A franchise with rich history at the center position, the Los Angeles Lakers went into the 2018-19 NBA season with JaVale McGee the only viable big man. The roster included Moritz Wagner and Ivica Zubac but each faced questions.
Wagner was recovering from a knee contusion suffered at Las Vegas Summer League and as a rookie was unlikely to provide consistent production in the early going. Zubac was coming off a season that saw him regress from his first year.
The lack of size led to the Lakers re-signing Jonathan Williams to a two-way contract days after waiving him. Then they fortified their frontcourt even further by signing Tyson Chandler after he secured a buyout from the Phoenix Suns and cleared waivers.
Chandler being bought out at this stage in the season was a surprise and a development attributed to the close friendship between LeBron James and Suns interim general manager James Jones.
Expanding on that, Ken Berger of Bleacher Report intimated James contacted his former teammate to get the Suns to buy out Chandler much earlier than such a transaction takes place:
The ship had long since sailed on the idea that Chandler would be a part of any sort of championship pursuit in Phoenix, but at least he could serve as a role model and mentor to No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton.
And that was the plan…until LeBron called in a favor.
“They could have bought him out at the trade deadline and gotten great leadership and mentoring for two-thirds of the season,” a rival executive told B/R. “But LeBron wanted him now.”
Prior to either report surfacing, Chandler himself expressed some surprise he and the Suns parted ways this early in the season. Chandler did admit to expecting to be bought out in the final year of a four-year, $52 million contract he signed.
Regardless of how it may have unfolded, the Lakers added a veteran center who made an immediate impact and Chandler is someone they figure to rely on more heavily as the season wears on.