While Brooklyn battles, suspended Wilson Chandler watches and waits

NEW YORK -- Wilson Chandler shrugs as he sees Spencer Dinwiddie's pull-up 3-pointer clank off the left side of the rim.

"That's a good shot, though," Chandler says. "You can't get mad when you miss a shot you normally make. You got to live and die with it."

It is Wednesday night, and 45 seconds remain as the Brooklyn Nets host the Charlotte Hornets at Barclays Center. Had Dinwiddie's shot fallen, Chandler's teammates would have regained a one-point edge in a game they once led by 20.

And Chandler can do nothing but watch.

He is a borough away, a 30-minute subway ride from the arena as the seconds tick down on the Nets' 11th loss of the season.

Dressed in a black, graphic T-shirt, black sweatpants and a black hat, Chandler has his eyes locked on one of two 60-inch flat-screen TVs in a wood-paneled private room in Jay-Z's 40/40 Club in Manhattan.

Normally when a player is sitting out, he puts on a suit jacket and takes in the game from the bench. An injured player might watch from the locker room or trainer's office.

Chandler's absence is different. He is serving the 24th of a 25-game suspension after testing positive for a banned substance in August. League rules dictate that Chandler cannot be inside an arena where the Nets are playing two hours before and after games.

"Even with my teammates, they ride with me. Everybody was real supportive. They could've cut me a long time ago."
Wilson Chandler

Chandler, who signed with Brooklyn over the summer on a one-year, veterans minimum contract, will return for Sunday's home game against the Philadelphia 76ers -- his final game covered by the suspension was Saturday night at the Toronto Raptors -- and is expected to play. "We will throw him to the wolves, so to speak," Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said.

For the past three months, though, Chandler has watched his teammates play from the 40/40 Club -- Chandler is represented by Jay-Z's Roc Nation Sports -- or from his apartment in Brooklyn Heights.

"Being suspended," Chandler says, "you're being banished."

Chandler, 32, says this has been the most challenging stretch of an 11-year career. Tougher than the adjustments he had to make during his rookie season in 2007-08. More frustrating than missing the entire 2015-16 season with a torn labrum. More trying than being traded.

At one point during his suspension, Chandler admits, he contemplated retiring from the NBA altogether.

"You start to think about, 'Is it really worth it?'" Chandler says. "Not because you don't want to play, but because you're in a dark place."

CHANDLER WAS DRIVING home from Brooklyn's practice facility when the call came one afternoon in August. He wishes he'd had more time to turn his car around. He wanted to tell his team in person.

On the phone was the league office, notifying Chandler he had tested positive for Ipamorelin, a growth hormone that has been on the NBA's list of banned substances since 2016. Chandler had spent the summer rehabbing from a quadriceps injury sustained during the 2018-19 season. During his treatment, Chandler said, his personal physician gave him "small doses" of the drug. He added that neither he nor his doctor was aware he was taking a banned substance.

"I was trying to get healthy, and I took something I didn't know was a bad substance," Chandler said. "I felt a lot of shame."

Chandler wanted to get in front of the situation as quickly as possible. The first calls he made were to his agents, Sam Permut and Juan Perez, Nets general manager Sean Marks and Atkinson.

Chandler didn't contact his teammates until he got back to his apartment. Then he pulled out the list of the Nets players phone numbers that an administrative assistant gave him when he signed, started at the top and made his way down, one by one.

"I just told them, 'I'm sorry,'" Chandler said. "And I hope they forgive me."

Next, Chandler called his aunt Delia, whom he refers to as a sister. Chandler didn't want to tell his 87-year-old grandmother, Olivia, the woman who raised him, about what happened. Delia, though, was sitting next to Olivia when Chandler delivered the news.

Chandler and his grandmother didn't speak for several weeks after. It wasn't that Olivia didn't call -- she did -- Chandler just didn't have the stomach to talk yet. The feeling of embarrassment was too much.

Eventually, he dialed her back. She picked up after a few rings.

"At that point, she was more worried she hadn't heard from me," Chandler said. "She wasn't really mad."

Even after he had smoothed things over with Olivia, a hum of anxious thoughts persisted. He feared that the suspension would napalm his career. Again and again, replays of the day the news broke would cycle through his head.

What could I have done differently? Why didn't I double-check the banned list?

On some days during the suspension, Chandler would reach out to a handful of friends to chat over the phone. On other days, he would retreat back into himself; he spent most of those in his home listening to music and reading Ta-Nehisi Coates' "The Water Dancer."

