The last time Tyson Chandler thought about putting down some serious roots for his family in Dallas, he had his heart broken and wound up reluctantly signing a four-year, $58 million contract with the New York Knicks.
That sign-and-trade deal came less than six months after Chandler was the fiery and emotional leader who helped catapult the Dallas Mavericks to the 2011 NBA championship. And it came after some tense negotiations during free agency when the Mavs parted ways with one of the franchise’s most popular players.
, Now that Chandler has been back with the Mavs for over five months, via a trade with the Knicks, next summer the 7-foot-1 center will face the same free agency dilemma. And as if it’s the big elephant in the room, the 13-year veteran doesn’t even want to think of the possibilities of leaving Dallas — again.
“I thought about it the last time [in 2011] and it didn’t work out that way. So right now, I’m just relishing the moment and enjoying the time.”
For Chandler, relishing the moment this season has included him being tied for fifth in the NBA in double-doubles with nine. Yet he’s also laying the proper groundwork — again —that will make it difficult for owner Mark Cuban to allow him to walk after this season.
Cuban said depending on what he pays other Mavs’ free agents, he’ll have close to maximum salary-cap space to retain Chandler next summer.
“I can’t talk about contracts, but we want to keep everybody,” Cuban said. “We’re past that point of, ‘OK, let’s let the world go and see what pops up next year.’ We want to keep the guys together and add a piece where we can.”
Back in 2010, the Mavs added Chandler after getting an assist from head athletic trainer Casey Smith. Chandler was a member of the 2010 FIBA World Championships, and Smith was the team’s head athletic trainer.
So when the Mavs dug deep into Chandler’s career at that point, which included several injuries, they leaned on Smith for some sage advice before executing the trade with Charlotte.
“We had a deal, it fell apart, I called [Charlotte owner] Michael Jordan and I said we’ve got [Erick)] Dampier’s contract, we’ll take [Alexis] Ajinca back, do you want to do a deal, and 45 minutes later we had a deal,” Cuban said. “But all those 45 minutes I’m talking to Casey, who’s saying, ‘Everybody loves Tyson, he’s great in the locker room, I think he’s OK now, I had him on the national team, I think it’ll work.’
“So Casey deserves all the credit. It was his trade.”
Guard Raymond Felton, who played with Chandler in Charlotte (2009-10) and in New York (2012-14) acknowledged the California native is a fierce competitor who thrives on holding himself and his teammates accountable.
Felton also took exception to the reports out of New York that Chandler was a problem in the Knicks’ locker room.
“All that nonsense that was said about him is a bunch of nonsense,” Felton said. “I’ve never seen him be a problem in the locker room.
“He’s always been a guy who held guys accountable, and if you can’t accept that then you’re not in it for the right reasons. So if you can’t accept a teammate like that, then you’re not about the team, you’re all about yourself.”
Toronto coach Dwane Casey, who was an assistant with the Mavs when Dallas won the 2011 title, has noticed no drop-off in Chandler’s game over the last three seasons.
“He’s Tyson, he’s guarding people, he’s one of the best pick-and-roll players in the league,” Casey said. “He gets up, he slides his feet like a guard.
“If you come in the paint, he deters the shot. He may not block it, but he deters it. He’s one of the best players in the league of volleyball rebounding that I’ve seen in a long time.”
With averages of 11.3 points and 11.3 rebounds this season, Chandler has been a model of consistency for the Mavs.
“I’m taking it possession by possession and trying to give my maximum effort out there, and making sure I chase every rebound,” Chandler said. “And offensively, put myself in a position to help my teammates.”
Chandler’s presence has created advantages for the Mavs at both ends of the court.
“He’s a force in there,” point guard Devin Harris said. “Offensively and defensively, he’s the backbone of our team.
“He’s our vocal leader and he pushes us. He brings it every night with his energy and his hustle, and he forces guys to play just as hard as him.”
Chandler just hopes he will be able to be the Mavs’ vocal leader beyond this season. Then again ...
“Honestly, I’m not thinking about it at this point,” Chandler said. “Once [free agency] comes up, I’ll have my agent handle everything with Cuban or whoever he needs to talk to.”