Tyson Chandler can still see his future with the Suns

Apr 12, 2017, 6:12 PM | Updated: Apr 13, 2017, 11:29 am
Phoenix Suns center Tyson Chandler, left, grabs a rebound away from Los Angeles Clippers forward Bl...

Phoenix Suns center Tyson Chandler, left, grabs a rebound away from Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Oct. 31, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

PHOENIX — Two backup centers will be free agents, but that doesn’t mean starter Tyson Chandler represents absolute stability at the Phoenix Suns’ most uncertain position this offseason.

Chandler’s relationship with head coach Earl Watson and his young teammates kept him in Phoenix despite the front office having honest talks with Chandler about his future on a rebuilding team and two years remaining on his contract.

He proved loyal, refusing opportunities to be traded. But that doesn’t mean similar conversations won’t be had in the future despite the 34-year-old believing in the rebuilding process.

“I have a summer to analyze things and think about things,” Chandler said Wednesday as he and his teammates went through exit interviews. “I think with a few tweaks and some pieces here and there on the roster, I think that this franchise and this team can be in that mix, and at that point, there would be no point for me to go elsewhere. That’s my hopes for the summer.”

Chandler believes the team is a couple “middle-of-the-pack” veteran additions away from another step forward.

He and his teammates, not to mention Watson and general manager Ryan McDonough, believe the team is further along than its 24-win record.

Phoenix shut down veterans after the All-Star break, after all. Maybe that’s worth another five or 10 wins.

Internal improvement could thrust them into the playoff picture, they hope.

“I think the young talent is here, the core is here,” Chandler said.

Chandler understood the Suns shutting him down this season. He grew from a similar experience in Chicago when the Bulls went young, opening the roster of opportunities so he and fellow big man Eddy Curry could develop as rookies.

McDonough said Chandler handled being shut down as professionally as possible, remembering that, as a young player, Chandler respected older players like Charles Oakley accepting lesser roles so he could grow.

That’s made Chandler easy to manage for the front office making difficult decisions.

“He’s been a great asset for Coach Watson and I, and for the organization in terms of, if there’s something that needs to be communicated to our young players, to our young core that we think is better off coming from someone in the locker room, one of their peers,” Chandler has come through, McDonough said.

The message to his teammates Wednesday: Their summers will dictate next year’s success, not the front office’s draft or free agent signings.

Chandler remembers his days in New Orleans when his offseason thoughts never wandered from focusing on training — the drive wasn’t about himself, but for his teammates like Chris Paul and David West.

“Think about each other during this summer,” Chandler told the Suns. “Our whole thing was — between me, C.P. and David — no matter what, no matter who comes through that door, no matter what help we get, we’re going to be good enough to take this team over.”

Chandler averaged 8.4 points and 11.5 rebounds per game in 2016-17 but off the court dealt with the deaths of five family members over the course of the season.

He played in 47 games and after an injury-influenced season prior finished second to DeAndre Jordan in field goal percentage — his 67.1 percent shooting was the second-best of Chandler’s career — and of players who played in at least half the season’s games was fifth in total rebound percentage.

“I feel great. One of the positive things about letting the young players grow is work on my own game and body in the last month or so. I’ve spent that time correcting anything I need to correct,” Chandler said.

“My thing for myself is just longevity,” the 16-year vet added. “My goal is to play 20 years. I’m going to be doing this a while — a little while longer, it won’t be that much longer.”

Barring an obvious blockbuster deal that will change the direction of the Suns’ patient rebuild, Chandler will likely have to face the reality of a tough decision, like he did this offseason and like he did as teams showed interest in him at the trade deadline.

Does he choose loyalty and sacrifice for a team that is trying to build a culture around family?

Or does the 2011 NBA Champion, 2012 Defensive Player of the Year and 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist have the opportunity to chase more postseason success elsewhere?

“The potential and the good spirit, and guys that are just willing to learn, young guys that kind of become your young brothers makes your decision like that difficult,” Chandler said. “When I had the opportunities to leave, it was just, it didn’t feel right for me to leave these guys halfway through the journey, to be quite honest.”

The trick is, the closer the Suns are to a playoff berth, the more Chandler would be willing to stay.

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