It’s a legitimate question, just like it was four years ago. The Mavs hope the evidence to the contrary is just as conclusive as it was during Chandler’s first stint in Dallas.
During his last season in New York, Chandler didn’t really resemble the center who was such a critical piece to the 2011 Mavs’ championship puzzle, much less the 2012 Defensive Player of the Year or 2013 All-Star. His production in an injury-plagued season (averages of 8.7 points and 9.6 rebounds in only 55 games) was his worst since his lone season in Charlotte, just before the Mavs acquired Chandler in a salary-dump deal.
Yet Chandler, who turns 32 in October, has no doubt he can be the big man Mavs fans remember from four seasons ago. He’s physically healthy -- and hopes to stay that way with the help of the Mavs’ outstanding medical staff -- and mentally rejuvenated after the dysfunctional Knicks traded him back to Dallas.
“I think I can be better.” Chandler said during his conference call with Dallas reporters last month. “I finished the season healthy, so this summer I was able to start earlier. I took a couple of weeks off and then I already started getting back in the gym and improving things. I want to get back to thinking and moving the way I moved. I started correcting things mentally and physically. I was already looking forward to this summer because I felt like there was so many things I could improve on.
“Then once I started in the gym, I’ve already seen in the six weeks or two months I’ve been working out so much improvement already that I’m truly excited. When this happened and I know I’m putting myself in a situation again to really have a shot at making a run, it just gives me more to work on and more excitement and more drive.”
The Mavs traded for Chandler with the firm belief that he’d be an athletic anchor on the defensive end and energetic finisher, screen-setter and rebounder on the offensive end. It’s a calculated risk, considering that Chandler is entering the final season of his contract, but the Mavs expect him to be an impact player again.
That projection isn’t just based on Chandler’s performance during the Mavs’ title season. It’s influenced as much by the last time the Mavs saw Chandler, when he had 12 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks in Dallas’ Feb. 24 win at Madison Square Garden.
“If you just watched him in that game we played the Knicks when Dirk had the buzzer-beater, he was a pogo stick,” Mavs owner Mark Cuban said.
Cuban happened to run into Chandler at a restaurant later that night, recalling telling the center he was the “springiest I’ve seen you in forever.” Chandler told Cuban that he felt really good after not rushing back from a broken leg early in the season, taking time to get his body right.
That was early in a 10-game span in which Chandler averaged 12.3 points and 15.0 rebounds.
“Just going back and watching that tape, he looked good,” Cuban said. “We obviously did the medical checks and everything seems to look good. I don’t want to jinx us, but I think he’s going to be in great shape for us.”
Chandler’s success during his previous season in Dallas was somewhat of a surprise, considering the injury problems that sidelined him for 68 games over the previous two years.
That success is the standard for Chandler as he returns to Dallas, regardless of the injuries and other issues he endured last season in New York.