In a surprise development on the first day that NBA teams and agents could start talking about new contracts, Tyson Chandler came away convinced that his time with the Dallas Mavericks is coming to an end.
"I really think I'm going to be on a new team come training camp," Chandler told ESPN.com in a telephone interview Wednesday night. "I'm really taking a hard look at all of my options, trying to see what best suits me."
Chandler's doubts about the Mavericks' willingness to re-sign him to a lucrative long-term deal are bound to be welcome news for the teams already courting him in these early stages of free agency. Chandler and Denver center Nene rank as the two most coveted unrestricted free agents in the 2011 class, but the overwhelming sentiment in many front offices has been that Chandler's return to Dallas was essentially a lock after the 7-footer's role in helping the Mavericks win their first championship.
Chandler, though, insisted Wednesday that such assumptions are a misnomer and admitted for the first time that he's disappointed by the club's decision not to offer him a contract extension after he was widely credited -- most notably by Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki -- for changing the team's defensive culture after three first-round exits in the previous four years.
Chandler maintains that staying in Dallas has always been his first choice, but he expressed disappointment that the communication between the sides was minimal from the end of the NBA Finals in mid-June and the June 30 deadline for extensions. On Wednesday, when teams and agents were allowed to commence free-agent negotiations, NBA front office sources listed New Jersey, Golden State, Houston and Toronto as the teams chasing Chandler hardest.
The Mavericks have likewise long maintained that bringing Chandler back is their No. 1 offseason priority and that they were reluctant to talk about an extension before July 1 because no one knew how drastic changes to the NBA's collective bargaining agreement would be at that time.
But sources with knowledge of club's thinking have told ESPN.com this month that management does fear that trying to match the offers Chandler gets on the open market -- even if Dallas' other free agents, such as Caron Butler and J.J. Barea are all let go -- will only leave them with about $5-to-$6 million in salary-cap space in the summer of 2012.
As one of the league's oldest teams and with Nowitzki as its lone certifiable All-Star, Dallas knows it has to start looking to the future by trying to find a younger cornerstone player -- like Williams -- who can help the 33-year-old transition to more of a co-starring role. The Mavs' big quandary, however, is that the presence of Nowitzki on the roster in July 2012 without Chandler as his frontcourt sidekick might not be enough to tempt the league's top free agents.
One source close to Williams, for example, says it's unlikely that the New Jersey Nets' point guard would consider signing with the Mavericks unless he was joining both Nowitzki and Chandler. The Mavs, though, privately worry that, with Nowitzki and Chandler on the books, they won't have enough money to compete for Williams or Howard outright and would be forced to rely on acquiring one of those stars through a complicated sign-and-trade arrangement.
Chandler, for his part, says he hopes to know where his home will be soon, even though the league announced Tuesday that teams and players can't strike written or verbal agreements before the officially scheduled start of free agency on Dec. 9.
"I would like this to be settled by early next week," Chandler said. "I want to be in camp with my new teammates as soon as possible."
Cuban could not be immediately reached to respond to Chandler's comments. Earlier Wednesday, Cuban told ESPNDallas.com's Jeff Caplan: "We are going through and digesting all the new rules and waiting on others. Once everything is in place we will have a far better idea on what we can and can't do. In the meanwhile, we certainly are going to be talking to everyone's agent."
Chandler, 29, was acquired by the Mavericks in July 2010 in a deal with the Charlotte Bobcats co-headlined by Erick Dampier, but he was widely billed at the time as a consolation prize after Dampier's cap-friendly contract failed to get Dallas in the bidding for the league's marquee free agents -- Miami stars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh among them -- through various sign-and-trade offers.
Yet Chandler wound up meshing with Nowitzki better than anyone anticipated, supplying length, athleticism, rim protection and a brand of vocal leadership that no big man who previously lined up alongside the eventual NBA Finals MVP had ever provided in Dallas.
Chandler wound up playing in 74 regular season games -- after missing nearly 70 games over the previous two seasons through injury -- and finished third in the league's Defensive Player of the Year voting. In the Western Conference finals, Chandler helped Dallas to a 4-1 series win over the same Oklahoma City Thunder team that traded for him in February 2009 and then rescinded the trade one day later because of concerns about a toe injury.
Senior writer Chris Broussard covers the NBA for ESPN The Magazine. Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.