Chandler Chose Hometown Team to 'Give the Most'
Tyson Chandler has the NBA championship ring, Olympic gold medal and high enough esteem throughout the league to be able to declare it. When he does, it’s not so much boasting as it is categorizing himself: “I’m a winner. I love winning.”
Nevertheless, after initially leaning toward joining the Golden State Warriors last month, Chandler passed on that opportunity. He declined the chance to be a part of the defending champions who are widely favored and even outright expected by some this season to win a fourth NBA title in five years. Chandler, 36, made the decision even at a time when he projects he has only “a year or so” left in his career.
Instead, Chandler chose the Lakers.
He did so in large part because of the mentor in him. He knew a lot about the Lakers’ young players, and what he knew stirred his spirit inside.
Lonzo Ball was like Chandler, an L.A. prep legend trying to fulfill a destiny, and Chandler wanted to help guide Ball toward his best self without having to leave home the way Chandler did. Brandon Ingram and Chandler share an agent, Jeff Schwartz, so Chandler knew about all about Ingram’s work ethic and potential. Kyle Kuzma went to prep school with Chandler’s brother, so long before they became Lakers teammates, Kuzma had already peppered Chandler with questions about how to survive and succeed as a pro.
“Honestly, I was leaning more towards Golden State at the beginning. Just because that’s kind of you know what you’re getting,” Chandler said. “I’m also close with a couple of the guys over there. But when I sat back and thought about my legacy, I’m like, ‘What would mean more to me?’ ”
Chandler is confident he would’ve had an impact on a Golden State team still seeking solidity in the paint, no matter how often they like to play a small lineup or how good DeMarcus Cousins could be in his return from an Achilles tear.
Tyson stretching out during pregame warmups
“Of course I could’ve been a help there; I feel like I could be a help anywhere I go,” Chandler said. “But for me, this was the bigger obstacle, and to me it would mean more to win here. This is where I’m from, and then there was watching Magic [Johnson] while I was younger, and then getting the chance to compete with LeBron [James] and appreciating everything he stands for on and off the court.”
Yet it wasn’t until a conversation with longtime friend Jerry Lorenzo that Chandler switched to the Lakers. Chandler had consulted with his agent and his wife, but just hearing Lorenzo listing the pros to each scenario—even without bias—gave Chandler clarity.
Chandler was calling Lorenzo simply to inform the fashion designer that Chandler was having his contract bought out by the Suns so he wouldn’t be wearing the Lorenzo’s Nike Air Fear of God 1 sneakers in a game, as they’d planned. Chandler wasn’t reaching out for advice, but it grabbed hold of him.
“It honestly was the conversation that swayed me,” Chandler said. “Hearing somebody who is from L.A., somebody I knew who was just giving me the outside opinion, he represents my family and friends and everybody that I know through L.A. I was like, ‘It’s a no-brainer at this point.’ ”
That’s how Chandler came to be on one side and not the other Tuesday as the Lakers face the Warriors for the NBA’s marquee Christmas game. The Lakers could sure use him after he missed their Sunday loss to Memphis with back spasms.
Quite a long time after he was drafted but immediately traded by the Clippers back in 2001, Chandler joined the Lakers to play, teach and build.
Here’s how he sums it up: “Generate something I feel like can carry on way beyond me—in my hometown.”
After the Lakers made him the 27th pick of the 2017 NBA draft, Kuzma went to work out with Chandler. Kuzma would eventually spend that rookie season placing the words “draft steal” on the lips of every NBA analyst. Now this season, Kuzma is growing his all-around game to be even greater.
“I never would’ve seen it coming,” Chandler said, laughing. “I didn’t see it before the draft. I didn’t see it after he worked out.”
In retrospect, Chandler does remember the thirst for knowledge that Kuzma unpacked as if he could study for the final even before the first day of school.
“I should’ve known, because when we worked out, he did nothing but ask questions the whole time,” Chandler said. “And not even just about my workouts, but about the vitamins I take, my regimen, everything. He wanted to know everything.
“I should’ve known that he would end up being a good player. I don’t know if I could’ve predicted what he’s becoming, but I love it, because he’s an incredible dude. He’s what you would want on your team.”
Kuzma’s work ethic, according to Chandler, goes with the inquisitive ambition and talent for the game.
Kuzma rises for a dunk against New Orleans
“He works so hard. That’s what I respect about him,” Chandler said. “Kuz is like a Swiss Army knife. You could just place Kuz on any team, anywhere, and Kuz would have success. He’s just one of those guys who is super-fundamental, super-skilled, continuing to tighten the screws on all of his abilities, fun to play with. The game just seems like it comes to him easy.”
