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Tyson Chandler providing his most valuable assist from the bench

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The veteran center shows selflessness in sacrificing his own role for teammates

Phoenix Suns v Washington Wizards Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Veteran center Tyson Chandler is averaging a career-high 1.2 assists this season, his 17th in the NBA. But as it turns out, his most valuable assist might just come from the sidelines.

In a recent interview on 98.7 FM’s Burns & Gambo, Phoenix Suns general manager Ryan McDonough suggested that it would be unlikely Chandler would see the court again this season. While he still practices with the team, works out, and usually sits on the bench during games, Chandler has appeared in just five games since Feb. 7 and hasn’t taken off his warmups since Mar. 10. A nagging neck issue was cited initially as the reason for his absence, but McDonough let slip the real reason for Chandler’s inactivity in that same interview.

“Tyson’s a very selfless guy,” McDonough said. “We’ve talked about kinda the last third of the season, quarter of the season with Tyson. He had some thoughts on how he thought it should go. He really expressed an interest to us in giving Alex Len an opportunity to play and then Alan Williams is playing…in northern Arizona with the NAZ Suns in Prescott Valley.

“Tyson’s accomplished a lot. He’s had a lot of individual success, a lot of team success, made a lot of money. I think it speaks of his character that he said ‘Look, Alex is gonna be a free agent. Alan Williams has a team option on his contract. I’m fine if the organization wants to play those guys and see what those guys can do or play Dragan Bender more at the center spot, then I’m okay sacrificing to make that happen.’”

It’s not as though Chandler hasn’t earned the right to be on the court. He’s averaging 6.5 points and 9.1 rebounds on 64.7-percent shooting this season in 25 minutes a night. But Chandler understands the situation, too. He knows how valuable these games down the stretch are for players like Len and Williams. With neither player having any security going into next season, they need as much time as possible to audition for jobs in 2018-19.

In the void opened up by Chandler’s sitting, Len has averaged 14 points and 7.8 rebounds (4.5 offensive) on 64.7-percent shooting over the last four games in just 23 minutes per contest. That 4.5 offensive rebounding average is fifth in the NBA over that span while only Josh Jackson (18.3 points) and Troy Daniels (17 points) are averaging more points for Phoenix over the last four games. Williams, meanwhile, just made his season debut yesterday against the Boston Celtics with three points and five rebounds in 16 minutes of action. He has seven games remaining with which to shake off the rust and convince management to exercise the team option on his contract.

These opportunities would never have come without Chandler’s blessing, though. He knew interim head coach Jay Triano respected him too much to pull him from the starting lineup of his own volition and valued the contributions Chandler brought to the team immensely during a season where gifting minutes to unproven and undeserving players became the norm. And with Chandler having a good relationship with those in the front office, the final word on sitting had to come down from Chandler himself if minutes were going to open up for those other guys. So he took it upon himself to take a step back for the benefit of his fellow big men.

Chandler’s tenure here in the desert has been nothing like what was originally envisioned for him. He was expected to be a solid veteran addition for an up-and-coming playoff squad. Unfortunately (for everyone), the wins have been few and far between since then, with this year’s team on pace to become just the second Suns team to drop 60 or more games.

But even as the team hurtles down the standings at scramjet-like velocity, Chandler continues to be a leader for this group. He has brought his lunch pail to work when on the court and provided leadership when off it.

His name doesn’t pop up in trade demands the way others do in similar situations even though he is at the tail end of his career and still possesses enough game to help a title contender if given that opportunity. Where most veterans have no interest in breaking their backs for a team playing for ping pong balls instead of wins, he seems to genuinely relish the role of mentor for this young team and is often the first one up off the bench to congratulate Len when he’s playing well. It’s a testament to Chandler’s character that the relationship between the two centers has never soured despite being in direct competition for playing time over three straight seasons and Len’s public desire for an expanded role.

With one year remaining on the four-year contract he signed in 2015 worth $13,585,000, Chandler doesn’t have the same concerns as Len and Williams. He knows he has a job next season, whether it’s here or somewhere else. He can afford to take one for his teammates, sacrificing his own deserved playing time to clear the logjam in the frontcourt and give his teammates the chance to showcase themselves. But even though he can afford to do so, it shouldn’t be overlooked or go unappreciated that he, in fact, did.

Chandler may be done suiting up this season, but like any veteran worth his salt, he’s still finding ways to come through for his teammates.