LOS ANGELES — When Tyson Chandler joined the Lakers this year, he seemed to be the missing piece of the puzzle. The team promptly ripped off a four-game winning streak upon his arrival, and proceeded to win 14 of their next 19 games, with Chandler’s impact as a voracious screen-setter amping up the Lakers’ offensive efforts and his defense helping the team thrive in the same non-JaVale McGee minutes that had been killing them before Chandler’s arrival as a capable backup.
Five games later, LeBron James suffered a groin injury that would cost him the next 18 games, and the rest is history. James wasn’t the only Laker injured, either. Lonzo Ball has missed 25 games so far, and will miss 35 by the time the season is over. Brandon Ingram will have missed 30 games by the time the season is done.
While there are other factors in the Lakers missing the playoffs, Chandler — who has 18 years of NBA experience at this point — and the rest of the team are in agreement that injuries are in large part what did this team in.
“I’ve been through a couple of these were your team is just depleted with injuries. We caught the injury bug this year, we had guys in and out of the lineup,” Chandler said while speaking after the Lakers were officially eliminated from playoff contention on Friday.
“This was already a new team, and a young team too. You need everybody to continue to build. We just didn’t have that this year.”
And while Chandler himself was still able to play in 47 of the Lakers’ 64 games since he joined the team, many of those appearances were limited by a variety of injuries to his back and neck that have caused him to miss time, and hampered him physically when he is on the floor.
“Fortunately, for me, it was just knickknacks, though. So I was still able to get out on the court. But you know, I wasn’t myself and other guys are completely out,” Chandler said. “It just hurt. So this is one of those years where you wish you could give more, but you just got to chalk it up for what it is.”
All of those injuries helped lead to another lost season for the Lakers, and given that injuries seem to be what many people are blaming this season’s failure on, I figured it was worth asking Chandler if, as a veteran of campaigns sort of similar to this, he thinks there is anything else the team can learn from what went wrong this year.
He paused for a second, seemingly considering a way to answer the question without just saying “no,” and so I asked or was it just injuries?
“It was just injuries, to be honest. You could point fingers at all of the trade dialogue that was going,” Chandler said. “Yeah, it was a distraction. It’s always a distraction for every team around that time of the year, but for us, if we have a full cast it’s not as big as distraction as it was, but we got injured.“
That would seem to be a pretty fair and measured take on what exactly went wrong from the most experienced player in the locker room, and Chandler was just as candid when discussing what is left for the team to play for now that they’re mathematically out.
“You got keep playing. We’re professionals. Not only that, we’re the Los Angeles Lakers, so you go out and compete no matter what. There’s definitely kids and a whole bunch of people that are still tuning in and watching, and expect you to go out there,” Chandler said.
“Not only that, but as individuals, we got pride and character. So I fully expect guys to continue to compete,” Chandler continued, later adding “I expect the young guys to step up because this is an opportunity to continue to build.”
Chandler reference playing for “the Los Angeles Lakers,” which as an L.A. native does genuinely mean something to him, and it’s clear he had higher hopes for his homecoming.
“It’s just so tough. Me being from LA, going through this, representing my city, you want more and you don’t want to go out on injuries, you want a team to beat you and just knock you out,” Chandler said.
The Lakers won’t get that chance this season, and it’s not clear if Chandler will get another shot. He said he’s not sure how many more years, if any, he wants to keep playing. He just wants to make sure it’s not too long.
“You think about that all the time, how much how much more you want to go. I never want to be a player to ever cheat the game, so it’s really asking yourself how much you got left,” Chandler said. “I still feel like I got a lot left. I still want to play. We’ll see. We’ll see in the summertime, evaluate things and go from there.”
Friday was Chandler’s first appearance in nine games, which means that, at least theoretically, it could be his last one in a Lakers uniform (or depending on how this summer goes, in the NBA). For those reasons, Chandler said he was “absolutely” glad he got back out on the floor.
“Even if it was even if it’s just for this game, and the team decides to go young, I wanted to show guys that I’m here. Regardless of the situation I’m here. I’m going to compete, I’m gonna suit up with you,” Chandler said.
“It’s just been one of those seasons. It’s really unfortunate I feel bad for all my friends, every fan because it was high hopes,” Chandler continued. “But it’s still a good team. We’re going to continue to build and get this thing right.”
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. All stats per NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.