Tyson Chandler could easily look around at his predicament, recognize the Phoenix Suns aren’t going to be really good until after his current contract expires, decide that the two sides are on two different clocks and ask out. And who would blame him? After all, he’s 35 and didn’t join the Suns expecting to be the bearded sage of some rebuilding project, with a roster full of players who had barely advanced to pull-up diapers when he was selected second overall in 2001. But if you’re expecting Chandler to quit on his situation, to send out some cryptic messages on social media, or force his exit with a quiet trade request, you’d be mistaken. Chandler believes he’s playing for something more important than another chance to collect a ring or two before he eventually leaves the game.
“My legacy,” Chandler told The Vertical. “Having to live with myself after this. I don’t want to walk away and be like, ‘Damn, I wish I would’ve gone a little harder,’ even though things weren’t right. Because you’re only going to remember the end. I’ll be able to remember the good times, but the end is what’s going to stick out in my mind. I want to be able to say, regardless of what happened, I came to work every day. One day, I’m going to have to talk to my son and tell him, ‘This is what I did. You can do it. Got to move forward.’ I wouldn’t be able to look at myself if I didn’t.”
Chandler didn’t always have that kind of perspective. But he has developed a more mature attitude in his 17 NBA seasons during which he’s been the hot-shot fresh out of high school who was expected to be a franchise cornerstone. He’s been humbled, traded, resurrected, only to get knocked down again. Now on his sixth team, he’s gone wash, rinse, repeat on that last scenario. Through all of his challenges, Chandler has always had one voice — that of his late grandfather, Cleo Threadgill — whispering wisdom in his ear. Until he passed at age 85 in August 2015 — roughly a month after Chandler signed a four-year, $52 million deal with the Suns — Threadgill, a farmer by trade, taught Chandler the value of hard work and an honest effort while raising him in Hanford, California. Threadgill is gone, but his words live on in Chandler’s head, popping up whenever he gets frustrated or upset. The message that continues to stick, perhaps more than others, is that a man makes the most of what he has.
“I was young, I used to bitch and complain. And all that. And when I was going through moments, I leaned on my grandfather. It helped me mature along the way. As you get a little older, you start respecting the game. You respect your profession. You respect your blessings,” Chandler told The Vertical. “He was put in a lot of situations where another man would say that’s B.S. and throw a fit, but I saw [my grandfather] go to work everyday, don’t complain, work hard and be dedicated. He’d tell me, ‘I don’t know nothing about basketball, but I know what it is to be a man.’ ”
Those “little nuggets” from his grandfather were especially needed at the start of this season, when the Suns lost their first three games by a combined 92 points — including a disgusting home-opening loss in which they trailed by 58 — then Eric Bledsoe declared on Twitter, “I Don’t wanna be here,” and Earl Watson was dismissed a few hours thereafter. The team has been a far cry from what Chandler expected when he agreed to his deal. At the time, the Suns were giving chase to his friend, LaMarcus Aldridge, who settled on the San Antonio Spurs instead. The past two seasons, Phoenix has become irrelevant, losing 117 games, and insanely younger, with four players now on the roster who can’t legally drink. Late last season, the Suns also made some blatant tanking efforts, which included sitting veterans Chandler, Bledsoe and Brandon Knight, to secure a top-five pick.
“I did not expect this, no. That was difficult for me, to be quite honest. I came here thinking I was going to be with a young, run-and-gun team that I could grow with,” Chandler told The Vertical. “Quickly realized that wasn’t the situation.”
Chandler already has a ring, having served as the Dallas Mavericks’ rim-protecting monster who helped spook LeBron James and the Miami Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals. But just because he’s chosen to embrace his situation in Phoenix doesn’t mean that he no longer wants that experience again. He’ll just have to be more patient.
“You definitely want to win. I’m a competitor,” Chandler told The Vertical. “The way we were getting rocked, I hate getting on the court with teams that you know you used to whip their ass every night, players you used to dominate, now they’re getting off because you have to help here, or you’re out of position, or you’re not in your natural position. That sucked. But, kept my head up, moving forward, plugging along, and then try to build these guys up to get to the level that we need to be.”
The Suns are now on their third different coach during Chandler’s tenure and won’t be playing a meaningful game for some time. But their situation now looks much better than it did when the season started. They have won four of five and are playing more inspired basketball. But they aren’t suddenly expected to contend for a playoff spot in the incredibly competitive Western Conference. Chandler, however, is encouraged by how quickly hope for the future has been restored with new coach Jay Triano helping the team appear more prepared and with the players developing better habits and buying in.
“Every young player comes in this league — same as me — you want to get yours. Until you realize you can get yours with everybody else getting theirs, you won’t win,” Chandler told The Vertical. “Coming to play basketball in that way is not fun. It makes you not even want to play. We’re going to take our lumps. We’re going to lose against the better teams with more firepower. But when you play the right way, you feel good about it. You give yourself a chance. And you know in the long run, it’s going to start to click.”
Bledsoe made his displeasure with the organization known. Or was that tweet really a complaint about being in the hair salon? Either way, the Suns aren’t in a rush to move him. They encountered a similar situation with a disgruntled player after Markieff Morris demanded a trade before the 2015-16 season, but that ordeal wasn’t resolved until close to the trade deadline when general manager Ryan McDonough was able to secure a desired first-round pick from Washington. McDonough believes a refusal to negotiate an extension is at the root of the team’s impasse with Bledsoe, who, unlike Morris, has been kept away from the team. Teams have reached out to the Suns regarding Chandler since the Bledsoe shutdown, but league sources told The Vertical that Chandler hasn’t been angling for a way out. Still, the issue with Bledsoe hangs over the team.
“I’m not surprised about that. I kind of saw that stuff coming,” Chandler told The Vertical about Bledsoe’s situation. “He’s in a different place than I’m in. He’s in the prime of his career. Everything that happened last season and then rolling over into the summer, of course, I felt like it could’ve been handled differently. But I understand his stance and I understand it’s his career. He’s got to eat. He ultimately has to make his own decisions, as a man.”
Chandler never thought he’d be “this person” — the old man having to shepherd along his “little brothers.” His voice is often heard before the coaches in the locker room, and he remains one of the more vocal players on the court, barking out instructions and encouragement. “I used to laugh at [Scottie] Pippen’s old ass and [Charles] Oakley’s old ass, and Othello [Harrington], Antonio Davis, and Jalen [Rose],” Chandler told The Vertical, about his early years in Chicago. “Now, being that guy, I move way better than they did at this age. But I didn’t see this coming, no. At end of the day, I’m blessed to be here, I get paid very well. So, I feel like there is nothing for me to complain about. If I’m here, I’m going to do my job. And if I’m somewhere else, I’m going to do my job. Until I walk off the court, I’m going to do my job.”