Tyson Chandler is going to become a New York Knick, and we're having a hard time remembering a time when we've rooted so hard for a player to turn his reputation around.
Chandler's reputation as injury-prone is well-earned, but it's not truly "earned," if you grok. He takes care of himself. He's a great teammate. His attitude has always been exemplary. He's being rewarded with a contract around $58 million over four years for doing the little things -- because this isn't a guy that gobbles up blocked shots and big rebounds for show. He follows guards. He meets penetrators. He gets the good defensive stats, but he plays great defense and denies himself the chance at major defensive stats.
His body pays the toll, though, bro. He's played just 662 out of a possible 820 NBA career games, and you can't assume that coach's decision played a role in any of that, because Chandler was handed a huge role on the Chicago Bulls (playing 71 games) right out of high school. He's just 28, heading into his ostensible prime, but he's also a 10-year vet. I don't know which way to go on this.
We know which way we want him to go. We want him spiraling around Madison Square Garden, shaking off driving guards while somehow managing to keep a hip attached to the center he's been charged with guarding. We want him standing in the way when Amar'e Stoudemire gets beat and goes for the block from behind. We'd like him making up for Toney Douglas' attempts at going for the steal some 50 feet from the hoop.
And in theory, paying Tyson Chandler around $15 million to play basketball when he's 32 should be well worth the price, considering that the Knicks will be allowed to feature Tyson Chandler playing basketball for them when he's 29, 30, and 31. Again, these should be his prime years.
We just don't know, with Tyson. One strained back. One iffy fall on those toes of his. One make-up dive when his matador teammates miss their cues. Sixteen missed games a season, five teams, one rescinded trade to Oklahoma City (after Chandler failed a physical due to a bum toe that apparently is just fine, now), and a decade's worth of cleaning up the messes of others … this adds up.
The addition adds up for New York. They need a defensive presence badly, and Amar'e Stoudemire (coming off a killer year) will thrive playing alongside Chandler. That's the 2011-12 version of this.
Beyond that? This is tough. The team is essentially writing itself out of having a chance at any of the major 2012 free agents (Chris Paul, presumably, along with Deron Williams and Dwight Howard), while dumping Chauncey Billups and Ronny Turiaf along the way. Douglas can play the point, sort of, but Stoudemire will be hurting now that his pick-and-roll partner has left the building.
Amar'e and Carmelo Anthony can certainly score on their own, but Stoudemire hasn't had to rough it without a competent point man since a short stint with Leandro Barbosa running the show in Phoenix following the Stephon Marbury trade to the Knicks during the 2003-04 season. Yes, Raymond Felton is competent. I'll admit it.
And unless the team is keen to trade Stoudemire next summer, this is it for New York. The frontcourt will be loaded with enviable scoring punch and defensive know-how, but that comes at a price totaling around $52 million a year between Chandler, Stoudemire and Anthony. That leaves around $6 million under the cap to find 12 other spots, never mind two other starters. If the Knicks dump Billups and Ronny Turiaf to clear room for Chandler's contract, as expected, the team will be over the cap with just nine players on the roster -- including luminaries such as Andy Rautins, Renaldo Balkman and Derrick Brown.
This is the price that you pay for competency in the middle, apparently. Something the Knicks have been searching for since dealing Patrick Ewing to Seattle in September of 2000. Chandler, at his best, is one of the best. He changes games defensively in ways that can't be measured by the 1.1 blocks per game he averaged last season.
Even at his best, though, this is a risky move. New York wouldn't have it any other way, it seems.