“It’s crazy, because I’ve had my ups and downs in my spots. It seems like, in this league, it’s always what you’ve done in the last year,” Chandler said a recent interview. “I had great years in Chicago, had three or four great years, had one bad year and then all of those years are forgotten. Then I had three good years in New Orleans, had one bad year in Charlotte and then all those years were forgotten. Then I came to Dallas, had a great year and then signed a free agent deal in New York, got defensive player of the year, all-star, all-NBA, didn’t make the playoffs and then all those years are forgotten. It’s what you did last year. So this year, I just have to have a great year.”
Chandler is back in Dallas because his first season with the Mavericks will never be forgotten. It ended with the team beating the Miami Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals and helped Chandler earn a four-year, $58-million contract. But Chandler had to get that pay day in New York instead of Dallas because Mavericks owner Mark Cuban gambled on having cap space in 2012 instead of keeping a championship team together for another run.
Cuban has since admitted his mistake in letting Chandler walk and the 7-foot-1 center is amused that the Mavericks made a huge trade to ensure that he spends the final year of his deal playing with the team that initially refused to pay him.
“It wasn’t typical,” Chandler, 32, said with a grin. “Clearly when a team doesn’t sign you and goes back and gets you in a trade, you know you’re valued. To me, it showed their appreciation for what I did the year I was here.”
The Mavericks hope that Chandler can return to being the defensive anchor that the team has lacked since he departed. “It’s great to have him back,” Dallas Coach Rick Carlisle said. “He’s still playing at an extremely high level, athletically and everything else. He’s one of our leaders. He injects energy in everything we’re doing, which really helps.”
Dirk Nowitzki is the only player left from that title-winning team but Carlisle is still around with a defensive scheme that is more effective and respected than what Chandler had grown accustomed in New York, where he often had to just clean up for his teammates’ mistakes.
“I’m a much more mature player, understanding the moment. A lot more confident,” Chandler said. “First time I came through, I was really trying to establish myself and find my place, but I understand what I bring to my team. And a lot of times, even going back to that year I was here, there was times when I didn’t want to step on toes when I felt like certain things needed to be said but I’m at a point in my career when I just want to win. So whatever needs to be done, I’m going to be do it regardless.”
Though excited about getting a second chance with Dallas, Chandler wasn’t satisfied with what happened in New York. He claimed defensive player of the year honors in 2012 and made the all-star team and all-NBA team and helped the Knicks win their first division title in 19 years in 2013. But his partnership with Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire failed miserably and proved to be clunky and ill-conceived the rare times that injuries or poor chemistry prohibited them from sharing the floor.
“Very disappointing,” Chandler said of his time with Anthony and Stoudemire. “I thought we had the potential to be one of the most dominant front lines of all time. But for whatever reason, it didn’t work out that way.”
About two weeks after the Knicks dealt him to Dallas, Chandler reached out to Anthony in an effort to convince to join the Mavericks in free agency.
“It wasn’t strong,” Chandler said with a laugh. “I didn’t ever think he was coming. I didn’t think Carmelo was ever leaving New York. I talked to him because it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t. But I never thought he was going anywhere. I thought if anywhere he was going it was to the Lakers. But when the Lakers didn’t have a strong enough roster to tempt him, I didn’t think he was going to leave.”
The Mavericks’ roster might not have been tempting to Anthony, either, but Chandler is intrigued by what the team can accomplish this season with Nowitzki, Monta Ellis and newcomer Chandler Parsons. Dallas pushed the champion San Antonio Spurs harder than any opponent last postseason but doesn’t enter the season with much hype or expectation to win another title.
“That’s a good thing, though,” Chandler said. “I hope it stays that way, to be honest. Because it gives us an opportunity to focus and build what we need to build in house before you start grabbing all of that attention. Because that’s the worst. When you get that and you haven’t accomplished anything. And we can’t off what we accomplished three years ago.
“We have the potential” to be really good, he said. “But potential is nothing without putting in the work. It’s all about the day to day. It’s all about coming in here to grind. We’re a very talented team on paper, but I’ve learned that that means nothing. It’s about us putting in the work and creating that bond and trust in each other.”
Chandler arrived in Dallas seemingly as damaged goods in 2010, so undervalued that was traded three times in less than 18 months – including a deal to Oklahoma City was rejected after he failed to get medical clearance from the Thunder’s team doctors – and could be had for the low low price of Erick Dampier’s expiring contract.
Four years later, Chandler is out with show once again “that I got it. That’s still the case. I don’t think you ever lose that, as an athlete coming back here,” he said. “Now, same thing. Still showing people my value and my worth. The way to do that, is by winning.”