- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Last season was the best of Chambers's six-year career, as the Sonics surprised the NBA by making it all the way to the Western Conference playoff finals. He averaged a career-high 23.3 points per game and began to improve his play in other areas, too, particularly assists and steals. NBA coaches, players and general managers began to reconsider their views. "I always thought he was only interested in personal goals, but he started to become more team-oriented last season," says Denver assistant coach Allan Bristow. But, ultimately—perhaps inevitably—the season turned sour for Chambers. After performing superbly in Seattle's playoff upsets of Dallas and Houston, Chambers and most of the other Sonics all but disappeared in the West final against the Lakers..
"This season, things are going to be different. This team is going to make it different," Chambers says. He looks almost pleadingly at his questioner. "Look, I want to write a new chapter in the Tom Chambers story."
Of the earlier chapters he says, "I've always been the talented kid who doesn't have to work hard. I was the one who never quite lived up to the expectations that were put on me because I didn't work hard enough." Athleticism is in his genes, no doubt about that. Three generations of Chambers men—Doane (Tom's grandfather), Ken (Tom's father) and Rob (Tom's older brother by two years)—played for the Smithfield Blue Sox, a well-known semi-pro team in Utah. Ken was also an outstanding football player and track man, and because he was only 20 when Tom was born, he actively played sports with Tom and took a particular interest in his athletic career.
Between his sophomore and junior years in high school—after the family had moved from Ogden, Utah, to Aurora, Colo. (in Tom's senior year they moved again, to Boulder)—Chambers sprouted eight inches, from 6 feet to 6'8". Yet he never showed a trace of awkwardness, possibly because he sharpened his skills in playground games at Aurora's Del Mar Park. A broken wrist before his senior year forced him to work on shooting with his left hand—he's a natural righty but can still match 15-foot lefty jump shots with almost anyone—and he is perhaps the league's best ambidextrous dunker. And while we can easily envision Bird counting out a few hundred lefthanded shots on a moonlit Indiana playground, we tend to assume that the gift arrived by Express Mail one day at Chambers's doorstep.
Wrong, says Tom: "I worked on my game. Anybody that says I didn't doesn't know me."
Aside from some resentment over his natural ability, there are other reasons why folks have not taken to Chambers. For one thing, his game is not strong in the little things that bring appreciative smiles to a coach's face. He sometimes loafs getting back on defense, frequently when he's protesting a call at the offensive end. He usually doesn't dive for loose balls or dive into seats. And, as even he admits, he has not been a good practice player over the years, something that is changing this season.
The most common criticism of Chambers's game—that he shoots too much—needs to be examined more closely, however. Quite often during his career at Seattle he has forced shots because he felt he was being frozen out of the offense. The two greatest offenders, in his mind, were guards Henderson and Ricky Sobers—both of whom are now former Sonics.
Chambers gets out on the break about as well as any forward in the league other than Dominique Wilkins and James Worthy, but there were many nights when all he got out of it was an aerobic workout. "If Sobers was in trouble in the backcourt with a 10-second violation about to be called," said one front-office person who asked to remain anonymous, "he still wouldn't have passed to Chambers."
Henderson responds by saying, "Every story about this starts from Tom Chambers's end. As far as a conspiracy against Tom Chambers, no there wasn't one. We couldn't get any ball movement out of Tom. Ricky had been in the league 10 years, and I had been in the league for about five or six years, and we knew what we had to do to win."
Last season Chambers took fewer shots than teammates Dale Ellis or Xavier McDaniel, and the trio became the first in NBA history to average more than 23 points per man per game. Granted, Chambers does lose a lot of field goal attempts because he is fouled so often—his 630 free throw attempts last season put him behind only Michael Jordan, Wilkins, Moses Malone, Adrian Dantley and Magic Johnson—but that is a positive, not a negative; Chambers has averaged 83% from the line over the last four seasons. He should shoot a lot. He can score on the break, square up and shoot the jumper or use his height to post up. (Of course, he has already told us that.) The problem is, he sometimes takes bad shots at bad times, and that has never increased his popularity with his teammates. Chambers does the impossible—like hitting a 20-foot jumper with three men on him—often enough that he thinks he can do it every time.