Raptors still crying over Chandler

Dallas Mavericks' Tyson Chandler battles for a rebound with Miami Heat's Chris Bosh in the first...

Dallas Mavericks' Tyson Chandler battles for a rebound with Miami Heat's Chris Bosh in the first half of Game 4 of the NBA Finals basketball series in Dallas, June 7, 2011. (REUTERS/Robyn Beck/POOL)

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:33 PM ET

DALLAS -- Imagine if the off-season deal that would have sent Tyson Chandler to Toronto hadn't been nixed.

Imagine the odds of the Mavs playing for a championship if their starting centre had been Erick Dampier, who ironically has watched Miami's post-season run from the comforts of the Heat's bench.

It's hard to imagine Chandler playing anywhere else other than Dallas whenever the NBA's next season tips off, an anchor in the middle who has changed a culture, a piece who has become so indispensable owner Mark Cuban is likely to throw whatever money is necessary to keep his big man in Big D.

Up until now, Chandler, for many, was known as the high schooler from the streets of L.A. who would join fellow high schooler Eddy Curry in Chicago as part of the ill-fated Baby Bulls, an experiment that went horribly awry.

Up until his run in Dallas, Chandler was the athletic big man who couldn't stay healthy, forced to deal with foot injuries that threatened to curtail his career.

He'd protect the paint for Chris Paul in New Orleans, toil in Charlotte and almost became a Raptor when it appeared the teams had agreed to swap Chandler and Boris Diaw for Jose Calderon and Reggie Evans.

And then came a confirmed deal, that now is a complete steal, that saw Chandler move to Dallas in a package that included Eduardo Najera, Matt Carroll and Dampier.

Had the Bobcats gone through on their word, Chandler would have provided Andrea Bargnani with that much-needed, legitimate rebounder, a defender capable of protecting the rim, quick enough to show on pick and rolls and athletic enough to get up and down the floor.

It's unlikely all the venom directed Bargnai's way would have been unleashed and equally unlikely Toronto would have been so defensively deficient.

Heck, Jay Triano would still be coach of the Raptors had Chandler ended up in Toronto.

But that's all history, a move that nearly was, one that had repercussions no one at the time thought possible.

Chandler's teammates rave about his presence, even when he's not scoring points or has moments when he's not dominating the glass.

In Game 4, a must-win for Dallas, Chandler had arguably his finest game in his nine-year career.

Statistically, he's had better nights when one glances at the boxscore, but at no time did Chandler step up as he did in helping Dallas even the series.

When the Mavs were getting crushed on the boards, it was Chandler who helped reverse the tide.

After getting rejected by Dwyane Wade in one of those must-see moments, Chandler continued to attack the rim, ultimately getting rewarded by drawing fouls and converting from the line.

As Game 5 was set to tipoff Thursday night, no player in this series has drawn more fouls than Chandler.

And no player not named Dirk Nowitzki has meant more than Chandler.

"We need Tyson to play the way he did," said veteran point guard Jason Kidd, who went scoreless in Game 4. "He was big offensively, defensively, and also being able to be a playmaker.

"When we got him the ball he made the right reads."

Chandler isn't going to beat you with any back-to-back basket moves. Nor is he going to force his defender away from the basket by knocking down shots.

Chandler's game relies on energy, enthusiasm, being engaged physically, using his athletic gifts and taking advantage of his length.

When a final's game is decided by three or fewer points for the third straight time, producing a 13-point, 16-rebound night goes a long way to ensuring a win, even if it is produced on the game's final possession.

"His enthusiasm, his energy and tenacity have been a big part of us being as successful as we've been to this point," Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle said of Chandler. "Ball's on the floor loose and he dives and he tips it to somebody.

"He's the kind of guy you love to have around on your team because he's into winning and he gets it."

He's the kind of guy the Raptors desperately wanted and needed.

They still might get their hands on Chandler, but it's going to take a lot of money in an uncertain market to pry away a guy who is the perfect complement to Nowitzki.

frank.zicarelli@sunmedia.ca


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