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Mario Chalmers, after bitter end with Heat, loving big role with Grizzlies

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Mario Chalmers came up in trade rumor after trade rumor after trade rumor last summer.

It wasn’t difficult to see why the Heat would want to deal him. Goran Dragic had supplanted Chalmers in the starting lineup. Without LeBron James around to create open looks for him, Chalmers had slumped in his role as a spot-up shooter. And Chalmers’ $4.3 million salary was a huge liability to a team facing the first luxury-tax repeater rate in NBA history.

But when an early November report said the Grizzlies were interested in Chalmers, he said he spoke with someone from the Miami organization. (The guard declined to name the person.)

“That really made me feel like I was going to be there for a while,” Chalmers said, meaning the rest of the season.

A week later, the Heat traded him to Memphis.

Chalmers said he found out through Twitter.

“For me being there so long, and nobody had the respect to tell me that I was about to get traded, that’s how it went down,” Chalmers said.

His head spun. He had spent his entire eight-year career in Miami, and he let his guard down after getting the impression he’d finish the season there.

A phone call from Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger helped ease his mind. Chalmers heard a simple message: “We need  you to score.”

That he has.

Chalmers  is pouring in points for Memphis, which has turned around its season since empowering Chalmers as a high-usage backup point guard.

He scored 29 points in 23 minutes in his third game with the Grizzlies, tied for the third-highest mark of his career and his top output in nearly three years. And he barely knew the offense at that point.

“It’s basically playing in the summer time,” Chalmers said.

Chalmers is scoring 11.5 points per game with Memphis, which would be a career high over a full season. And he’s doing it in just 19.5 minutes per game, which would be a career low.

His 21.2 points per 36 minutes dwarf previous marks:

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Showing his ability to handle an instant-offense-off-the-bench role should only increase Chalmers’ stock this summer, when his contract expires.

He had already proven he can be an adequate spot-up shooter next to a major star (and that he can’t do it without one). Since his rookie year – the last time Chalmers felt so entrusted to make plays – he shot 39% on 3-pointers with LeBron on the court as a teammate and 31% without LeBron. Teams who need someone to fill that role should consider Chalmers.

Apparently, so should teams who need more of an offensive punch. Chalmers has comfortable with the ball in his hands in Memphis.

The two roles should widen the pool of suitors this offseason. That versatility might be the boost Chalmers needs as he crosses age 30 before entering free agency.

But Chalmers didn’t come to Memphis just establish his scoring bona fides. He has quickly proven a fit in the Grizzlies’ “Grit and Grind” ethos.

“He’s a pest,” Mike Conley said. “He gets up and into you.”

“He’s gritty,” Marc Gasol said.

“He’s very feisty,” Joerger said, “and he’ll get after you.”

Memphis was 3-6 when Chalmers arrived and has gone 10-4 since.

It’s an oversimplification to say he turned around the Grizzlies, but his work off the bench has been instrumental. Memphis’ starters were outscored by 0.6 points per game pre-Chalmers, and they’ve been outscored by 1.7 points per game since his arrival. The difference has been other lineups – many of the best ones being led by Chalmers.

The Grizzlies have scored 105.1 points per 100 possessions with Chalmers on the court (equivalent to third in the NBA) and 99.0 without him (equivalent to 23rd). And it’s not just his offense that has shined. Even when his shot isn’t falling, Chalmers gets playing time due to his defense. Memphis allows just 97.8 points per 100 possessions with him playing (fifth), down from 106.0 (28th) without him.

The Heat also quietly played very well with Chalmers on the court before trading him. That makes Chalmers the only player whose teams have outscored opponents by at least 12.5 points per 100 possessions with him on the court not on the Warriors, Spurs or Thunder (minimum: 300 minutes):

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All this is without Chalmers feeling fully comfortable in the system, which delights Joerger.

“I think the best of Mario Chalmers is yet to come for our team,” the coach said.

Chalmers probably wouldn’t mind if it came Sunday, when the Grizzlies visit Miami. He said he’s “definitely” looking forward to that game.

Of course, Memphis fans have already seen Chalmers at his best. At Kansas, he made a 3-pointer in the final seconds of the 2008 NCAA championship game against the Memphis Tigers to force overtime:

Memphis lost in the extra period, and Chalmers said local fans have brought up the shot “all the time” since he came to town.

“But they kind of forgive me now, so it’s cool,” Chalmers said.

They have?

“That’s what they say.”

You believe that?

“No, not really.”

A little less trusting and a lot more productive, Chalmers is finding his groove with the Grizzlies.

Jeff Van Gundy predicts NBA will cancel rest of season

NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy
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Kirk Herbstreit sent waves through college football when he predicted the upcoming season will be canceled due to coronavirus.

