The Los Angeles Lakers re-shaped their roster over the summer by adding many new players, except they passed on signing a bonafide backup center or even a power forward with the size and strength to play in the middle.
Head coach Luke Walton started his third season with an approach of emulating the success of the Golden State Warrior’s small ball lineup. While Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr. might have been adequate substitutes for the Warriors’ Draymond Green, the strategy cannot succeed because the Lakers have no one who can shoot like Kevin Durant, Steph Curry or Klay Thompson.
Moreover, Randle and Nance are gone. After Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson met with Walton, in which he was critical of the team’s offense, while the head coach asked for help down low, Tyson Chandler was signed.
Beyond bringing size, Chandler is a former NBA Defensive Player of the Year, three time All-Defensive Team player and a champion. Chandler was available only because of a surprising, early season buy out of his contract by the Phoenix Suns, whose primary goal this year is to secure the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.
That Chandler did not finish the season with the Suns was unsurprising, that he was bought out the first month of the season was a big surprise. It sounds far-fetched, but speculation is that LeBron James called in a favor with Suns general manager James Jones, with whom he developed close ties while both played in Miami and Cleveland.
No matter how it happened, Chandler showed up in time to play in all three games this past week. It was not a coincidence that the Lakers won all three and at the moment have a winning record for the first time in two years.
Against Minnesota, Chandler played 22 minutes and provided stout defense. He grabbed nine rebounds as the Lakers avenged a loss to the Timberwolves earlier this season.
He came back in the next game and grabbed 12 rebounds in 23 minutes of win in a tough road game against the Sacramento Kings. Chandler and McGee rotated in and out of the game regularly, ensuring that both remained relative fresh.
With Chandler around, McGee no longer had to play 30 minutes a night, avoiding further wear and tear on his body.
The Lakers came right back and played the Atlanta Hawks the next night at Staples Center. The Sunday before, the team suffered its worst loss of the season in an ugly game against the Toronto Raptors.
Unfortunately, the way they played the following Sunday against the Hawks brought back the nightmare as the Lakers similarly struggled. Only this time they were playing a much worse team than the Raptors, which was the only reason they won.
Chandler had 5 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 steals and an assist in 21 minutes, but it was the very last play of the game which will be remembered.
When Trae Young beat Brandon Ingram off the dribble and appeared to be headed to the basket for the game-winning shot, Chandler jumped as high as he could, stretched out his arms, and blocked the shot just as it was reaching the height of its trajectory.
Chandler may no longer be the player he once was, but he has a championship pedigree and is a mature veteran on a team that needs leaders. The Lakers desperately needed a big body with his skillset, and Chandler fits the bill nicely.
It may have happened at a strange point in the season, but it is no coincidence that the team has won all three games since Chandler signed, bypassing an opportunity to join the Golden State Warriors.
For his strong and positive performance in each game this past week, and his exuberance as someone who grew up a Lakers’ fan in Southern California, Tyson Chandler is the team’s Player of the Week.
It is no exaggeration to suggest that the addition of Chandler is a big piece of the puzzle as the Lakers move forward in search of a playoff spot.