Tyson Chandler thought he'd be a Mav for life

NEW YORK -- Tyson Chandler, sporting a right arm fully covered in fresh ink, said even though his agent warned him before the lockout that a future in Dallas wasn't looking good, he never believed it.

"I thought honestly I was going to be there anyway," Chandler said prior to Sunday's game, his first against the team he helped win a championship. "I thought I was going to retire a Maverick. After the season last year and winning the championship I felt like it was going to be home, and it’s always going to be home to me because it’s where I won a championship. But, I really honestly didn’t believe that I wasn’t coming back until I put ink to paper here."

Chandler's agent Jeff Schwartz, anticipating the changes to come in a new collective bargaining agreement that would harshly penalize chronic luxury tax teams like the Mavs, told his client that the Mavs wouldn't break the bank on him. Schwartz was right. Cuban changed his philosophy from luxury tax-level spending to planning for cap space this summer.

"We love TC. We wouldn’t have been champions without Tyson," Cuban said from the Madison Square Garden floor. "He’s a phenomenal player, he’s got incredible heart, he’s a motivator in the locker room and that’s why we went out and got him. But, the CBA changed everything and you have to adjust how you build and grow and maintain your team and try to win a championship. So we did what we felt we had to do, not because we wanted to do it. So the Knicks got a great player and it’s obvious, they’re doing great things with him."

On Saturday night, Chandler and Dirk Nowitzki visited over dinner. From early on last season, Nowitzki praised Chandler as the team's MVP for bringing accountability to the defensive end and his fiery approach in the locker room, a lacking ingredient for years. On Sunday, Chandler got the best of his old team with 14 points and 10 rebounds in the Knicks' 104-97 victory.

"Obviously we miss him, he's just a great guy, a great locker room guy," Nowitzki said. "He's a warrior. He helped us win a championship and we're going to be family for the rest of our lives. I wish him luck. It's going to be great when he comes back to Dallas and receives his ring."

That will be March 6.

Chandler thought he'd be back for training camp.

"My agent told me early, 'Look, I don’t think it’s going to happen, I don’t think you’re going to go back to the Mavericks,'" Chandler said. "I was just like, OK. He’s been right every other time in my career, but he’s wrong this time. There’s no way I’m not going back."

But, he wasn't. Chandler, who never considered the Mavs' one-year offer -- and why would he? -- would go back to the Eastern Conference to play with Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and, oh yeah, Jeremy Lin.

"It was extremely hard [to leave Dallas] because I love the guys over there, I’m very fond of the organization, the staff members, the community, and then when you reach the ultimate goal it’s difficult to walk away from that," Chandler said. "And, honestly, I didn’t think I was until really I was here in New York signing the papers. It still felt weird to me through training camp, just everything. It took a little while."