Tyson Chandler still shoots straight
Center keeps it real in free agency, like he did during Mavs' championship season
Tyson Chandler sold himself to teammates through a policy of hard-driving honesty, a brand of can-you-handle-the-truth locker room leadership that motivated the world champion Dallas Mavericks from training camp all the way through the title-clinching Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
Now he's bringing that same honest approach to free agency. Back in his Southern California home with his wife and three young children, Chandler has made no bold proclamations about staying or leaving.
He has simply acknowledged the facts, that for the first time in his 10-year career he is an unrestricted free agent at the most opportune time, having proved to the league with his impactful season that his injuries are history and his presence can be transformational.
Whenever the NBA lockout ends and a frenzied free-agency period begins, Chandler and his agent, Jeff Schwartz, know he will have the entire league -- or at least those teams with spending power -- in the palm of his large hand.
"It's a great point in my career, and I'm coming up under free agency and there's a lot of great teams out there, a lot of great opportunities out there, a lot of up-and-building things," Chandler said Tuesday in a phone interview. "So, I mean, I've got to take a look at all that. I've got to take everything into consideration, and the good thing is I'm on a good side. I'm coming off an incredible year, so it's not a situation where it's worrisome."
The same can't be said for Mavs owner Mark Cuban and president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, who pulled off last summer's deal with Charlotte to land the 7-foot-1 center. The Mavs' brass will do everything within the parameters of a new collective bargaining agreement and revamped salary structure to keep Chandler -- whom Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said "changed our season," and whom Dirk Nowitzki named the team's MVP early on and never wavered from it -- in a Mavs uniform for years to come.
Mavs fans might take issue with the notion that Chandler has dropped no hints about a desire to remain in Dallas. There was, of course, the championship rally at American Airlines Center in front of a nearly packed house when he playfully mocked LeBron James when he brought up winning not one, but "two, three, four, five" championships.
Chandler said he wasn't intentionally mocking James. More interesting is that he said he was caught up in the moment, and at that moment he believed there was a chance that a long-term deal could get done with Dallas before the July 1 lockout, a period of time in which only the Mavs could negotiate with Chandler and his agent.
"When you win one like this and you have something special you should try to do it in bunches," Chandler said. "But obviously that was a time and I felt like the opportunity for me coming back was big and I thought we may have an opportunity to get things worked out before this collective bargaining agreement. But now I'm going to go into free agency."
Without a new CBA in place, as much as Cuban would have loved to hammer out a deal, there was no way the Mavs could commit to a large salary figure without first knowing the rules.
"Now," Chandler said, "I hope I don't have to eat my words. But, we'll see what has to happen."
Chandler averaged 10.1 points and 9.4 rebounds in his first season with Dallas. It would have been a triumphant season for him personally even had he not helped the Mavs secure the franchise's first championship. He put two seasons of foot injuries behind him and proved to himself that he could still be a physical force as a defensive anchor and an emotional leader on and off the floor.
"This year was unbelievable. I'll never, obviously, have a year like this again, and when I say that, I don't mean statistics or anything. You'll never win your first championship ever again," Chandler said. "What I brought to this organization, I wanted to change the culture, and when I say that by no means [am I] trying to offend anyone, because this is an organization that has had countless winning seasons and had all the success in the world.
"The only thing that was missing was a championship."
So what are Chandler's priorities now? He has money in the bank (his just-ended six-year extension signed with the Chicago Bulls paid $60 million of his nearly $80 million in career earnings). And now he has a championship.
After moving from New Orleans to Charlotte to Dallas over the past three seasons, is stability his No. 1 priority? Will the highest bidder earn his services? Does his wife have a preferred destination for what might be the final contract of his career -- or at least of his prime?
"It's going to be a lot that comes into play," Chandler said. "I've got a family, so I want to make sure I put my family in a good situation, where my kids will be comfortable going to school, being able to adjust. That's my No. 1 priority. Being on the court, my surroundings, my teammates, the organization, the history of the organization, our chances, the type of impact I'll make. All that stuff is going to come into play. It's a long list."
So will Chandler return to chase back-to-back titles? Or will the one-and-done collar that he helped the franchise escape come to describe his championship tenure in Dallas?
It seems even Chandler doesn't yet know the answer. As much as this indefinite work stoppage and the uncertainty that comes with it might drive Mavs fans crazy, Chandler said he is at ease with the stalled process.
"I'm just going to sit back, relax and not think about it," he said. "And when that time comes, we'll see what the best opportunity is for me."
Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.
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