With the NBA a bit short on Dwight Howards these days, the prototype for an effective center has shifted to a slightly more attainable model: Tyson Chandler. The Mavericks’ center anchored an impressive half-court defense that could switch from man-to-man to zone and back effortlessly and fluidly, and has for the moment Chandler has become exactly the kind of mobile, athletic big man that any team would love to have.
Coincidentally, those very teams will have their chance to chase Chandler, an unrestricted free agent, this off-season. From Marc Stein of ESPN.com:
Besides big-spending rivals such as Miami and New York that sources say would love to try to steal Chandler from the Mavs if they had any financial flexibility, sources likewise indicate that at least two teams projected to have some salary-cap space in the NBA’s new frontier — Sacramento and Toronto — are already making plans to go hard after Chandler when they are finally granted that opportunity.
The good news for Dallas is that Chandler, by all accounts, wants to stay in Big D and would presumably have little interest at this point in playing for any team that isn’t in the championship mix. The teams with the lowest projected payrolls for next season (Sacramento, Indiana, New Jersey, Washington, Los Angeles Clippers and Toronto) are all lottery teams.
Free agency rests on a somewhat faulty premise; the teams with cap space are typically those coming off of poor seasons, and thus have the means to sign players but little else in the way of a lure. There are obvious exceptions — market, talented young players, prominent roles, and piles of money can bring great players to not-so-great teams — but for the most part we’ve seen quality players sign with teams in a position of strength.
Chandler would make a lot of sense for a team like the Kings or the Raptors. Both are aching for the kind of smart interior defense that Chandler provides, to say nothing of his leadership and intensity. Unfortunately, as Stein mentions, that likely won’t be enough. Fit is incredibly important when it comes to potential free agent signings, but it’s more of a facilitator than a motivator. Most big-minute players won’t sign with teams that aren’t ready to grant them immediate playing time, and while that puts franchises like Sacramento and Toronto in the running from a need standpoint, it doesn’t do much to balance the stink that surrounds non-playoff teams.
A return to Dallas is hardly certain for Chandler, but it’s considerably more likely than the possibility of him signing with an up-and-coming club. The Kings and Raps can daydream all they’d like about how a long, athletic center would change everything for them, but they’ll likely have to find that misleadingly rare commodity elsewhere.