DALLAS -- Even when the NBA season was still in limbo, Dallas Mavericks guard Jason Terry was constantly in the ear of Tyson Chandler.
Terry was constantly reminding Chandler how important he is to the Mavs' chances of repeating as NBA champions.
"I'm the number one recruiter," Terry said Tuesday. "I talk to him all the time.
"We've got to get Tyson Chandler back -- that's the key. A whole lot of people are trying to get him, but if we're serious about repeating as champions, he's obviously the key piece."
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Chandler is the Mavericks' prized free agent who will certainly get a healthy raise from the $12.6 million he collected last year. The 7-foot-1, 235-pound center changed the Mavericks' defensive culture last season, and that transformation translated into the franchise's first world championship.
"Tyson's play is contagious, and he affected all of us," Terry said. "We were all able to go out there and bring our defensive game to a higher level, and he held everybody accountable.
"When your center is one of your vocal leaders, it means a lot. For years we had been begging for a center to be vocal and to be the centerpiece of our organization, and to do it vocally the way he did and then to go out there and perform the way he did, it just spoke volumes of the type of player that he is and that's why he's so valuable."
The other Mavs' free agents are guards J.J. Barea and DeShawn Stevenson, and forwards Caron Butler, Peja Stojakovic and Brian Cardinal.
After Chandler, Barea is the second-most valuable free agent the Mavericks must re-sign. The five-year veteran's stock rose sky-high in last season's playoffs when he proved to be almost impossible to guard in the pick-and-roll play.
Where Butler is concerned, the Mavericks must think long and hard about his value -- they won the title last year after he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in a Jan. 1 game at Milwaukee and missed the rest of the season.
The Mavericks were 24-7 when Butler went down, leaving Terry to believe they were on the verge of snapping the team record of 67 wins set in the 2006-07 season.
"Considering the start that we got off to, I think we were about to do something that hadn't been done in the Dallas organization," Terry said.
"We either were going to duplicate it, or we were going to smash the record."
For now, though, the Mavericks want to repeat as NBA champions. And they need Chandler back to have an honest chance.
"You can see where my focus is," Terry said. "Ownership and management, I believe I can't speak for them.
"But I know where their focus is. The number one priority is definitely Tyson Chandler.''
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760