Just one summer ago, the mere idea of dealing Chandler would have seemed preposterous. In his first season as a Knick, he nearly averaged a double-double per game, led the league by shooting an extraordinary 68 percent from the field and took home the 2011-12 Defensive Player of the Year award.
He wasn't the best big man in the NBA by any stretch of the imagination, but he was exactly what New York needed from its center: an interior force on the defensive end who could clean up a shaky unit's mistakes, an absolute monster rolling to the hoop and a strong leader on the floor and in the locker room.
This was the guy the Knicks signed for their iteration of the Big Three formula, but it wasn't what they got last season.
If 2011-12 was Tyson's best showing as a pro—an elaboration on his breakthrough play the year before with the NBA champion Dallas Mavericks—then the final stretch of 2012-13 was a regression to old struggles.
Namely, that meant he was banged up.
The main injury was a bulging disc that first caused him to miss games in March but was clearly affecting him at least a month earlier.
Before the All-Star break, Chandler averaged 11.4 points and 11.1 rebounds per game while hitting 67 percent of his field-goal attempts. Those numbers, along with his defensive prowess, earned him his first career All-Star nod.
Shortly thereafter, his back started to act up, and the drop-off was noticeable.
Chandler looked stiff and immobile on the court, preventing him from playing help D and attacking the rim like the Knicks needed him to. He fell below double digits in both points and rebounds, and most damning, he hit only half his shots in the second half of the season.
That second half lasted only 16 games; better to rest Tyson in anticipation of the playoffs than let him be a liability prior to it.
Because of the arrival of Kenyon Martin—another active big who could finish strong at one end and protect the rim at the other—the Knicks didn't miss a beat in Chandler's absence. In fact, when New York ripped off its 13-game winning streak near the end of the schedule, Tyson appeared in just four of the victories.
Perhaps he would have sat even more if not for his "walking wounded" teammates in the frontcourt.
Ironically, no Knicks big played more than Chandler's 66 games in 2012-13. Martin was a late pickup, Rasheed Wallace went down in December, Amar'e Stoudemire and Kurt Thomas were hurt for multiple extended stints and Marcus Camby was essentially a non-factor due to health as well as ability (lack thereof).
Come playoff time, Chandler and Martin were the only viable inside players at the Knicks' disposal, and the latter ended up being the better performer—doing the job at a slim fraction of the former's $14 million price tag.
Now New York has a deeper, more talented and more versatile unit.
Martin is back, STAT is healthy (for now), Andrea Bargnani and Metta World Peace can add some different offensive looks without sacrificing too much size, while C.J Leslie and Jeremy Tyler provide much-needed youthful athleticism.
So the question essentially is: Couldn't Chandler's hefty salary be better spent elsewhere?
The realistic answer is "no" for two reasons: He's a proven two-way All-Star when at full-strength, and it would be impossible to get equal value for him in a trade.
As currently constructed, the Knicks need a player exactly like Chandler at the center position. When healthy, there is no more efficient scorer in the league, and he plays elite defense both on and especially off the ball.
Look at it this way: New York wouldn't fare as well with Marc Gasol, who is every bit the defender Chandler is and is a more varied offensive threat, than it would with its incumbent center at his best, simply because of the fit. If the Knicks offered that straight-up swap, the Memphis Grizzlies would hang up on them.
But even if he were available, Gasol would be a rough fit in New York anyway. He is partial to the high post and serves as a pick-and-pop shooter, which would hurt the Knicks' perimeter spacing and disrupt their flow on offense.
There's no doubt Gasol is the better player right now, but Chandler's skill set is just deceptively rare.
Great rim-protectors are few and far between; those who do exist are unable to pull off Chandler's single-minded commitment to the roll on offense due to their explosiveness, their instincts or their desire. Gasol is too earthbound, Larry Sanders is too raw and Dwight Howard is too smitten with the post-up.
Now, that all holds true if Chandler is able to perform as he did for the first half of his All-Star season. If not, you can't move a damaged center with an eight-figure salary and expect to get anything of value. It's that simple.
Furthermore, you can only deal Chandler if you expect K-Mart to carry the load as the team's primary post defender in his stead. Though he pulled it off late last season, Martin is five years older and four inches shorter; asking him to play that role for 82 games and beyond is out of the question.
So the Knicks' best bet is to stick with Chandler as the head of their frontcourt. Worst-case scenario, they have more talent behind him to pick up the slack this time around. On the other hand, he could restore his reputation as one of the best centers in the NBA.
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