Jason Terry lobbies for Tyson Chandler’s return to the Mavs

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Tyson Chandler shocked the known basketball world yesterday with an acknowledgement that he doesn’t expect to be back with the title-winning Dallas Mavericks next season. For a variety of reasons, the Mavs have reportedly underwhelmed Chandler with their offers thus far, and their starting center — and the key to their half-court defense — could walk in free agency as a result.

Yet the Mavs’ Jason Terry will be there through every step of the process, whispering in Chandler’s ear and insisting he return back to the team that made him a champion. From Jeff Caplan of ESPN Dallas:

“You can’t see my fingers or toes, but they are crossed hoping Tyson’s coming back because he was a big part to what we have accomplished here,” Terry said. “And, we’ve laid a foundation. To go back and take a step backwards would be terrible. Not saying that we wouldn’t have a chance to win this year if Tyson does not come back, but definitely puts things up against us.”

…”I’ve spoken to him every day for the last two weeks and he wants to be here, he wants to be a Maverick next year,” Terry said. “Now, it’s on ownership to make it happen.”

…Terry said he’s been actively recruiting Chandler to stay in Dallas. The 7-foot-1 center who finished third in last season’s voting for Defensive Player of the Year is considered a top-three free agent with Denver Nuggets center Nene and New Orleans Hornets power forward David West.

“He’s big. Again, without Tyson on this team last year I just don’t know if we win a championship,” Terry said. “It’s just letting him know how much we want him to be a part of this team this year.”

Chandler’s on-court impact is both significant and highly visible; it was easy to see the difference he made with the Mavs last season, and GMs around the league are trying to bottle that same defensive impact for their teams. If Dallas were fully committed to the preserving their championship core, Chandler’s departure wouldn’t be a very realistic possibility.

But Chandler and the Mavs are caught in a tricky situation. There is a desire on both sides to keep Chandler in Dallas, and the two-year buffer preceding the new luxury tax penalties kick in would theoretically allow the Mavs to retain Chandler and sort out the tax implications later. Yet with Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson looking to manage Dallas’ cap room for 2012 and drive the payroll back towards the tax line, Chandler could be left with an insufficient offer from his incumbent team.

Cuban and Nelson are doing their best to balance championship contention in the coming season and the construction (or at least attempted construction) of a competitive core for the coming decade. Chandler — and the massive contract he’s soon to sign, in Dallas or elsewhere — just so happens to be the key piece that will push the Mavericks down one path or the other.