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Player Preview: Will Tyson Chandler give us déjà vu?

Tyson Chandler is back in Dallas. We're trying to be just cautiously optimistic but the excitement is hard to contain.

A match made in heaven?
A match made in heaven?
Ronald Martinez

Oh Tyson, we hardly knew ye.

Waitaminnit...yes we did. In fact, in the short time you were here, we got to know you so well we wept when you left. Because you know...the ring...precious.

Tyson Chandler came to the Mavericks after the team's 20 years of mediocrity at center. While other Texas teams enjoyed big men such as David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon, Dallas fans were dealt Shawn Bradley. Not since James Donaldson in the late ‘80's did the Mavericks have a consistent presence in the middle who could rebound, defend and score a few points and ironically, when Tyson arrived, the Mavs had already obtained Brendan Haywood to be their new starting center.

The history of the Mavs' centers since Donaldson is a little nerve-wracking and when Tyson left, it regressed. Chris Kaman came in with great promise that went unfulfilled, while his successor Samuel Dalembert never garnered any unrealistic expectations and certainly didn't outperform the modest ones we had.

Tyson won the hearts and minds of Mavs' fans for nearly every possible reason. He provided all the things the Mavericks had been missing in a center for years: excellent defense on a consistent basis, rebounding and enough offense to bolster the team's chronically below-average inside game. All that came with an on-the-court and in-the-locker room persona that was charismatic and the combination helped the Mavs win their first NBA Championship.

No sincere effort was made to keep the title team together and the Mavs slid for two successive years before returning to relevance last season. Rare in the NBA does a team get a do-over and this isn't exactly that but they will have a second chance to fix what many certainly believe was a mistake and, as I live and breathe, Mark Cuban kinda sorta admitted himself.

Looking at last year

One warning sign that Tyson brought along with him during his first tour of duty in Dallas was an injury history that had contributed to his semi-journeyman status and not being considered an established elite big man. Similarly, while during the Championship run he appeared in 74 games, he has not appeared in more than 66 games since.

Last season in New York, just one year removed from winning Defensive Player of the Year, he again struggled with injuries, missing six weeks with a broken leg and apparently had issues with some of his teammates' play. His frustration allegedly led to friction within the organization and suggestions that he was not only not who he had been previously on the court but also not the same person in the locker room. Much to Tyson's chagrin, Phil Jackson suggested trading Tyson back to Dallas was as much about changing team chemistry as what we might have otherwise suspected: creating cap space, dumping Raymond Felton and his salary or obtaining a point guard suited to the triangle offense such as José Calderón.

So the atmosphere of Tyson's return to Dallas has a tinge of irrational exuberance from the locals somewhat offset by suggestions that he isn't the player he was in 2011. Whether his issues were physical or emotional or a combination of both, it is a simple fact that his PER dropped, as well as per 36 points, field goal percentage and offensive rebounding numbers falling to their lowest levels since his stint in Charlotte just before he first came to Dallas.

Best case scenario

This one is pretty simple: in the best of all possible worlds we get a repeat of what we had in the past. Tyson is older but not old, so his return brings similar success. He is happier playing in Dallas, motivated and stays healthy thanks to the Mavs' great training staff and well-managed minutes supported by capable backups Greg Smith and Brandan Wright. His defense is stellar and he provides an inside threat in the starting lineup. He also helps as he has in the past as an emotional leader and his mentoring facilitates Chandler Parsons, Smith and Aminu's growth so the Mavs become an elite defensive team not only in the post but on the wings as well.

The team goes deep into the playoffs and perhaps even to the Finals.

Worst case scenario

The Russian Roulette of Tyson's injury history bites and Tyson misses significant amounts of time. His backups might be up to the task but Smith and Wright struggle with injuries as well and the Mavs end relying too heavily on Sarge and Jermaine O'Neal...or somesuch.

Second verse, same as the first?

Giddy? Yup. That's what most Mavs fans are at the thought of Tyson Chandler on this team again...more so than most were at the idea of getting Dwight Howard. Why? Because Tyson "fits" and the results the first time were as good as it gets. That wasn't nearly as likely with D12, who has had his share of drama both with Orlando and the Lakers.

The Rockets' Daryl Morey questioned whether the Mavericks believed in chemistry when they broke up the title team and Mark Cuban has said he has learned from his mistakes, which would seem to indicate that he realized that the title team was greater than the sum of its parts and Tyson was the primary reason not named Dirk Nowitzki.

Tyson was essentially a perfect match then, so the expectations are high that the results will be similar and they certainly can be, although plenty of observers in the national media have been somewhat pessimistic of his chances of staying healthy and performing at the same level 3 years later. With confidence based on past experience and his own delight at being back in Big D, there is no reason to believe that Tyson won't be excited and highly motivated to move past whatever frustration and lack of enthusiasm (real or perceived) plagued him last year. So far, things are looking up: Tyson has indicated he feels fantastic and onlookers are saying it does indeed resemble a flashback to 2011.

Regardless of what happens, Tyson's contract will expire once again at the end of the season and Mark Cuban will have a chance to see how this version of Dirk, Tyson & friends performs. Armed with that history, he can make an informed decision about what path to follow after Tyson's second first year and as they say, then it's a whole new ball game.