Since the Phoenix Suns agreed to terms with center Tyson Chandler last week, fans have taken various stances on his value to an organization at such a late stage in his career. Some have gone as far to say he's no longer athletic, no longer a difference maker defensively, and even some have said he just might be a locker room cancer.
So I got some input from the excellent, dedicated editors of the SB Nation blogs for the Dallas Mavericks (MavsMoneyball.com) and New York Knicks (postingandtoasting.com) on what Tyson Chandler meant to their franchises and how the Chandler experience ended for each of them.
Chandler's recent teams
Chandler has not been on a "young" team since his early days in Chicago. The New York Knicks were about the oldest team in the history of old for a couple of years there while Chandler was on the team as they pushed for a deep playoff run that never really happened. And in Dallas, has was on old teams as well.
He's been a starting center in the playoffs for 7 of the past 8 years, certainly a welcome addition of experience and professionalism to a locker room with barely a sniff of playoff experience before his arrival. Chandler has played 2,199 minutes of playoff basketball on FIVE different teams (Chicago, New Orleans, Charlotte, Dallas, New York Knicks, and then Dallas again).
Chandler's career has been a mix of both good and bad. The good: excellent career stats and skills, a key cog to many playoff runs. The bad: teams keep letting him go; in his career, he's been traded six times.
He was the Defensive Player of the Year in 2011 for Dallas, and then an All-Star in 2013 for New York.
Chandler's impact on a locker room
Here's Chandler talking about the bad ending in New York (discussed more later), but it illuminates how he sees himself in the locker room. He was really, really, really angry about being referred to as the problem in New York, where Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, J.R. Smith and coach Mike Woodson all tried to co-exist for more than one season together.
"If you call holding people accountable daily being a bad influence," Chandler said in response to allegations. "Then hey, I'm a bad influence. But I'm going to be that as long as I'm going to strap up my shoes and step on the basketball court. And that was the big problem there.
"That's the biggest thing. I guess if that's why I was a bad influence, because I wanted to do things the right way, then I guess I'm a bad influence. But I've never heard of that. I thought that was being a professional."
Let's ask these bloggers how Chandler fits into locker rooms.
Rebecca Lawson, MavsMoneyball: "In the locker room, Tyson is very much a leader. He's well spoken, well respected, commands his teammates' attention....and is, in my humble opinion, one of the best dressed players in the NBA. If anything, that leadership should be a good example on a young team."
His experience was a bit different in the... err... eclectic Knicks locker room from 2011 to 2014.
Seth Rosenthal, Posting and Toasting: "I'm sure he was well regarded for his defensive dominance and his championship experience, but remember that was a locker room with Kidd, Camby, Thomas, Sheed ... tons of vets. I think those "uncles" were the leaders on that team. It may have just been bad timing/weird situation with him and Melo, but Chandler never seemed to step up as a vocal leader/mentor when the Knicks needed one."
Let's hear more about this interesting Knicks experience...
On the ugly ending in New York, 2013-14
Chandler, for his part, has been adamant that he was not the problem in New York. For those of us who watched from afar, it sure seemed like there were a LOT of problems in New York.
Here's Chandler talking about it himself: "I did nothing but try to help the culture there the three years I was there. You can say I didn't live up to whatever or you didn't like the way I played or anything. But to ever question who I am and the type of leader I am in the locker room, I don't even know where that came from. I honestly don't know where that came from. So to judge my character and what I've done, you can go look at all my teammates and ask all of my teammates in the past, and the coaches I've played for, and I've never been a problem and never had a problem. So that was a shock to me that I didn't appreciate."
More from Seth R: "Tyson Chandler was a terrific Knick, but things ended poorly. I think he grew irritated with the way the team changed around him and the way he was used, and his disgruntlement really showed. For a while, Chandler played like a goalie on defense *and* filled a huge role in the pick-and-roll offense. At their best, the Knicks did a nice job funneling everyone toward his rim protection.
"As decent wing defense filtered out of New York's lineups and Mike Woodson's preferred habits took hold, Chandler was asked to do more and more, and basically became their only defensive player. He grew irritated -- especially during a bad 2013 Indiana series in which he played hurt (and poorly) -- with all the switching and mis-reading his teammates did around him, and it finally came to a head when he basically mailed in the whole 2013-2014 season. Breaking his leg early on probably didn't help, but the rest of that year was spent leaving the rim open, half-assing rebounds, barely reaching for lobs, and getting in weird, whiny tiffs with opponents and refs.
