In 2001, in the post-championship Bulls-to-bust years, Krause had staked the team’s future on the teenage big men. He shed his best player, forward , to match Curry, a low-post scorer, with Chandler, an athletic shot blocker. Krause envisioned resurrection by high rise.
“I’d bring them in together to talk about things, just to see how they were doing,” he said. “But as we went along, I could see that Tyson was just so quick, so verbal, not a normal teenager, like Eddy. After a while, I had them come in separately because Tyson was able to communicate on a different level.”
A decade later, with Chicago long faded from the rearview mirror for both and Curry a departed and expensive write-off in New York, Chandler the communicator has come to the to talk championship-level defense. For a franchise without a playoff victory since 2001 — or the year Chandler graduated from Dominguez High School in Compton, Calif. — his mantra in the middle may be the basketball equivalent of what Moses brought down from the mountain.
“He is totally different, a big agile guy that anchors your defense and talks, chattering up the whole team,” said , the 6-foot-10 Knicks assistant coach who has been around the N.B.A. since 1981 and has learned a few things about the species colloquially known as the big. “Normally, you’re begging guys to do that. He does it with no problem. He even does it on the bench, and hopefully it gets contagious to where everybody talks.”
Asked if there was a specific player that Chandler reminded him of, Williams said: “You know, right now I can’t think of one. Maybe I can if you come back tomorrow.”
For sure, it would be no one associated with the Knicks during their recent decade of competitive irrelevance — though it is conceivable that , something of a Chandler type, would have wound up in New York in 2007 had Isiah Thomas not traded that year’s first-round draft pick to Chicago for Curry.
No one gets the sequential oddity of Chandler succeeding Curry as the Knicks’ high-priced linchpin center better than Chandler, who took a moment after a recent Knicks’ practice to commend Krause on his scouting instincts. Overlooked for the moment was how the decision to match him and Curry as the second and fourth picks in the draft is generally remembered in Chicago as an unmitigated disaster.
“It didn’t work out, but he was exactly right that we were complementary to each other,” Chandler said. “Eddy was more on the offensive side, and I was able to make up for what he lacked defensively and rebounding the ball. Unfortunately, we were young, coming into the league with a new program, and it didn’t work out the way the way we expected. We did make progress. They just broke us up a little prematurely.”
In a telephone interview from his home in Phoenix, where Krause scouts for the Arizona Diamondbacks, he agreed that pinning the reconstruction on two preps-to-pros centers created high developmental risk. He also cited other factors in why the experiment was deemed a failure and both players were traded away, though not by him.
To begin with, expectations and pressure were unusually high in the aftermath of the six-championship era. Then, , the second pick of the 2002 draft and the point guard Krause believed would balance the equation, was in a devastating motorcycle accident that ended his career after one season. Krause left the Bulls in 2003, purposefully leaving behind as a 7-foot coach.
“Bill was very good working with big guys and I thought he would have really helped Tyson and Eddy,” Krause said. “But when replaced me he made a change, and that was his privilege.”
Finally, there was a cardio scare for Curry that soured the Bulls on committing to him long-term and precipitated the trade to New York, where he never had complementary frontline talent and ultimately regressed with physical and personal problems to the point of invisibility.
“I haven’t talked to Eddy in about a year, but I’m definitely surprised the way things turned out for him, because he was one of the most talented offensive big men in our league — still today,” Chandler said, benevolently.
After playing the grand total of 10 games in the last three seasons, Curry is in Miami, hoping to dunk a few lobs from LeBron James and to hang on to his career. While Curry declined and seemingly gave up, Chandler fought through foot injuries and matured as a citizen of the N.B.A. and in his role in New Orleans and Charlotte.
The most bullish Chicagoan of all, the , Michael Jordan, blessed him with a lopsided trade to Dallas, where Chandler’s defense helped turn a perennial contender into a champion and earned him a four-year, $56 million contract with the Knicks.
“I always thought he was just a little too light in the pants,” Williams said of Chandler, 7-1 and 240 pounds. “But he loves contact and he plays hard, and getting him has changed the feel of the city because of what he brings to the table.”
What Williams meant is that Chandler’s presence foretells a change in the culture of the city game and of Coach Mike D’Antoni’s defensively challenged team. Contending talk is cheap until there is someone to back it up.