Now, NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy is sharing a similar assessment of the sport he covers.

Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe:

He doesn’t believe the 2019-20 season will resume.

“I understand how you can start again, but what’s the plan if the next person gets sick, like another Rudy Gobert-type of situation, we’re going to play through it? We’re going to cancel it again? That to me is why I don’t see any of these things taking place.

“I have no idea how they can pull off the season, and I have no idea what’s going to happen, and I hope next season isn’t impacted.”

Van Gundy is spot-on with his warning about another sick person. Can the NBA effectively test players, coaches, referees, etc. then keep them isolated? Until a vaccine is available, that’s practically essential. A single case of coronavirus would undermine the entire operation.

Holding games in one location would reduce risk. It wouldn’t eliminate risk.

Remember, the NBA planned to continue games (without fans present) until Gobert’s positive test necessitated a shutdown. Controlling coronavirus is far easier said than done.

I don’t share Van Gundy’s concern about next being impacted, though.

Next season will likely be impacted. Multiple future seasons could be impacted.

That’s worth the tradeoff.

The NBA is approaching its playoffs – the most lucrative and compelling portion of the season. It’d be a mistake to throw away the postseason just to keep future regular seasons on track.

After all, haven’t we spent the last year discussing declining interest in the regular season? A shorter regular season next season would be a perfectly acceptable tradeoff in order to hold this season’s playoffs. Heck, the NBA could shorten multiple upcoming regular seasons as it phases back toward a normal calendar.

Van Gundy is right to express caution about resuming play. The NBA shouldn’t restart anytime soon. But no matter when it’s safe to hold games again, the league should finish the season. Figure out future seasons from there.

China again delays basketball season due to coronavirus

Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) chairman Yao Ming
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As the NBA contemplates how and when to resume its season, China – on an earlier coronavirus timeline – can serve as a model.

The Chinese Basketball Association suspended its season in February and planned to resume in April. Then May. Now, it’ll be even later.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

In a setback to the resumption of professional sports, the Chinese government issued an order Tuesday delaying the restart of the Chinese Basketball Association and other group sporting events, according to documents obtained by ESPN.

CBA teams have been informing players that they still intend to return to play and hope to have more clarity in a few weeks, sources told ESPN’s Jonathan Givony.

There’s probably a bigger lesson here about not blindly trusting messaging from China.

For the NBA, it’s a grim warning about the difficultly of restarting a basketball season amid an ongoing pandemic.

ESPN moving up Michael Jordan documentary to April

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ESPN threw cold water on hopes its 10-part Michael Jordan documentary on Jordan and the Bulls, originally scheduled for June, would premiere early with the sports world lacking content due to the coronavirus.

Apparently, that was a misdirect.

ESPN release:

Today it was announced that the premiere of “The Last Dance,” the highly anticipated 10-part documentary series will air on ESPN in the U.S. on Sunday nights over five weeks from April 19 through May 17. The series will also be available outside of the U.S. on Netflix.

The series, directed by Jason Hehir (“The Fab Five,” “The ’85 Bears,” “Andre the Giant”), chronicles one of the greatest icons and most successful teams in sports history, Michael Jordan and the 1990s Chicago Bulls, and features never-before-seen footage from the 1997-98 season as the team pursued its sixth NBA championship in eight years.

ESPN statement: “As society navigates this time without live sports, viewers are still looking to the sports world to escape and enjoy a collective experience. We’ve heard the calls from fans asking us to move up the release date for this series, and we’re happy to announce that we’ve been able to accelerate the production schedule to do just that. This project celebrates one of the greatest players and dynasties ever, and we hope it can serve as a unifying entertainment experience to fill the role that sports often play in our lives, telling a story that will captivate everyone, not just sports fans.”

In the fall of 1997, Michael Jordan, Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf and head coach Phil Jackson agreed to let an NBA Entertainment film crew follow the team all season long. The result would be a remarkable portrait of an iconic player and a celebrated team – a portrait only now being revealed, more than two decades later, in “The Last Dance.”

As the series weaves its way through the tumultuous 1997-98 season, viewers will be transported back to how it all began – from Jordan’s childhood roots, the Bulls’ dire circumstances before his arrival and how the team was built after drafting him in 1984, to the struggles that eventually led to the team’s first NBA championship. As the series takes the audience through the Bulls’ first five championships, viewers will experience the off-court challenges, struggles and triumphs that were a part of the culture-shifting phenomenon created by Jordan and the Bulls.

It’s an unlikely scenario that serves as a fascinating backdrop for the inside tale of the 1998 championship run, with extensive profiles of Jordan’s key teammates including Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and Steve Kerr, head coach Phil Jackson, and featuring dozens of current-day interviews with rivals and luminaries from basketball and beyond. All throughout, the tension and conflict that defined that final championship run are very much on display.

