Posted Oct 2 2010 11:07AM
DALLAS - -- Asked who the other top contenders were in the Western Conference, Mitch Kupchak started with the Mavericks. During an appearance on NBA TV's "Real Training Camp," the Lakers general manager meandered through a few more teams before getting back to those Mavericks.
Kupchak's reasoning centered on the additions made by Dallas this past offseason. None of those additions was any bigger than the one made at center.
Kupchak put more stock in the Chandler trade than those around Dallas. Looking for a splash of LeBron proportions -- as if that was gonna happen -- Mavs fans weren't exactly enthused when the Erick Dampier chip was flipped for another backup center.
Sure, Chandler is an obvious upgrade over the immobile Dampier, even if Tyson is coming off several years of subpar health. It's just that so much was made of Dampier's immediately-expiring contract, plus the other assets on Dallas' roster, that visions of grandeur danced before the eyes of Mavericks Nation.
They knew that LeBron James and Dwyane Wade weren't going to happen, but what about Joe Johnson? Instead, the Mavs replaced Dampier with Chandler in the big man tandem alongside Brandon Haywood. Boring? Maybe.
But the likes of Kupchak understand exactly what USA Basketball's starting center brings. So do the Mavericks.
"The Chandler trade, we believe, is going to be very important for us -- athleticism, youth, energy," said Rick Carlisle, in his third year as Mavericks coach. "I really love what he did in the World Championships. He played effectively, but during the games, if you watched closely, he was kind of the spiritual leader of the team."
Carlisle spoke of intangibles. Of halftime talks in the locker room. Of encouraging teammates. Of resourcefulness and commitment to winning. All good stuff, especially from a coach's perspective. But with Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd in the fold, the Mavericks weren't in the market for more leadership.
They need more impact players. Chandler was one not so long ago. So if he's going to help Dallas rebound from first-round disaster and compete with the two-time champs, and everyone else, he needs to prove his worth on the court, too. The Chandler that terrorized the Mavericks in the 2008 playoffs with New Orleans has largely done MIA the last two seasons due to ankle and foot injuries.
He says he's over that now, which makes sense considering injured players don't join national teams. He's also in a contract year. We all know what that means. Chandler, 28 on Saturday, is just looking to get back to showcasing his once double-double talent.
"Last year, obviously, coming off of surgery was a tough year for me," he said. "And a lot of times, a lot of people just remember the 'now.' They don't remember things that you've done in your previous years. I look forward to getting back, I feel great, and when I feel great, I feel like there's not many guys in this league that can play the way that I play."
Though he's technically playing behind Haywood, Carlisle expects to use a true twin-tower approach in the middle. The Mavs have done so in recent years, with Haywood-Dampier and Dampier-Gana Diop the most recent duos.
The latest incarnation has potential to be the most effective combo at a position that's largely been a weakness in Dallas since James Donaldson roamed the paint more than two decades ago. Chandler and Haywood have obvious physical talents, though neither has ever sniffed an All-Star locker room despite the dearth of quality centers in the league today.
Whether or not they're underachievers, the Mavs envision their 7-footers being a strength when battling the long frontlines powerhouses such as the Lakers and Spurs can put on the floor.
"Chandler is more of a runner and a leaper and a finisher," Carlisle said. "Brendan's a little wider, more physical. But they're both very mobile and they both bring things to the team that we really need at both ends."
Chandler and Haywood were engulfed in a budding rivalry/feud early in their careers that's worn off over the years. Now they're teammates, and expected to push each other in practice and pick up the slack for one another in games.
"I didn't know him very well except competing, and normally big guys don't really like each other," Chandler said. "You know, it gets physical down there. So I was excited for the opportunity to play with a guy like Brendan, even though we've had our battles.
"He's always been a guy I've respected, because he always brings defensive intensity and he shows up every night. As a big guy, from another big guy, you can respect that. And I've always said that he's one of the more solid big guys in our league."
The Mavericks need Chandler to be the same. If he is, Kupchak won't be the only one noticing.
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