Barred from the NBA a decade ago for repeated substance abuse violations, could F Roy Tarpley return to the bigtime? From Dallas’s Mike Fisher.

So many of the Roy Tarpley rumors that have surfaced in recent years have such a dark tone that one NBA exec recently told us, “I’m pleasantly surprised to hear he’s even alive.” But this Roy Tarpley rumor — talk of the former Mavs star making a comeback to the NBA — is more than just gossip, sources tell, noting that at least five NBA teams have responded to his stated interest in returning to basketball by doing background checks on the troubled big man.

Want an indication of disinterest from the Mavs, Tarpley’s employer until December 1995 NBA? We get it from owner Mark Cuban, who politely tells, “We wish Roy well in his pursuits.”

But Tarpley, who recently appeared as a fan at a Mavs game and said, “I’ve got some big news happening soon. … It ain’t over yet,” has clearly piqued the interest of clubs who remember Tarpley as the rare 7-footer with all-around basketball skills. Teams are making phone calls to old Tarpley acquaintances around Dallas, wondering who he is associating with, wondering who he has new bonds with. One person with close ties to Tarpley says teams are doing this legwork because they seem interested in adding him as soon as possible, to be included in their a playoff run.

Skeptical? Who can blame you? Tarpley is 40, has not played big-time basketball in a decade, and carries an all-time volume of baggage. Yes, he had (or has) a chemical problem, having been suspended from the league for substance-abuse issues. But he likely also represents a chemistry problem. By reputation, Roy Tarpley is a walking, talking headache (except maybe for young teammates who don’t even remember who is he, which might be a good thing.)

When the teams complete their background checks, they will find that while Tarpley may have straightened up his act in many areas, there are still responsibilities yet to be met, debts yet to be paid, relationships far from being mended.

One friend says Tarpley is about 265-to-270 pounds, that he could play himself into shape in a month. There might be questions about whether he can still get up and down the court, but a 7-footer who can rebound and shoot has some value.

Ex-NBA star and coach John Lucas, who runs a drug-treatment facility in Houston, has been supervising Tarpley for a year. Lucas told the Dallas Morning News, “He’s doing what he needs to do. He might have the ambition to play basketball again.”

Can he still play?

“Skill-wise,” Lucas said, “absolutely.”