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Looking back at Tyson Chandler's return to the Mavericks

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Taking a closer inspection at the season that was for defensive-minded big man Tyson Chandler.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Looking Back

Most Mavs fans won't require too much of a history lesson when it comes to Tyson Chandler.

Taken second overall in the 2001 NBA Draft as a part of Chicago's curious Twin Towers experiment(along with Eddy Curry, who would spend about five minutes as a Maverick himself on his way out of the league), Chandler saw his first taste of success with Chris Paul in New Orleans.  Dallas got an eyeful of what Tyson could do in the 2008 playoffs as he helped dispatch the Mavs convincingly with lob dunk after lob dunk.  Two years and an Erick Dampier trade later, the man affectionately referred to as "TY" would help the good guys capture the franchise's first title.

At the time, Dallas was coming to the end of a era with an aging core.  For years the Mavs had been a one-star team, led by a still-great Dirk Nowitzki and getting contributions from older role players, but with no true second banana to share the load with the big German.  As Kidd, Terry and Marion all started to slow down, Mark Cuban and the front office made it a priority to find a legitimate running mate for Dirk.  Without the aid of hindsight, it seemed there were several good candidates: hometown hero Deron Williams(who was seen in the locker room following one of the Mavs' final victories against the Heat), basketball genius Chris Paul, and the game's best center in Dwight Howard.  All had been linked to Dallas at one time or another, and there was even some loud rumors about a pair coming to help form a new big three along with Nowitzki.

That was the reasoning behind the decision to let Chandler go in free agency.  Of course, it all looks a little foolish now, because the second banana never did pick Dallas.  Instead, Mavs fans got to watch Tyson Chandler relocate to New York and immediately take home the Defensive Player of the Year award, while back at home Brendan Haywood bricked free throws and Chris Kaman started doomed one man fast breaks.

Things have a funny way of working themselves out, though.  An injury-plagued 2013-14 campaign with the Knicks(and perhaps some behind-the-scenes tension amid mounting losses and discussion over whether star forward Carmelo Anthony would stay) set the stage for an unlikely trade that made Tyson a Mav once more.

While Tyson Chandler's glory days of 2010 basking in championship afterglow probably feels like eons ago, for a few weeks at the start of this most recent season, it almost felt like yesterday.  Chandler brushed off the rust from his three year sabbatical in New York and fit in so seamlessly in Rick Carlisle's flow offense it was like he never left.  Dallas used TY more frequently than ever in pick and roll action and It really didn't matter who was throwing the ball up; Chandler was bringing it down, through the hoop.  He averaged a double-double in under 30 minutes in November, and Dallas was blowing out lesser opponents by 20 or 30 points.

At the other end, Tyson Chandler was every bit as good as one could have hoped for in the early going, helping to cover up for Dirk Nowitzki's lack of speed and providing a low-post stopper in the loaded Western Conference.  The seasons of watching inconsistent play of Samuel Dalembert and the aforementioned Brendan Haywood really made it that much clearer how special Chandler is.  Even without quite as much juice in his now 30-plus year old legs, Chandler's length, smarts, and hustle make him an impact defender.

There was a reason Dallas was able to reclaim Tyson for so small a price, and as the season wore on Dallas got a reality check on why that was.  Chandler's body started to wear down before the All-Star Break, and until Amare Stoudemire joined the team in mid February Dallas really didn't have an effective, true backup center to spell him.

In the playoffs, Tyson did as best he could, and held his own against a refreshed Dwight Howard, but with so much firepower on the other side Tyson could not hope to cover up for all the defensive holes on the Mav roster.  Chandler probably looked a little worse than he would have otherwise because of Houston's persistent exploitation of Dirk in the mid-to-high pick and roll, as the Rockets slipped big men along the baseline behind Chandler for a highlight reel's worth of lob dunks and uncontested layups.

Contract status: unrestricted free agent; made $14,596,888 in 2014-15

Looking Forward

As Yogi Berra said, it feels like de ja vu all over again.  Tyson Chandler is set to be a free agent, and -- despite an all-around terrific season -- the Dallas Mavericks are actively entertaining replacing him with a younger player or star caliber big, if they can lure such a person to town.  The only thing missing, sadly, is the championship.

Free agency has a way of making predictions look really, really stupid, but I have a feeling things will go slightly differently this time around.  Dallas will surely make their pitch to "name" players, like LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre Jordan and -- as has been recently discussed -- Marc Gasol.  When the dust clears, if Dallas comes up empty once again, perhaps this time they'll simply keep their guy.

And in the short term, that's no bad thing.  Let us not undersell Tyson: he is one of the game's best centers.  He just completed a season in which he was third at his position in real plus minus and WARP, and he posted career highs in PER and win shares.  For all the hooplah over DeAndre Jordan, Chandler rates as just as good or better in many defensive metrics(defensive plus-minus, opponent PER, etc.), and that says nothing about his importance in the locker room as a leader and communicator.

That does not necessarily mean Dallas is wrong to shop around, however.  Tyson Chandler will be 33 before the next season starts, and he has dealt with nagging injuries of varying degree for some time now.  A multi-year deal does not come without its share of risks, and while it would seem Dallas is mostly concerned about the next few years while Dirk Nowitzki is still active, it is highly advisable that Dallas start to think about developing a player who could take over after then.

Will Dallas finally land their prized fish, and send Tyson Chandler packing a second time?  That remains to be seen.  But if they don't, they could certainly do a lot worse than keep Tyson around Big D.