Chandler poised for rebound year
Of all the 7-foot gambles dotting the rosters as NBA teams prepare for training camp --
In exchange for
Chandler's downside risks involve a bad ankle sprain and a bizarre turf-toe diagnosis. He hurt his left ankle during the first game of the regular season for the Hornets last year, and eventually aggravated it enough to create fluid around the tendon. The damage was two months out and 45 games of lousy lateral movement, among other forms of wincing underachievement.
But it was last February's turf-toe fiasco that seemed to harm Chandler's long-term reputation. The Hornets were willing to dump Chandler's salary in a trade with Oklahoma City for the expiring contracts of two journeymen (
The doctor's recommendation set off a chain reaction of surprises. The Thunder decided not to keep Chandler, an ideal, if now riskier, pivot man for their small, defensively challenged front line. The Hornets then went penny-wise and pound-foolish in a straight-up swap of Chandler for Okafor in July. Okafor will make about a million less than Chandler this season, and their salaries are a wash over the two-year life of Chandler's deal, but Okafor will cost the Hornets about $40 million more over the three years after that.
Now that Chandler, according to at least one doctor, is certifiably prone to another toe injury, was Charlotte unwise to pick him up? How can Chandler be too risky to warrant trading Wilcox, Smith and Hardin in February but, after another ankle aggravation in March, is suddenly able to fetch Okafor, Charlotte's younger franchise cornerstone?
The answer is that, along with the long-term payroll savings, the Bobcats obtained a player who has a larger upside and is more compatible with their personnel. And Charlotte had the guts to roll the dice on Chandler -- imagine that, a group with
"I'll be good when the season starts," he said in an interview last week, moments after walking through some drills with his new teammates for the first time. His new franchise believes in him. "Our medical people thoroughly checked [Chandler] out," Bobcats director of communications
Also no secret is Tyson's frustration with speculation about his future health. "The toe isn't a problem and I've honestly forgotten about it," he said. "All last season was filled with tricks, but now I'm with a good organization that really wants me and needs me, so I feel like it happened for a reason."
When the focus moves from the trainer's table and the salary cap to the basketball court, Chandler is a good fit with Charlotte. It's no coincidence that Bobcats coach
"He creates opportunities for guys like myself, who have quick hands and feet and like to roam," Chandler said of Brown. "His system also funnels the [opponent] to the best defensive player on the team, toward the anchor." Not coincidentally, Chandler referred to himself as the defensive anchor more than a half-dozen times in a 30-minute chat.
But maybe Brown won't funnel this time. Maybe he'll use his two small but smart and dogged forwards,
"You can block a lot of shots and still be a bad defender; a good defender gets consistent stops," he said. "I make people miss by studying tendencies, not just my man but what the point guard likes to do and what the other team likes to do in crunch time. I can use the angles and the anticipation I have from that and talk to these guys, let them know what I see and that I'm behind them. That will let them use their quickness as a mismatch the other way. One reason I am making sure I'm healthy this season is that the coaches have told me I'll run harder than any year in my career."
Tromping on the throttle in transition would be a tonic for an offense that finished in the league's bottom five in both pace and points last year. But even without the ultimate creator in
"The flaw in the past is that I'd stop working on it during the season," said Chandler, who averaged 8.8 points and shot 57.9 percent at the foul line last season. "This year I'll keep working. I need to be able to make my free throws."
Maybe it's the toe worries, or his struggles last season, or the feeling that the Thunder know personnel better than the Bobcats in recent years, but Chandler's move to Charlotte is flying beneath the radar this offseason. However, with Diaw and
"This team came close last year," Chandler said. "This season I definitely think we can make some noise. But we've got to understand that we don't win those [playoff-deciding] games in April; we win them [working hard] in training camp."
Of course, one of the keys to the Bobcats' camp is how hard Chandler will be able to go. But if his feet don't fail him now, discount Chandler at your own risk.
Here are four other players who, like Chandler, have a good chance to exceed expectations this season: