MEMPHIS – The Grizzlies enter an opportunistic May – the first full month of their offseason – with significant traction toward addressing some of the biggest questions looming over the franchise.
They’ve already resolved the ownership issue, with Robert Pera maintaining controlling interest in the franchise and a commitment to keeping the Grizzlies in Memphis.
They’ve already conducted exit interviews, with key players, veterans and young prospects set to distance themselves from a 22-60 season and embark on a summer of healing, conditioning, development and improvement in hopes of a return to playoff contention next season.
And they’re also solidifying a front-office plan that included formalizing a multi-year contract this week to remove the interim tag and name J.B. Bickerstaff head coach. Now, the Grizzlies are just days away from learning their fate in the May 15 draft lottery, where they are assured of a top-five pick in the June 21 NBA Draft as well as the No. 32 overall pick in the second round.
Expect the Grizzlies to be active in league-wide trade discussions surrounding the draft and July free agency, with key decisions looming on several of their own players.
So after covering the coaching situation, returning roster veterans and young/developing assets the past few weeks in Grind City Media’s ‘Offseason Outlook,’ we continue with my personal analysis this week of the Grizzlies’ pending free agents and veterans set to enter expiring contracts.
Player: Mario Chalmers, 31
Measurables: 6-2, 190 – 9th NBA Season
2017-18 Stats: 7.7ppg, 2.4rpg, 3.0apg in 21.5mpg, led team with 79 steals in 66 games this season.
Status: Unrestricted free agent this summer after earning $2.1 million for the 2017-18 season.
Even including missing the playoffs this season and sitting out 19 months to recover from a torn Achilles, Chalmers has appeared in more career playoff games (99) than anyone on the roster.
Chalmers entered training camp after spending a year and a half recovering from 2016 Achilles surgery, and provided stability and veteran savvy. Beating out Wade Baldwin and Rade Zagorac – a first-round pick and a highly-coveted foreign prospect - for one of the final roster spots spoke volumes about the goodwill Chalmers still carried from his previous, sparkplug stint in Memphis before he was injured. Even at this age and stage of his career, Chalmers is still a pesky defender and is a pest in the passing lanes, as evidenced by his team-high 1.2 steals per game in just 21.5 minutes. He’s still capable of hitting a big shot under pressure, and also would have ranked 24th in the NBA in free-throw percentage (85.5%), but he fell seven made shots short of reaching the minimum 125 makes to qualify for league leaders.
Understandably, Chalmers couldn’t fully rekindle the chemistry nor production from the first impression he made in Memphis after he was acquired two years ago in the trade from Miami. At that time, Chalmers was quicker, in better condition and an aggressive scorer and playmaker both alongside and behind Mike Conley before he tore his Achilles. It’s difficult to get up to speed after nearly two seasons off. The most noticeable fall-off in his game was the three-point shooting, which dipped for a fourth straight season to a career-low 27.7-percent this season. Being a step slower, Chalmers also struggled to stay in front of even average NBA point guards and his 179 fouls were fourth-most on the team. Trying to create plays in the midst of inconsistent lineups and minutes was also a routine struggle.
Trying to regain and maintain his timing and rhythm were major challenges for Chalmers in his first season back from the injury. And playing alongside rookies and developmental players the bulk of the year wasn’t conducive to showcasing whatever a journeyman point guard has left. Regardless, Chalmers is likely an end-of-free-agency option. The Grizzlies want to believe Andrew Harrison is finally ready to be a full-time, reliable backup for Conley. Tyreke Evans, who is also entering free agency, could spend time at point guard if he returns on the midlevel exception. And rookie Kobi Simmons is on a two-year, Two-Way contract with the Grizzlies and NBA G League’s Memphis Hustle. Expect Chalmers to be in someone’s training camp in September, confidently battling again to steal a roster spot somewhere.
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.