder George Shinn, who was having cash-flow problems and wanted to unload the club quickly.
Thornton, a second-year pro who was drafted in the second round in 2009, is being paid about $762,000 this season, while Landry is making $3 million. Because of league rules designed to prevent straight-up trades of players with vastly different salaries, the Hornets included cash in the deal to make it work.
"That is so far wrong, that's not even close," Cuban said. "There's so few teams in the league who could afford that, yet we're allowing a team that's owned by the league to do that?"
The Hornets defended the deal as equitable for both clubs involved.
"This is a trade that benefits both teams as Carl is a player we have looked to acquire for a long time and we hope to be a big part of our long term success," Hornets general manager Dell Demps said. "Carl is a high character person that will add a scoring punch to our front court while providing toughness and the ability to make plays. In order to get a good player, we had to give up a good player."
The 6-foot-9 Landry, a fourth-year pro out of Purdue, has averaged 11.9 points and 4.8 rebounds this season. He was acquired by the Kings in the middle of last season but has started only 16 games this season while vying for playing time with rookie DeMarcus Cousins.
The 6-4 Thornton is averaging 7.8 points in 16.2 minutes per game in his second NBA season.
Thornton's more memorable performances this season included a 22-point outburst in the Hornets' 92-89 overtime victory over Orlando on Jan. 12, and his 17-point outing — in only 22 minutes — in a 103-102 overtime win over Memphis on Jan. 19.
"He brings a scorer's mentality to our team and will certainly add an offensive threat to the backcourt with his ability to shoot from the perimeter," Kings president of basketball operations Geoff Petrie said. "He'll improve the look of our team offensively and we're really excited about having him in Sacramento."
Hornets coach Monty Williams never played Thornton as many minutes as Hornets fans seemed to want, based on their calls for him at home games. Still, the coach said he liked Thornton and appreciated his ability.
"To me, Marcus and I have had a great relationship since Day One," Williams said. "He's improved in areas that don't show up in the stat sheet. To me, I feel good about that — him moving forward. There were some defensive lapses, but he wasn't the only one. ... Marcus is a guy who has value around the league and is going to play for a long time."
Apparently, the value Williams spoke of is what made the Hornets feel compelled to part with him in order to improve their play inside behind starting power forward David West. Williams said having Landry on the roster also will allow him and West to play together at times, with West playing some at center.
"Our backup bigs certainly needed a lift and it's just one of those situations where you have to give up some talent to get something," Williams said.
Williams also said the Hornets' bench "has been one of the worst benches in the league. ... It puts a lot of pressure on our starters to get leads, maintain leads and try to pull out games."