Six years is usually enough time to prove yourself in the NBA. But for Mario Chalmers — point guard and punching bag extraordinaire — perhaps just one more season is necessary.
Chalmers is a six-year veteran, but seems to have spent his entire career adjusting to his role as an NBA starter. When he was drafted in 2008, the team was in flux. The Shaquille O’Neal era had ended in Miami and the Heat had struggled in the previous season, finishing at 15-67.
Pat Riley had gone through the motions as the coach of that lottery-bound team but, in 2008, he turned the reins over to a young assistant by the name of Erik Spoelstra. A tireless worker, Spoelstra had clawed his way up the ranks, and put together a surprisingly tough team that depended heavily on Dwyane Wade.
That 2008-09 squad was slapped together with chewing gum and pure determination and somehow made the playoffs. Chalmers started every game that season.
The 2009-10 season was a setback for the second-year guard. The upcoming class of free agents loomed in the distance and Riley made significant trades that would result in plenty of salary cap space.
It was a mix of veterans on expiring contracts (like Jermaine O’Neal) or on short-term deals that were inexpensive (like Carlos Arroyo and Yakhouba Diawara). It was a wise move by Riley, who was able to rebuild the roster with Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James.
The 2010 season was huge turning point for the Heat organization but, despite three Hall of Fame-level talents on the roster, there were still weaknesses, specifically at the point guard and center position. Arroyo started for most of the year, lost the job to Chalmers who, in turn, lost the position to Mike Bibby, a veteran who had been waived near the end of the season and claimed by Miami for their playoff run.
Over the last three seasons, Chalmers has been the unquestioned starter. During that time, he was been magically inconsistent yet possessing an unparalleled level of self-confidence that is difficult for Heat fans to fathom.
Chalmers can be counted on to do two things during the course of a game — make one incredible play that reminds everyone why he’s the starter and then negate that with a mindless foul or turnover that has you questioning how he’s even in the NBA. It’s the yin-yang of Chalmers’ game.
When he shared the floor with All-Star teammates that could erase his regular mistakes, it was almost charming and funny… look at how they berate him on the floor!
You never had to take him too seriously with James, Wade and Bosh running the show.
But in last season’s NBA Finals, he forgot how to balance the excellent with the incomprehensibly bad. He shot 33 percent from the field, averaging just more than four points per game (despite a career average over twice that) and was even replaced as a starter in the final, deciding game of the series.
Heading into free agency, it was not the kind of impression you would want to make on future employers. He miraculously still had suitors … it was reported that Chalmers was being courted by the Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets.
“I’m past the Finals. Over and done with it. You just take a couple of days to think about it and then you get over it.”
“Rio” will once again be tasked with leading a team in transition. From the scrappy team under the first-year coach to the superstar squad that went to the Finals for four straight years and now … who knows?
Much of that will depend on Chalmers developing into a more consistent floor general. At times — too few and far between — he has shown flashes of brilliance.
He’s a solid shooter from long-range (38 percent for his career) and has been willing to attack the rim, regardless of who’s there to protect it. Sometimes he’s successful and others … well, that’s just Rio.
He’ll have to adjust to playing without James, the greatest single talent in the league. Without James on the roster, this team isn’t expected to be a serious title contender.
But Chalmers and his legendary confidence don’t see it that way:
“We still got D-Wade and C.B. We still got people on the team that can help us get back to where we were … We’ve got a lot of good pieces that can help fill that spot LeBron left. We got a team that’s going to work together.”
The irony is that, among the “good pieces” that he referenced, Chalmers is likely to play the most significant role. Of the many challenges the team faces this season, blending old teammates with new acquisitions is typically a job for the team’s point guard.
After six seasons of massive, sweeping changes, perhaps Chalmers is finally mature enough to provide the stability the team so desperately needs.