Chandler looking to make that next step
“I’m old by NBA years, but I’m still young,” Chandler said, laughing.
Young and improving.
Chandler went right from his high school to the NBA, which is why he’s now in his seventh season, but has plenty of tread left on the tires.
And he also has peace of mind, one season removed from an up-and-down five-year stint in Chicago in which he never could live up to the considerable hype.
In Chicago, Chandler and Eddy Curry both arrived the same year, each directly from high school and it was supposed to be the twin tower tandem that would rock the NBA.
Instead, both have prospered from a chance of scenery, with Curry in New York.
The 7-foot-1 Chandler is far from considered the savior in New Orleans, but he is an integral part of what could be one of the most improved teams in the NBA.
And Chandler himself seems so much at ease while competing in the Big Easy after the team played most of the season last year in Oklahoma City.
“It was like a breath of fresh air, coming to a new organization, new teammates, new coaching and it kind of allowed me to step back from my situation a little and almost start over,” Chandler said. “It was definitely needed and obviously paid off.”
In his first season with the Hornets a year ago, it was no coincidence that Chandler set career highs in rebounding (12.4) and scoring (9.4).
This season as the Hornets won seven of their first nine games, Chandler was averaging a double-double – 11.2 points and 11.4 rebounds.
Chandler was traded from the Bulls for veteran PJ Brown and JR Smith (who was traded to Denver). Hornets coach Byron Scott had known Chandler since he was 17. Upon completion of the trade, Scott made Chandler feel both welcome and challenged.
“He wasn’t the same player I saw in high school during his last few years with the Bulls,” Scott said. “I knew he had a lot more potential.”
So Scott went about restoring Chandler’s confidence.
“The first thing I told him was that we were truly happy to have him because I thought he was one of the best defensive centers in the league,” Scott said.
Scott, who is never known for his subtle ways, then added, “But you should be a double-double guy.”
That point was also reinforced when Chandler was greeted by Hornets point guard Chris Paul during his first training camp with the Hornets in 2006.
“I remember the first day of training camp, he was like ‘I will screen and rebound for you,’ and I was like, ‘you will score for me,’” Paul recalled.
Chandler said the coaches and players put a hunger in him to tap his offensive potential.
“They let me know it was needed to go out and score for us to contend and win games,” Chandler said.
Chandler will never have to be a prolific scorer with the Hornets, especially with players such as Paul, the ever-improving David West, three-time All-Star Peja Stojakovic, newcomer Morris Peterson and key reserves Bobby Jackson and Rasual Butler. The Hornets have no shortage of players who look to take the big shot.
Still, Chandler is evolving into one of the better all-around centers in the Western Conference, one who could find himself having a home game during All-Star Weekend.
This year’s NBA All-Star Game on February 17 will be staged at New Orleans Arena and Chandler tries not to get ahead of himself, but can’t dodge the questions about the possibility of being a first-time participant this year.
“It would an incredible experience to represent my team in the city I play in,” Chandler said. “It would be my first All-Star game and would be the perfect setting.”
Paul, who stands an excellent chance of being a first-time All-Star in his home city, gives an admittedly biased endorsement to his teammate.
“Tyson should definitely be there,” Paul said.
This past summer Chandler competed for the U.S. in the Tournament of Americas, helping the American squad earn the gold medal and qualify for the 2008 Olympics. Chandler averaged 2.1 points, 3.6 rebounds in 8.3 minutes.
“It was an incredible experience and an honor to be named to the team,” Chandler said.
And Chandler is hoping for the opportunity to play in this summer’s Olympics for the U.S. team in China.
“I definitely would love to play for the Olympic team but after that experience it’s all about team and I think everybody buys into it and believes in it,” he said. “Regardless who they choose, I will be rooting and whatever they need me to do, I will do my part.”
Chandler, who played on two playoff teams with Chicago, said he always believed in himself, but was wondering if he’d ever meet the expectation that he, along with others, had set for himself.
“I’m not going to lie, the window started looking like a peep hole,” Chandler said. “It definitely was closing and starting to get frustrating for me. God does things in great ways and moved me a perfect time.”
By no means is Chandler a finished product. Scott still has to remind Chandler to be more assertive on the offensive end.
“It’s going to take him a little bit more time to get to that point (of being assertive all the time offensively), but I am extremely happy with Tyson,” Scott said. “He has come a long way in a short period of time and he is just going to get better.”
That could be the same description for the Hornets, who went 39-43 last year and flirted with playoff contention. This year, despite playing in the Southwest Division, the toughest in the NBA with the likes of San Antonio, Dallas and Houston, New Orleans is the type of team that nobody should relish playing either in the regular season or postseason.
“We have a great point guard, great shooters, great power forward by my side,” Chandler said. “Then you have me clogging up the paint. So they looked at every angle and built a great team.”
And one of the keys for the Hornets will be the continuing development of Chandler.
“I want to play with him the rest of my career,” Paul said. “I wouldn’t rather have another center in the NBA other than Tyson.”
Marc Narducci covers the NBA for the Philadelphia Inquirer and is a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com
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