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For Wilson Chandler, the hard work ... and anxiety ... ends Sunday

2019 NBA Global Games - Los Angeles Lakers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Wilson Chandler was the fifth free agent to agree to terms with the Nets last summer: after Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan and Garrett Temple. It was only a one-year deal, but the Nets liked what they saw in the 6’8” forward. He can play multiple positions and gave the Nets, with their championship ambitions, another veteran presence.

Then, a month later, came word that he’d be suspended for the first 25 games of the season. The league office called him while he was driving away from the Nets practice facility to tell him he had tested positive for Ipamorelin, a growth hormone that has been on the NBA’s list of banned substances since 2016. He and his doctor said they were unaware ipamorelin was on the NBA’s list.

As recounted by ESPN’s Malika Andrews, the call began a cascade of calls from Chandler to others...

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.”

He called his aunt, too, asking that she break the news to his grandmother who had raised him, but she was listening in. For weeks afterwards, he was so embarrassed he couldn’t respond to her calls.

“Being suspended,” Chandler told Andrews, “you’re being banished.”

Andrews lays out just what that banishment is like. He can’t be in the arena for two hours before and two hours after the game. He watches games from Jay-Z’s 40/40 Club in Manhattan. Jay-Z runs Roc Nation Sports which reps him. He communicates with his teammates pre and post-game via the team group chat.

He can and does practice, can and does engage in all the other performance enhancements the Nets staff provides: massages, mobilization exercises and low-impact, soft-tissue work with the Nets’ physical training staff. He works out with weights. He’s on exercise bikes. He’s so resolute about it, Jordan has given him the nickname “Cardio-King.” He’s healthy and in fine shape.

He talks with the Nets assistant coach, Bret Brielmaier. He has spoken with Paul Groenewal, the Nets team performance psychologist. And he’s traveled with the team on all but one of their road trips, forced to watch the game from the team hotel.

Things are better now than they were back in the dark days following the suspension. He doesn’t think about retiring anymore, hanging them up at age 32. He’s been inspired by the response of his teammates, the organization.

“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.”

He’s also grateful the Nets didn’t simply dump him, waive him or send him off to another team who would wave him. That’s what happened to Jodie Meeks, the last veteran to be suspended for PED use. He’s out of the league.

“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.”

Chandler and Atkinson worked together back in Chandler’s second year when both were with the Knicks.

“The big advantage is my experience with Wilson, and not only my experience with the Knicks, but I’ve kind of followed him when he was playing on other teams,” Atkinson said last week. “I watched him closely. So I feel comfortable. I feel really comfortable. He knows the system. It’s just gonna be the physical return, what that looks like.”

Chandler did play 11 minutes in a preseason game vs. the Lakers in China —his suspension didn’t begin until the regular season began.

Every time they see each other, Brielmaier has given Chandler the number of days before he’ll return, Andrews writes. Now that number is one. His suspension, with all its restrictions, ends following Saturday’s game with the Raptors. He’ll be active for Sunday’s game against Philly, coincidentally the team that traded him last February.

“You know,” Chandler says, “I’m a little nervous. It’s been a while since I’ve played.”

Not to worry, say his teammates.

“It’s been great having him around,” Jarrett Allen said of Chandler Friday. “He’s integrated well even though he’s not playing, it’s always tough. But like y’all heard Kenny say, we’re throwing him to the wolves this weekend. I think he’s finally ready to get in the lineup.”