CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Tyson Chandler arrived in Charlotte recovering from ankle and toe surgery. After slogging through the first third of the season with unimpressive results, he was shelved again with a stress reaction in his left foot.
Finally healthy, Chandler is ready to return -- and wary of fitting in with a team that hit its stride without him.
Chandler participated in his first full practice Monday since being sidelined just before Christmas. After missing 22 games, Chandler says it's possible he could play some on Tuesday against Washington.
When he returns, it won't be as a starter -- at least not right away.
"Under normal circumstances I would always start a guy who's been your starter," Bobcats coach Larry Brown said. "But I don't think this is normal circumstances because he hasn't had a lot of time on the floor. But let's hope he can come back [Tuesday]. It's a nice problem to have."
Nazr Mohammed, buried on the bench last season, has been one of the biggest surprises for the Bobcats (24-25), who sit in seventh place in the Eastern Conference as they vie for the franchise's first playoff berth.
The 32-year-old Mohammed has posted impressive offensive numbers in Chandler's place. In the last four games, Mohammed has connected on 26 of 37 shots and has had 10 or more rebounds in three of the past five games.
Chandler was averaging just 6.6 points and 7.0 rebounds. Since he was hurt, the Bobcats matched a franchise record with six straight wins, set a team mark with nine straight home wins, and went 13-9, counting their current three-game losing streak.
"Right now we're playing so well I don't want to disrupt chemistry at all," Chandler said. "I'm pretty sure I'm not going to be playing starter's minutes when I first come back. But I also think it's how I perform out there."
Acquiring Chandler was managing partner Michael Jordan's big offseason move. Jordan signed off on a trade that sent steady if unspectacular big man Emeka Okafor to New Orleans for Chandler. The 7-foot-1 Chandler is bigger, more athletic, can play some power forward, too, and is a better fit for Brown's coaching style.
But the 27-year-old Chandler was coming off a season in which he was limited to 45 games. His trade to Oklahoma City last year was voided when he failed a physical with the Thunder.
Chandler missed the preseason with the Bobcats, then struggled to adjust once the regular season began. He did have one of his better games -- 13 points and 14 rebounds against New York on Dec. 20 -- before getting hurt two days later.
"I knew the beginning of the season was going to be tough," Chandler said. "I spent the whole summer rehabbing and I was coming off surgery. I wasn't able to do any basketball or any strength training.
"Unfortunately, I was just starting to come on, starting to feel better, starting to feel my legs and I got hurt."
Chandler said he was able to do strength training while he was sidelined, which he feels will help as he gets back on the court.
While many wonder what Brown will do with Chandler, Mohammed expects to be coming off the bench again soon.
"You don't lose your starting spot because you get hurt. If I got hurt I wouldn't want to lose my starting spot that way," Mohammed said. "So I don't expect to continue starting. Maybe a game or two while he gets his legs under him. But once he gets going I expect him to start."
Brown said he envisions stretches where Mohammed and Chandler play together. And while Mohammed is better offensively, the Bobcats have struggled with their interior defense of late, something the long-armed Chandler can help with.
"His presence alone, just his shot blocking and ability to protect the basket, will hopefully get our defense kicking," forward Gerald Wallace said. "Hopefully, he'll adjust to the way we're playing so we don't have to wait on him."
G Raymond Felton twisted his ankle in practice and left the workout early to get treatment. Brown was uncertain if it would keep him out of Tuesday's game. ... Browns said several players, including Felton, Stephen Jackson and Flip Murray, were ill in Saturday's loss to New Orleans. "As frustrated as I was, I know this team tries," Brown said. "So that's a blip." ... Murray will be Wallace's partner in one round of Saturday's All-Star dunk competition.