Chandler already had been planning to meet with the Nets' team therapist, and those appointments became more important after the suspension.

But during the hours and days alone, his mind continued to wander.

"I just thought, 'This has to be it,'" Chandler said of his career. "And that is scary in itself -- especially to go out and have the last thing be a suspension."

CHANDLER HAS STUCK to a strict training regimen during his suspension. Five or six days a week, he arrives at the practice facility at 10 a.m. and undergoes 45 minutes of manual treatment -- massage, mobilization exercises and low-impact, soft-tissue work with the Nets' physical training staff. Then he heads to the weight room for 30 minutes to get warm. After that, on-court work begins.

On some days, it was just Chandler and an assistant coach in the gym. On other days, he would play 2-on-2, 3-on-3 and, occasionally, 5-on-5. Sometimes, that meant playing with Brooklyn reserves David Nwaba, Theo Pinson and Iman Shumpert -- whom the Nets waived Thursday to open a roster spot for Chandler -- or with the G League players on two-way contracts.

Chandler often worked out with Nets assistant coach Bret Brielmaier, whom Chandler calls "One T." After each of Chandler's workouts, Brielmaier would tick off how many days remained until the forward would be allowed to play again.

"It's almost like they're doing the time with me," Chandler said. "Even with my teammates, they ride with me. Everybody was real supportive. They could've cut me a long time ago."

Since August, Chandler has spent a lot of time using stationary bikes and sprinting. The amount of time he spends doing cardiovascular workouts has impressed him teammates, earning Chandler the nickname "Cardio King."

"We have included him in everything we can," Atkinson said. "I said to him the other day, 'You must just be dying right now, because you've been working your tail off.' I think he's champing at the bit."

But Chandler said his work during practices feels empty.

After all, the corner 3 he executes to perfection or the pocket pass to a big after a smooth pick-and-roll would be stuck inside a practice gym until game No. 26. So would any on-court chemistry he built along the way with his new teammates.

Chandler can't help but dwell on what they might think of him.

"You're focused on reading other people's minds and how they look at you," Chandler said. "Your teammates, other teams, coaches, GMs, everyone in the league office -- you're wondering how they feel about you ...

"I've always been a person that people kind of like, so it's kind of hard to wonder if people look at you in different ways."

Chandler has traveled with the team for every road trip except for one -- an overtime loss at the Memphis Grizzlies on Oct. 27 -- even though he isn't allowed in visiting arenas. (He watches from the hotel.) He still rides the team plane, eats team meals and participates in the few full 5-on-5 practices the team has held. He even went on the team's preseason trip to China.

But two hours before every tipoff, he becomes exiled.

Chandler has tried not to wait until the last minute to leave the arena. On game days with a normal 7 p.m. start, Chandler usually will be done with his workout in the early afternoon, with adjustments made for any of Brooklyn's early tips this season.

Plenty of game days would come and go without Chandler seeing most of his teammates.

"I definitely felt bad having to leave," Chander said. "Most times I am there so early that a lot of guys aren't."

HORNETS POINT GUARD Devonte' Graham drills the dagger -- a step-back 29-footer over Nets guard Joe Harris that would become the final three of Graham's career-high 40 points. It puts the visitors up by five with 22.7 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.

Back at the 40/40 Club, Chandler hangs his head in disappointment.

There have been so many moments like this one. He doesn't say it, but it is etched into his face. Missed offensive rebounds make him wince. Silly celebrations on the Nets' bench put a smile on his face.

Chandler wants to be out on the court doing something -- anything -- to help his team in a crucial moment.

"I bring a little grit, a little toughness," Chandler says. "All the dirty thi ..."

He stops himself to clarify, not wanting anyone to think that he is actually a dirty player.

"I wish I was out there," he says.

Charlotte leaves the door open for some late-game Brooklyn magic, and two of the Nets' best shooters -- Harris and Taurean Prince -- get off clean looks that don't fall in the final 14 seconds. The Nets' fate is sealed.

For Chandler, it's one more game off the list.

In less than five days, he'll be able to rejoin his teammates for game action. Any lingering thoughts of the suspension ending his career are gone, replaced with butterflies like the ones that show up the night before a season opener.

"You know," Chandler says, "I'm a little nervous. It's been a while since I've played."

The final buzzer sounds across the bridge at Barclays Center when Chandler reaches for his phone.

It's the customary game-night ritual he has done 23 times already this season: a message to the team's group chat commending its effort.

On Sunday, Chandler will deliver it in person.