Tyson Chandler Is USA Basketball's Last Big Man Standing
Heck no. Chandler might never have attended classes on a college campus, but that didn't stop the team's only 7-footer from using some BMOC speak.
"I kind of like it,'' said Chandler, who went straight from high school to the NBA in 2001. "I feel like the big guy on campus.''
The 7-1 Chandler became the last true center standing when the Americans on Sunday cut Washington center JaVale McGee as well as Oklahoma City power forward Jeff Green. The moves, which came prior to an 86-55 exhibition win over France before 19,763 at Madison Square Garden, reduced the roster to 13, with one cut left before the Aug. 28.-Sept. 12 World Championship in Turkey.
Few could have envisioned the Dallas center making as much progress as he has this summer. He had missed 62 of his past 126 NBA regular-season games due to ankle problems and got a late invitation to Team USA's first training camp last month in Las Vegas.
When the camp started, USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo remarked the big man was "not in shape.'' But while other post players kept dropping off the team, primarily due to injuries, Chandler kept getting better. Now, the Americans have enough confidence in him being the only true center on the team while Lamar Odom, a power forward in his day job with the Lakers, will be the primary backup.
"Tyson has been outstanding,'' Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski said after Chandler, his spot secure in the starting lineup, was only needed for 14 minutes against France and totaled four points, three rebounds and one blocked shot. "We have a relationship from the 2007 qualifying team (and in 2008 when Chandler came close to making the Olympic team) ... He doesn't need the ball. He's stronger. I bet he's at least probably 15 pounds heavier and stronger than he was in 2007. He feels healthy.''
Yes, he does. Chandler said he feels the best he has since the 2008 playoffs, when he was with New Orleans.
"I can play as much as they need me,'' said Chandler, traded from the Hornets to Charlotte in the summer of 2009 and from the Bobcats to the Mavericks last month. "In the last year, I was getting over injuries, coming off surgery. I'm going 100 percent now. I feel great ... The year in New Orleans, when we went to a seven-game series (in a West semifinal loss to San Antonio) was the last time I felt like this.''
Team USA better hope Chandler keeps feeling this good because he's the only big shot-blocking threat on the team. The Americans let go of McGee, but Colangelo said he wouldn't have played much anyway. And Krzyzewski has confidence in Odom as the backup, although the team will play a bit differently when he's on the floor.
"He can spread the court more,'' said Krzyzewski, who also can use power forward Kevin Love, who is the third of the only remaining true post players on Team USA, at center. "He can hit the three. He can handle the ball. The court is a little bit more spread with him in. Both those guys give us a little bit different look when each guy comes in. They've been really good. I feel real comfortable rotating those two guys in there.''
The Americans feel comfortable playing small ball because most of their top guys are perimeter players. Leading the way Sunday was small forward Rudy Gay, who scored 19 points, and guard Chauncey Billups, who added 17.
It's generally assumed the team's final cut will be a guard. While most observers have believed guards Eric Gordon and Stephen Curry have been battling for a final roster spot, it now isn't out of the question guard Russell Westbrook, used for just seven minutes Sunday, could end up being the final cut.
But it's still early. Before the roster must be trimmed to 12, Krzyzewski stressed the two exhibition games in Madrid (Aug. 21 against Lithuania and Aug. 22 against host Spain) and in Athens (Aug. 25 against host Greece) will play a big role in determining the final roster. With all 13 remaining players traveling Monday to Europe, Gordon, Curry and Westbrook will have ample chance to get off any bubble.
"I think it will become more evident what we have to do when we go through these exhibition games,'' said Krzyzewski, who Sunday, in addition to Chandler at center, started Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala at forward and Billups and Rajon Rondo at guard.
If it's still a battle between Gordon and Curry for the last spot, Gordon continues to look to have an edge. In 14 minutes Sunday, he shot 3-of-5, including 2-of-4 from three-point range, for eight points.
"I just try to come in here and make shots and hit three-pointers and just try to maintain and play hard on defense,'' Gordon said. "I leave the rest to the coaches.''
Curry shot 2-of-7 Sunday, missing his only two three-point attempts, for four points. He's not getting caught up in trying to outplay Gordon.
"I've made it this far and I'm happy to get past these two cuts,'' said Curry of Team USA, which had trimmed from 19 to 15 after camp last month in Las Vegas before Sunday's move to 13. "I'm not going to put any extra pressure on myself to go out and compete against Eric. That's not what it's all about. We just have to continue to support each other.''
Durant will be supporting Green, his Oklahoma City teammate, even if he'll be an ocean away when Durant is in Europe.
"That's always tough,''' Durant, who had 14 points, eight rebounds and three blocks, said of Green being cut Sunday. "But I talked to Jeff when I was on my way to the arena, and I just told him I'm going to represent for him. And I love him as a brother. But he knows the business of this type of deal. So he's perfectly fine with it. He's going to come back during the season, though, with a chip on his shoulder ready to work ... I'll be talking to him every day when I'm over there.''
Colangelo hasn't ruled out the 6-9 Green or the 7-foot McGee being called back to the team in Europe if there is an emergency. But Chandler is perfectly fine now being the only true center.
"This is something that I expected," Chandler said of it being evident for a while there might be few big men on the final roster. "I knew I was going to have to bring a defensive presence. I knew I was going to have to bring rebounding. I knew I was going to have to anchor the defense.''
That was spoken like a true big man on campus.
NOTES: Kevin Durant says he's motivated by all the talk that Team USA, minus its very top players, is sending a junior-varsity outfit to Turkey. "Yeah, we do have something to prove,'' Durant said. "Of course, we want to go over there and win. With a lot of the big-name guys not here, people are kind of counting us out. So we have something to prove.''
San Antonio guard Tony Parker, who has been linked to possibly one day playing in Madison Square Garden with the Knicks, watched Sunday's game from a courtside seat. Parker, who is not playing this summer for France, declined an interview request. "I'm on vacation,'' he said.
France got a team-high 15 points from Boris Diaw. The Charlotte forward looks rather portly, but he denied he's not in good shape. "I'm about the same,'' Diaw said of his weight during the NBA season and claimed he's been working out more in the weight room.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter@christomasson