Much has been made by the Phoenix Suns staff and fans about the potential value Tyson Chandler can bring to the team this season as the starting center. The Suns covet Chandler's defense, rebounding and ability to be the director on the floor of the whole defensive scheme.
This isn't a new storyline. No less than five prior acquiring GMs and owners have said the same of Chandler in the last nine years. He's made a career of being the hired gun to fix the defense and help his team make the playoffs. Only once in the past eight years has Chandler begun his summer vacation in mid-April, as the Suns have done for five years running.
"Tyson's been the defensive anchor for all these teams that he's played on," coach Jeff Hornacek said. "Won a championship. He knows how to play the game. He knows how to protect his teammates. How to talk to his teammates. Our biggest problem probably last year (defensively) is we didn't have a lot of guys that talk. Tyson'll be the director back there. He'll tell our guys what defense we're in, what the rotation is."
Every team he's joined since cutting his teeth with the Bulls has improved on defense, despite what level of defenders surrounded him on the floor.
Let's take a look at his career as a 'fixer' on defense.
After five years with the Bulls where he established himself as a solid NBA player, he was traded to the playoff-aspiring New Orleans Hornets for P.J. Brown and J.R. Smith. The Bulls got back 37-year old P.J. Brown and 20 year old Smith, while making room for former Defensive Player of the Year Ben Wallace. That maneuver didn't really work out for the Bulls, as Wallace was in decline, while the Hornets rode Chandler/Paul/West into the playoff for multiple seasons.
Chandler, 24 at the time, helped shore up the Hornets defense, as they finished 14th, 7th and 9th in his three years on the team. The Hornets signed stretch-four Peja Stojakovic that summer too, but he played only 13 games his first season before they hit their stride in 07 and 08. But the Big Four of Paul/West/Chandler/Peja couldn't get out of the second round of the playoffs, and eventually decided they needed to shake up the team again.
In the summer of 2009, the Charlotte Bobcats swapped Emeka Okafor to NOLA for Chandler. Chandler had frustrated the Hornets' brass with his injury issues - toe, ankles - and had missed many games recently while the Hornets were trying to convince Chris Paul not to leave they couldn't succeed in the playoffs. Back then, if you recall, stars were making it a habit to "force" trades on the threat of leaving for nothing and Hornets didn't want that to happen to them.
Of course, it did happen to them anyway. Okafor was not an upgrade - in fact, he was a downgrade - and Paul eventually got himself traded to the
Lakers Clippers and the Hornets blew it up.
Meanwhile, Chandler spent a year in Charlotte purgatory with Boris Diaw and Raja Bell while they tried to slog their way into the playoffs in the weak East. They did it with defense, as Chandler stayed pretty healthy and helped them have the league's #1 D.
He only stayed a year there until Mark Cuban brought him to a winner.
The Mavericks acquired Chandler in an expiring contract swap for Erick Dampier. Both were in the final year of their contract, with Dampier being non-guaranteed while Chandler would be a free agent in one season. Dallas improved, while the Bobcats were able to clear their books for free agency.
It couldn't have worked out better for Chandler. With the Mavericks, Chandler got to help carry a veteran team to a championship. It was here that Chandler had one of the best years of his career, and went home in June with a ring. Former Suns Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion were elder statesmen by this time but played the right roles to solidify a defense behind.
But when Chandler became a free agent, owner Mark Cuban went after bigger fish and let Chandler sign a contract with the New York Knicks. As we learned this past week, that was just the first time Chandler would be burned by Cuban.
After winning a championship, owner Mark Cuban decided he didn't have the horses to repeat their success and that he was going to swing for the fences in the summer of 2012 for Deron William or Dwight Howard. LOLZ. He let Chandler go to the Knicks instead of re-signing him, and decided to use the 2011-12 season as a "bridge" year.
Chandler went to the suddenly-relevant Knicks to slot between stars Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony. He dramatically improved their defense that season, and kept them relevant for three years before being traded again because that's just the way the NBA works. Very few team owners have the patience to keep bringing back their high-priced stars when playoff success doesn't happen.
Chandler received his most accolades in the big city, winning a gold with Team USA, Defensive Player of the Year and making an All-Star team.
But the joy didn't last. The dysfunctional Knicks melted down in Chandler's third year, with STAT missing yet another chunk of time and the rest of the team more concerned with making inefficient jumpers than doing anything else. Chandler was outspoken and frustrated, and was finally traded when the Knicks failed to make the playoffs in 2013-14.
Guess who traded for him?
Owner Mark Cuban said he'd made a mistake letting Chandler go in 2011, and was rectifying that mistake by bringing him back for good. Everyone thought it would be a long-term pairing again in Big D, but it only lasted a year.
Chandler, 32, didn't have much help to make the Mavericks better on D. He was surrounded by players not known for their defense. Yet they still improved a bit, and Chandler had one of his best seasons as a pro. He was third in the league in dunks, one of the best in offensive efficiency and 5th in rebounding while staying healthy for 75 games. The Mavericks eked out 50 wins and yet another playoff berth, something the Suns hope to see with the aging Chandler now in the desert.
But owner Mark Cuban is still trying to rebuild his team on the fly, and made Chandler second-fiddle to the prospect of maybe signing DeAndre Jordan to man the middle.
Chandler in Phoenix
Chandler, now 33, won't have to completely carry the load for the Suns. He's got a talented backup in Alex Len who can fill in any gaps that Chandler leaves behind due to injury or loss of skill at such an advanced age.
But Chandler does look like he will make a big difference for the young Suns in terms of showing them how to compete defensively. He's got some help this time with dogged defender P.J. Tucker on the wing and aggressive Eric Bledsoe on the perimeter. Even Markieff Morris has shown he can be a net-positive on the court despite not putting a ton of effort into his defense yet.
Without a big, consistent presence in the middle, the Suns have still found a way to be 13th and 17th the past two years in terms of points-per-possession thanks to Mike Longabardi's schemes. Chandler ought to be able to help that rating, just like he's done for his other teams. Longo comes from Boston, where they built championship-level defenses on Rajon Rondo and aging Kevin Garnett's backs, who covered for Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.
Chandler hasn't been on a young team since his Hornets days, and even then David West was more of the locker room influence keeping things professional, while Chris Paul quickly filled those shoes as well.
Chandler has been a hired gun, leading teams to improved defenses and playoff berths before moving on to another. But maybe this is his last stop in Phoenix. He's on the tail end of his career, and seems prepared to become the mentor for Alex Len as he transitions into part-time play as the years go on.
It's been a long, tumultuous career for Tyson Chandler, and its no wonder he was the first to tell Markieff Morris to stop worrying about the front office and not to bother trusting them to have your back. Mark Cuban has proven twice to Chandler that owners and GMs are more interested in wins, and the future, than they are in their current players' sense of well-being.