Chandler has come to admire the intangibles Josh Hart, another of the Lakers’ youngsters, brings to the team. Hart and Ingram offer potential on defense that Chandler, who has built most of his career at that end, can appreciate.
On one of the final possessions Friday night, Ingram got switched to defend New Orleans’ Anthony Davis in front of the Lakers’ bench. Rajon Rondo and Chandler were sitting there together, and it was practically a competition between the two to see which veteran could yell out more help to Ingram—Rondo going first on Ingram’s positioning, Chandler following up once Davis got the ball. Ingram got the stop; the Lakers got the victory.
Rondo has been a natural positional mentor for Ball, but Ball and Chandler might be the kindred spirits. Besides the local connection and accompanying hype both have lived through, Chandler became a professional master at the little things in the game—little things Ball is already doing despite Chandler saying Ball has “all the talent and capability in the world.”
Kuz is like a Swiss Army knife. You could just place Kuz on any team, anywhere, and Kuz would have success.Tyson Chandler
Chandler played with Jason Kidd on the 2010-11 NBA champion Mavericks, and Kidd was invaluable for that team despite averaging 7.9 points on 36.1 percent field-goal shooting (and having lost most of the natural speed from his youth).
“As far as the way you can impact the game, the only guy I played with like that is Jason Kidd, because he didn’t have to score,” Chandler said. “He could just control the game with his passing, by his playmaking, by his rebounding, by his defense. Floor general. I think those are what Lonzo’s capabilities are. He has to go there.
“He’s finding himself right now. This is all different territory. Playing with me, playing with Rondo, playing with LeBron. It’s all different territory for a young guy trying to find his voice. So, I just try to encourage him to be himself.
“Keep searching for that voice. Keep being the leader that you are. I know it’s there. The instincts are there. It’s inside you. Keep growing. Every time you step out on the court, gain a little more respect. Get a little more belief in yourself. I ultimately think he’s going to be the one who is going to take us to the next level.”
Part of Chandler’s mentoring is driven by that aforementioned desire to win.
“The more knowledge your teammates have,” he said, “the better chance you have to win.”
As in so many areas of life, however, in mentoring you’ve got to be willing to do what you do for the righteousness, not the results.
“As your game starts to change and as the game has evolved and gone in a different direction, you still want to be out there, and when you can’t give as much as you could on the court, you give even more vocally or in helping out youngsters and doing all that kind of stuff,” Chandler said. “For me, I try to give the game back as much as it has given me—by any way. My play, encouragement, passing knowledge, whatever it is.”
This time with this team, right now in this city he wants to help rise up more than any other, is Chandler’s best chance. It’s his chance to meld what he learned as a young player in Chicago, New Orleans and Charlotte with the leadership that crystallized in his soul that championship season in Dallas, plus what he has practiced passing down to teammates thereafter in New York, Dallas (again) and Phoenix.
For me, I try to give the game back as much as it has given me—by any way. My play, encouragement, passing knowledge, whatever it is.Tyson Chandler
The Suns were far from contention throughout his three-plus years there, but Chandler pushed those youngsters to believe everything they were doing was leading toward gold. The Lakers are seeing James, Rondo and Chandler doing that with these youngsters who relish learning. McGee, coming off two championship seasons with Golden State, was out with illness Friday, but he instructed 21-year-old spot starter Ivica Zubac to study video of Davis’ and Julius Randle’s recent missed shots to learn how to defend them.
“He was texting me all night long, preparing me for this, and really helped me,” Zubac said after a stellar 32-minute night that began with Chandler lightening the mood in the layup line with Zubac to get him to loosen up.
So much is said or written about how critical it is for the Lakers’ youth to develop as quickly as possible, yet the truth is that it’s not just the coaches and management pushing that process forward. Peer voices are often the most powerful ones.
“After winning the championship, I understood what it takes, and then every team I’ve been on since, it’s been encouraging and pushing guys to that limit, because once you get a taste of being a champion, there’s nothing else left,” Chandler said. “It’s like championship or nothing then. Every time you get on the court, that’s what you’re trying to build for. That’s what I’m trying to do in my time here.”
Even with that championship mindset, Chandler passed on being an addition to the Warriors.
He wanted to build with the Lakers.
“It’s the importance of who I am,” Chandler said, “and where I can give the most.”
Kevin Ding is an independent sports writer and the statements and views expressed by him do not necessarily represent the views of the Los Angeles Lakers.
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