Bobcats fans probably look back on Tyson Chandler the way Ben Affleck’s character looks back on Joey Lauren Adams’s character in Chasing Amy. The initial encounter was awkward, the time spent together was very brief and often really frustrating, and yet once it was over, we realized almost immediately that the team had stupidly ruined a very good thing that we’ll never get back.
Let’s start with how they got together in the first place, because they definitely didn’t meet cute. What’s really telling is the opening line in the AP article after the Bobcats traded Emeka Okafor to the New Orleans Hornets for Chandler in July, 2009: “The Hornets have officially found a taker for Tyson Chandler in the Charlotte Bobcats.” Believe it or not, this trade was pretty widely reviled by Bobcats fans and mainstream analysts alike, because Chandler’s stock at the time had never been lower. ESPN.com’s John Hollinger—loveably subtle as always—actually titled his analysis of the trade, “What Are The Bobcats Thinking?” The basic consensus was that the two centers were about equal defensively, but Okafor was much more polished offensively. Plus Chandler had a toe problem that had limited him to just 45 games the previous season (this was the thing that personally gave me nightmares; I remembered many a sleepless night that summer with visions of Chandler riding the bench with a pulsating bunion a la Jim Brown’s in I’m Gonna Git You Sucka).
The only explanations for the move at all from the Bobcats’ perspective was that Okafor had mysteriously gotten on new coach Larry Brown’s bad side, and/or Charlotte wanted to dump Okafor’s long-term contract to facilitate owner Robert Johnson’s sale of the team. Indeed, this trade was one of the more Bobcats-ian deals ever, as it was the rare exchange in which both teams claimed to be dumping salary (the AP article used the word “unloaded” twice). The Bobcats wanted out of Okafor’s remaining 5 years and $62.5M, while the Hornets wanted the more immediate relief from Chandler’s 2 years and $24.5M. And yes, for those of you had been lucky enough to forget, our team was founded by a man who was openly trying to sell us within four years. Maybe this means the Bobcats will one day be Moses, but at this rate they’re more likely to be Skippy from Family Ties.
Anyway, Chandler’s lone season with the Bobcats completely justified the naysayers. Chandler played in just 51 games in 2009-10 and started only 27. Toward the second half of the season, it’s retroactively astonishing to see that he was actually coming off the bench for Nazr Mohammed. Chandler’s PER was a pitiful 12.5, the second-worst of his entire career. Chandler’s offense—a term that should only be spoken aloud using air-quotes, because it basically consisted of throwing down slams—went dormant without Chris Paul, who had been feeding him alley-oops in New Orleans at roughly the pace of the conveyor belt delivering chocolates to Lucy. But more frustratingly, Chandler’s total rebounding and blocking percentages were also some of his career worsts. His individual defense wasn’t exactly causing coach Brown to twerk either, as 82games.com shows Chandler allowing an 18.2 PER to opponents, and the team with overall negative +/- numbers with Chandler on the court. And the injuries, as feared/expected, took their toll. A foot injury cost Chandler over a month, and assorted other nicks made him a training room mainstay.
And thus, after Chandler’s 4.5 fouls-per-game outpaced his 3.5 points-per-game in the 2010 playoffs, no one blinked when he was dealt after the season…that is, until Bobcats fans saw what we got in return, in which case we were practically blinded by eye-boogers. In exchange for Chandler (and Alexis Anjinca, whom I’m just going to mention once before I end up doing keg stands with liquid antifreeze), the Dallas Mavericks sent back Eduardo Najera, Matt Carroll, and Erick Dampier—and they might as well have wrapped all three in giant doggie bags. Despite Chandler’s rough year, he still had lots of value. He was now entering his contract year, for one; he was only 27, for two; he was still a starting caliber center, for three; and now the Bobcats were taking on salary, for four. The combined cost for Najera, Carroll, and Dampier over the next 3 years was $17.1M, and not one of them was even worthy of the second unit—even the Bobcats’ second unit! As underwhelming as Chandler had been—and believe me, his whelm was under—his 5-man unit with Ray Felton, Stephen Jackson, Gerald Wallace, and Boris Diaw, had been the 2nd-most successful of the team’s core groupings in 2009-10. I’ve seen a lot come and mostly go during my 9-year-stint (bid?) as a Bobcats fan, but this trade above all was the franchise’s Roger-Clemens-bat-throwing-moment: it totally defies explanation.
Interestingly, judging by the struggle it is to find articles about that trade now, I’d say the basic consensus from the general public was that of a yawn, maybe followed by a belch. Hollinger was apoplectic again, but most mainstream articles couldn’t even work up the interest to be baffled and disgusted. The trade had come after a few weeks in which ownership had left Chandler dangling in front of the Toronto Raptors for Jose Calderon, so the novelty of the Bobcats getting pesos on the dollar for Chandler had by then worn off. Now reporters had more or less gotten used to the Bobcats’ backwater ways and moved on to write about more newsworthy topics, and I can’t say that I blame them. Why waste any ink on a hillbilly continuing to fornicate with his cousins?
Except as a Bobcats fan, I’m sadly one of those fornicating hillbillies, and I’m still burned today by the herpes carried by my first cousin that was this horrifying trade. Since we’re only talking about a couple of years ago, at least I needn’t bother rolling around in the slop of the details of what happened next. Very briefly: Chandler became the defensive anchor of the world champion Dallas Mavericks, playing 74 games and having the 5th overall ranking among centers in win shares. He also finished third in Defensive POY voting. The next year with the Knicks he was individually even better, winning Defensive POY outright and being selected to 3rd Team All-NBA. Najera, Carroll, and Dampier…did not. Najera had a few moments of hustle and a very scary skull fracture that was appreciated by fans (the hustle, that is, not the skull fracture), Carroll served as the Bobcats player representative during the lockout (and judging by the outcome, he was arguably worse in that role than he was as a player—if he were an NFL broadcaster, he’d be Sean Salisbury), and Erick Dampier was cited in the Lil’ Wayne song “Swizzy,” but definitely not as a compliment. The best thing we can say is that all of these salaries are gone now, and in fact the Bobcats are under the cap. One could even say that their future is looking up…up from the bottom of a well, that is, after 27 wins in the last two seasons.
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