"It seemed to me like Chandler got fed up, and he acted out on the floor because of it. Bad situation, bad response, bad end to what was really a fine, at times extraordinary, stint in New York."
On Chandler's 2014-15 season with the Mavs, at age 32
Rebecca L: "The Mavericks and their fans were absolutely thrilled to get Tyson back to Dallas last year. He is beloved here: easily the best center in franchise history, and the best front court partner Dirk Nowitzki has ever had. He was asked to do a bit more with the Mavericks this past season than in the 2011 season, mostly due to so much roster turnover and injuries to others throughout the season, and I think surprised a few folks with his adaptability and durability. He won't kill you on free throws, and throws down a MEAN dunk."
Tim Cato, MavsMoneyball: "At 32, Chandler actually averaged more minutes (and consequently more points and rebounds) than he did during his 2011 season with the Mavericks, but you could see his age creep in at times. His best trait as a defender has always been his pick-and-roll coverage -- he's incredible mobile and can hold his own in a switch -- but there were times were you saw him recover a little slower than usual or fail to stop a driving guard."
On Chandler's fit in Phoenix
Tim C: "Tyson Chandler will fit fine in Phoenix because he'd fit fine anywhere. He's a defense-first center but his offensive is malleable -- he doesn't need any more touches than what the offense allows him to have. He's a great roll man to the rim but he can just crash the boards and grab offensive rebounds if that's what's needed."
On improving the Suns professionalism
Again, the feedback from Dallas and New York bloggers varies because of the experience they each had.
Tim C: "He's a consummate professional in the locker room and on the floor. He was only in Dallas for two years, both times on older rosters, so I'm not sure there's a singular player I'd point to that he mentored and helped succeed. However, just in general, there's no doubt that he's a role model for any player, young or old. That's definitely a responsibility he can take on in Phoenix."
Seth R: "Well, I know [the Suns] had a bit of trouble with mouthing off to refs and letting games get out of hand because of beef (right?) ... and I'm not sure if he's gonna be much help there. But he's a good role model on the floor, and by all accounts a thoughtful teammate whose improved his game considerably. I imagine he's got wisdom to impart."
What to expect over the 4 year contract
Tim C: "For the first two years of his deal, though, Chandler should be everything you need. If you split the center position with him and Alex Len 50/50, that might be better for Tyson's longevity anyway. Dallas isn't known like the Suns are for their training staff, but they have a good one, and Tyson's two stops with the Mavericks were generally healthier than anywhere else he's ever been. There's no reason why that can't continue."
Rebecca L: "Though he has struggled with injuries most of his career, that hasn't seemed to be an issue in Dallas, where the training staff is probably second in the NBA only to the Suns. I'd be shocked if that wasn't at least part of the consideration in where to sign. At 32, age is a bit of a concern, which is why the Mavs chose to get younger and go after DeAndre Jordan rather than make Tyson their first priority. But on the surface, Tyson and DeAndre's stats from last year are remarkably similar in many categories, and all things being equal I personally would have rather had Tyson back in Dallas."
Tim C: "Chandler isn't a game-changing defensive player anymore but he's steady and solid and you'll be hard pressed to find things to complain about. He hits his free throws and can even nail an elbow jumper if wide open. His locker room presence is exceptional and he's always there for a post-game quote. He'll lead his teammates with shouts and vocal encourage.
Rebecca L: "Y'all got a good one. He was always really nice to me in the locker room and I (and the rest of Mavericks fandom) will miss him dearly."
Tim C: "The Suns did well here. At some point, just like we did in 2011, you'll probably wonder how on earth six different teams have had Chandler and then let him go."
Clearly, Chandler had a lot more positive experience in Dallas than in New York. He helped the Mavericks win an unexpected championship in 2011, but was somehow let go because owner Mark Cuban wanted to start fresh with the different center. Remember when he cleared out all their money for Dwight Howard, but didn't get him? Part of that was trading away Tyson Chandler before giving him a huge new contract. This time, Cuban let Chandler go because he wants a younger version of Howard in DeAndre Jordan.
New York was, well, New York. They were going all in for a run at a championship and just didn't get there. Chemistry devolved among the diverse group of talent on that squad, most of whom are now retired from the NBA or shipped off to other destinations.