When Tyson Chandler was a rookie in Chicago, tall and skinny and months out of high school, he and his aspiring front-line co-star, Eddy Curry, would be summoned to the office of Jerry Krause, the Bulls’ longtime general manager, for a twice-weekly chat.
In 2001, in the post-championship Bulls-to-bust years, Krause had staked the team’s future on the teenage big men. He shed his best player, forward Elton Brand, to match Curry, a low-post scorer, with Chandler, an athletic shot blocker. Krause envisioned resurrection by high rise.
“I’d bring them in together to talk about things, just to see how they were doing,” he said. “But as we went along, I could see that Tyson was just so quick, so verbal, not a normal teenager, like Eddy. After a while, I had them come in separately because Tyson was able to communicate on a different level.”
A decade later, with Chicago long faded from the rear-view mirror for both and Curry a departed and expensive write-off in New York, Chandler the communicator has come to the New York Knicks to talk championship-level defence. For a franchise without a playoff victory since 2001 – or the year Chandler graduated from Dominguez High School in Compton, Calif. – his mantra in the middle may be the basketball equivalent of what Moses brought down from the mountain.
“He is totally different, a big agile guy that anchors your defence and talks, chattering up the whole team,” said Herb Williams, the 6-foot-10 Knicks assistant coach who has been around the NBA since 1981 and has learned a few things about the species colloquially known as the big. “Normally, you’re begging guys to do that. He does it with no problem. He even does it on the bench, and hopefully it gets contagious to where everybody talks.”
Asked if there was a specific player that Chandler reminded him of, Williams said: “You know, right now I can’t think of one. Maybe I can if you come back tomorrow.”
For sure, it would be no one associated with the Knicks during their recent decade of competitive irrelevance – though it is conceivable that Joakim Noah, something of a Chandler type, would have wound up in New York in 2007 had Isiah Thomas not traded that year’s first-round draft pick to Chicago for Curry.
No one gets the sequential oddity of Chandler succeeding Curry as the Knicks’ high-priced linchpin centre better than Chandler, who took a moment after a recent Knicks practice to commend Krause on his scouting instincts. Overlooked for the moment was how the decision to match him and Curry as the second and fourth picks in the draft is generally remembered in Chicago as an unmitigated disaster.
“It didn’t work out, but he was exactly right that we were complementary to each other,” Chandler said. “Eddy was more on the offensive side, and I was able to make up for what he lacked defensively and rebounding the ball. Unfortunately, we were young, coming into the league with a new program, and it didn’t work out the way the way we expected. We did make progress. They just broke us up a little prematurely.”
In a telephone interview from his home in Phoenix, where Krause scouts for the Arizona Diamondbacks, he agreed that pinning the reconstruction on two preps-to-pros centres created high developmental risk. He also cited other factors in why the experiment was deemed a failure and both players were traded away, though not by him.
While Curry declined and seemingly gave up, Chandler fought through foot injuries and matured as a citizen of the NBA and in his role in New Orleans and Charlotte.
The most bullish Chicagoan of all, the Bobcats’ owner, Michael Jordan, blessed him with a lopsided trade to Dallas, where Chandler’s defence helped turn a perennial contender into a champion and earned him a four-year, $56-million (U.S.) contract with the Knicks.
“I always thought he was just a little too light in the pants,” Williams said of Chandler, 7 foot 1 and 240 pounds. “But he loves contact and he plays hard, and getting him has changed the feel of the city because of what he brings to the table.”
What Williams meant is that Chandler’s presence foretells a change in the culture of the city game and of coach Mike D’Antoni’s defensively challenged team. Contending talk is cheap until there is someone to back it up.
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