Mario Chalmers has been cleared to play basketball again five months after tearing his Achilles. Now the question is this: Where will Chalmers play?
“Finally cleared to get back on the court. This been a long ass 5 months man. But we don’t kill u make u stronger,” wrote Chalmers on Twitter, announcing his comeback with the hashtag #backlikeineverleft.
For Chalmers, that confidence he’s carried since entering the league as a second-round pick will have to help him fight back into the NBA. He’s going on job interviews for the first time in his professional career.
Over the past couple of days, Chalmers has been using social media to show he’s in the gym working on his game. He uses Instagram to post videos and pictures of his practices. Eventually, Chalmers will have to get in front of teams and prove he’s recovered completely from his injury.
History has not been kind to players attempting a comeback from an Achilles tear. According to a 2013 Deadspin article, seven of 18 players who suffered an Achilles tear between 1992 and 2012 never returned to play. Other high-profile names like Chauncey Billups and Kobe Bryant suffered the injury late in their careers and were never the same.
Chalmers, however, is just 30 years old, which is five years younger than when Kobe suffered the injury and closer to a 28-year-old Wesley Matthews who tore his Achilles in 2015. It took just eight months for Matthews to return to NBA action. He played 78 games and averaged 12.5 points per game for the Dallas Mavericks last season. His comeback was seen as nothing less than remarkable.
Mavericks head athletic trainer Casey Smith talked to Saad Yousuf of Mavs Moneyball in March about Matthews’ return:
“It’s (both) patience and hard work,” Smith said. “There is a time factor but there is also a strength and rehab factor. So you can’t just wait for seven months to hit the clock and you’re going to be fine. During that time you have to be putting in a very high level of work.”
Chalmers is clearly following this mantra, and he seems to be making good progress. Being able to practice pull-up threes in a gym — like in the video he posted — is a major step in the rehab process.
But being able to shoot around in the driveway isn’t the goal. After getting traded from the Miami Heat to the Memphis Grizzlies at the beginning of last season, Chalmers showed out, posting the best averages of his career: 10.8 points, 3.8 assists and 2.6 rebounds per game with a true shooting percentage of 57. He became a major contributor for Memphis as the team approached the playoffs before tearing his Achilles in a March loss to the Boston Celtics. The Grizzlies waived him soon after in order to back-fill an injury-ridden roster.
Unfortunately for Chalmers, we’ve entered the calm after the free-agency storm. Most teams have addressed their needs and are getting ready for training camp, but there should be options for him.
The Grizzlies could re-sign him to backup newly-minted $153 million man Mike Conley. They have the unproven duo of Andrew Harrison and rookie Wade Baldwin as reserves right now, and Chalmers is no-doubt a major upgrade there. Not to mention that new Grizzlies head coach Dave Fizdale worked with Chalmers as a long-time assistant in Miami.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are an interesting option. LeBron James has experience playing with and yelling at Chalmers. With Matthew Dellavedova signing with the Milwaukee Bucks, their current backup is Mo Williams, but the veteran may retire. Either way, Chalmers at this point is a more versatile scorer, a much better defender and is winning the first name that starts with “M” battle. He’s a bona fide three-point shooter who can play on and off the ball, giving the Cavaliers more options to pair with Kyrie Irving in the backcourt.
The Indiana Pacers revamped their point-guard position by trading George Hill and acquiring Jeff Teague, but they are without solid depth. Their current backups are an inconsistent Aaron Brooks and Joe Young, a second-round pick who played in 41 games last season. Young showed flashes his rookie season, but Chalmers is a more proven commodity and is more reliable than Brooks when healthy.
The New York Knicks have Derrick Rose and Brandon Jennings. Some extra depth with that cursed backcourt couldn’t hurt.
Job opportunities for Chalmers may be scarce until a team is forced to deal with an injury to one of their point guards. The irony! But that’s just the circle of life in the NBA. As they say, injuries are a part of the game. For Mario Chalmers, bouncing back from one of the worst kinds will be part of his career.