“Michael Jordan and the ‘90s Bulls weren’t just sports superstars, they were a global phenomenon,” said director Jason Hehir. “Making ‘The Last Dance’ was an incredible opportunity to explore the extraordinary impact of one man and one team. For nearly three years, we searched far and wide to present the definitive story of an era-defining dynasty and to present these sports heroes as humans. I hope viewers enjoy watching our series as much as we enjoyed the opportunity to make it.”

ESPN

Sunday, April 19

9 p.m. ET – Premiere of “The Last Dance” Episode 1

10 p.m. ET – Premiere of “The Last Dance” Episode 2

Sunday, April 26

7 p.m. ET – Re-air of “The Last Dance” Episode 1

8 p.m. ET – Re-air of “The Last Dance” Episode 2

9 p.m. ET – Premiere of “The Last Dance” Episode 3

10 p.m. ET – Premiere of “The Last Dance” Episode 4

Sunday, May 3

7 p.m. ET – Re-air of “The Last Dance” Episode 3

8 p.m. ET – Re-air of “The Last Dance” Episode 4

9 p.m. ET – Premiere of “The Last Dance” Episode 5

10 p.m. ET – Premiere of “The Last Dance” Episode 6

Sunday, May 10

7 p.m. ET – Re-air of “The Last Dance” Episode 5

8 p.m. ET – Re-air of “The Last Dance” Episode 6

9 p.m. ET – Premiere of “The Last Dance” Episode 7

10 p.m. ET – Premiere of “The Last Dance” Episode 8

Sunday, May 17

7 p.m. ET – Re-air of “The Last Dance” Episode 7

8 p.m. ET – Re-air of “The Last Dance” Episode 8

9 p.m. ET – Premiere of “The Last Dance” Episode 9

10 p.m. ET – Premiere of “The Last Dance” Episode 10

NETFLIX (outside of the U.S.)

Monday, April 20 – 12:01 a.m. PT – “The Last Dance” Episodes 1 and 2

Monday, April 27 – 12:01 a.m. PT – “The Last Dance” Episodes 3 and 4

Monday, May 4 – 12:01 a.m. PT – “The Last Dance” Episodes 5 and 6

Monday, May 11 – 12:01 a.m. PT – “The Last Dance” Episodes 7 and 8

Monday, May 18 – 12:01 a.m. PT – “The Last Dance” Episodes 9 and 10

This is welcome news, but April 19 for the Michael Jordan documentary is still a ways off. The wait is about as long as the NBA has already been on hiatus.

In the meantime, NBC Sports Chicago has a fantastic feature on Michael Jordan’s 1995 comeback.

Knicks reportedly eyed trade for Terry Rozier before deadline

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The Knicks needed a point guard.

That was the undisputed fact heading into the last trade deadline. New York had Frank Ntilikina, Elfrid Payton, and Dennis Smith Jr. on the roster, but none of them were the lead guard the Knicks needed, which forced RJ Barrett to play more in that role, plus it was not good for the development of Kevin Knox.

We know the Knicks had targeted D’Angelo Russell at the trade deadline but didn’t have the players and picks to interest the Warriors (who eventually traded him to Minnesota for Andrew Wiggins). Now comes a report from Ian Bagley of SNY.tv the Knicks also targeted Charlotte’s Terry Rozier.

But prior to the news of the [new Knicks president Leon] Rose hire, there was strong support in some corners of the organization to try to acquire Charlotte guard Terry Rozier, per sources.

The framework of one deal that had internal support sent Julius Randle, Smith Jr. and a future first-round pick to Charlotte for a package that included Rozier and Malik Monk, per sources.

Randle does not appear to be part of the Knicks long-term rebuilding plans, and there have been questions about his fit next to Barrett (New York’s best young player). While Smith has potential New York was ready to move on.

However, Rozier has two years and $36.8 million guaranteed after this season, and while he can get buckets — 18 a game for the Hornets, shooting better than 40 percent from three — he would have been a stop-gap answer for the Knicks. Rozier’s play improved as last season went on as he adjusted to playing more of a two-guard role next to Devonte’ Graham, but with the Knicks Rozier would have been back on the ball. This trade would have been classic old-school Knicks move, taking on contract another team doesn’t want for a short-term fix.

What Rose and the Knicks decide to do with Randle — who is owed $38.7 million in the next two seasons and averaged 19.5 points and 9.7 rebounds a game with his bully-ball style — will be something to watch this summer. Along with seeing who gets hired as coach, it will be a sign of the kind of team Rose wants to build.