The Hornets visit Denver later tonight to start a Western Conference first-round playoff that would’ve taken place without the services of Tyson Chandler had the New Orleans C not flunked a physical after being traded to Oklahoma City earlier this year. Armed with the knowledge Chandler could well be on the block again in the offseason, the Times-Picayune’s John Reid raises the matter at a rather sensitive in franchise history.

The nixed deal sent a message to the Hornets that despite their franchise-record 56 victories in 2007-08, the team’s brass was willing to trade a starter to acquire expiring contracts and lower payroll.

“You never know what the future holds, so you’ve got to take every game like its your last,” said Chandler, who said his sprained left ankle is still not completely healed, but he will start tonight in Game 1 at Denver. “That’s how I’ve got to look at it.”

Yet rumors persist, especially on the Internet, about potential maneuvers. Ten days ago, the Dallas Mavericks reported in a blog that Mavs owner Mark Cuban might be willing to take the Hornets’ two worst contracts if they included Paul in the deal. Coach Byron Scott said he cracked up after reading the report and responded by saying that hell has to freeze over before they consider trading Paul.

A few days later, another Internet report stated the Hornets would be interested in trading West if they could not draw enough interest for Chandler. West, who makes a shade under $9 million a season, is a two-time All-Star and has a more cap friendly salary to entice other teams.

This week, the New York Daily News reported that Phoenix Suns center Shaquille O’Neal thinks he is coming to New Orleans in exchange for Chandler.

“It’s all about us staying professional, and hopefully we’ll do things in the offseason to make us better than we are this year — that’s the goal,” West said. “You just have to wait to see what the team is going to look like.”

It is apparent, even with West and Paul playing at All-Star levels, the Hornets are not one of the top teams in the Western Conference, based on their playoff seeding.

“This summer, we’re going have to do some tinkering and find some other pieces to the puzzle, but I love our core guys,” Scott said.

Hey, how about those pesky internet rumors? None of which can possibly gain further traction when they are repeated in a daily newspaper (which — suprise!— is published on the internet).