Suns beef up defense, leadership with Tyson Chandler
PHOENIX — In case there was any question, let there be no mistaking what Tyson Chandler’s role will be for the Phoenix Suns.
Defensive enforcer, rebounder, finisher and, when the occasional moment arises, the voice of god.
Chandler, 32, was introduced to the Phoenix media Thursday after signing a four-year contract that will pay the 14-year veteran $52 million.
For the Suns, the 2012 NBA Defensive Player of the Year brings interior toughness that has been in short supply. Maybe more important, however, is the leadership he brings to a young team that seemed to lose its way last season while seeing its win total fall from 48 to 39.
"The first thing that comes to mind when I think about Tyson Chandler is winning," Suns general manager Ryan McDonough said. "He’s always won everywhere he’s gone.
"And then on court, when you think of last year, we struggled with our rebounding, we struggled last year against some of the more physical guys in the post and in terms of our leadership and our experience. The more and more we started thinking about it going into free agency, he checked pretty much every box we were looking for."
For Chandler, the feeling was mutual. He said his primary checklist was coming to a team that had a chance to win, was looking for a veteran to mentor younger players, for an organization that emphasized a family atmosphere, in a city where he and his family could be comfortable.
The Suns were as close as a 100 percent match as he was going to find.
McDonough and coach Jeff Hornacek said they expect Chandler to step into the starting lineup at center while serving as a mentor to 22-year-old, third-year pro Alex Len. They also expect him to be a coach on the floor and a leader in the locker room. And that means occasionally telling his teammates what they won’t necessarily want to hear.
"I think guys know that I’m going to be honest with them and with myself, and I feel like if you want to be a winning team, a winning organization, you have to build that culture," Chandler said. "Athletes, a lot of times, you come into a situation where you kind of hear what you want to hear and not what you need to hear.
"The older you get in your career and you’re able to be around great vets like Jason Kidd, Dirk (Nowitzki), snd in my younger days, Antonio Davis, Charles Oakley, Scottie Pippen, you start to pick up things along the way. The older you get, it starts to come together and make sense.
"I try to pick my times, especially with younger guys, you don’t want to ride ’em too much, but I think it’s very important that you set a culture from day one, and that’s what I plan on doing."
If anyone is wondering if his new coach worries about the newcomer usurping his authority, think again.
"Almost every good team I’ve ever been on, you have somebody that’s going to get on guys, and you have players who accept that, too," Hornacek said. "They’re not going to say screw you Tyson, I’m not going to listen to you. They know he’s won a championship, they’re going to listen to him. And that’s what’s going to take us to the next level."
The 7-foot-1, 240-pound Chandler played last season with the Dallas Mavericks, avering 10.3 points, 11.5 rebounds and 1.2 blocked shots per game while shooting 66.6 percent form the field. His 14-year career has included stops with the Chicago Bulls, New Orleans Hornets, Charlotte Bobcats and New York Knicks in addition to two stops in Dallas, including the 2010-11 season in which the Mavericks won the NBA championship. His 59.1 career field-goal percentage is second best in NBA history for players with at least 2,000 baskets, behind only Hall of Famer Artis Gilmore.
Chandler said the Suns were on his short list prior to free agency, and after meeting with a Suns delegation at the very start of the negotiating period, his questions were answered.
"From the outside looking in, it’s always been a talented roster and group of young guys," Chandler said. "When you get to my position, you kind of look and say OK, where will I fit and where will I really make the most impact. Looking at the Phoenix Suns roster, and competing against them last year, they beat us three out of four times, I thought there was a lot of opportunity there, and it was a great place to come in and make my mark.
"I knew and understood before it started where I could see myself being."
Chandler said he intentionally wanted to make his decision early, so that he could help convince other free agents that the Suns were building toward something bigger. In this case, those efforts to lure LaMarcus Aldridge into the fold were unsuccessful, but Chandler said he had no misgivings.
"I wouldn’t say (there is) any disappointment," he said. "That’s free agency. When I made my decision, I made my decision solely for myself, looking at the roster and seeing what I can do for the team and the organization."