Another NBA reset for former Notre Dame basketball star Jerian Grant

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

{child_flags:featured}NBA RESET ROULETTE

{child_byline}By Tom Noie

South Bend Tribune{/child_byline}

The tweet in its politically correct form from former Notre Dame point guard Jerian Grant hit Twitter early Sunday morning.

“Thank you Chicago for 2 great years. @OrlandoMagic let’s get it,” wrote Grant, traded late Saturday night for the fourth time in his three-year professional career in what was a salary dump for the Bulls.

What Grant likely wanted to tweet was to thank Chicago for two often frustrating, confusing, always-looking-over-the-shoulder-at-the-next-point-guard you-want-to-bring-in-to-take-my-minutes years.

In Grant’s two seasons with the Bulls, another former Notre Dame point guard, John Paxson, the team’s executive vice president for basketball operations, didn’t do his fellow Domer any favors in a league full of them. It’s hard to have the basketball in your hands when you’re constantly wringing them wondering where you fit.

For all he did during his senior year of college, which was enough to warrant being the school’s first first-round NBA draft pick in 14 years, Grant never fit for an organization going nowhere. Each time it seemed it was Grant’s time to play, time to display the downhill, driving and dishing and hitting his step-back jumper skills that helped drive Notre Dame to the 2015 Atlantic Coast Conference championship, he was busy being yo-yoed around coach Fred Hoiberg’s rotation.

He’s in, then out. He’s starting, then buried on the bench. He’s a key piece, then a forgotten one. Regardless, he still had to play and play well. That’s hard to do on a team where there’s always another guy waiting to take the ball, your minutes and your job.

Grant was considered an ideal fit when acquired by Chicago, but he never really did. Just like he didn’t fit the plan of the New York Knicks, who acquired Grant in a draft-night trade from Washington via Atlanta. A rookie point guard on a veteran team with a ball-dominant player (Carmelo Anthony) and a rookie coach (Derek Fisher) with plans to contend for a playoff spot (yeah, sure) in 2014 can’t afford to have a rookie running the game’s most important position.

The trade to Chicago in his first offseason was supposed to offer new NBA life. He was seemingly the perfect piece in Hoiberg’s wide-open, motion offense. He’d play downhill. He’d attack. He’d hit that step-back jumper the way he did in 2015. He’d run screen/roll with the Bulls’ bigs the way he did with former Irish big man Zach Auguste in 2015. He’d prove worthy of being that first-round pick, of being a legit NBA player.

Still waiting.

The 6-foot-5 Grant has shown a few signs that he belongs in the league. He went for 18 points, six rebounds and six assists in his final game as a Knick. He earned 2016 summer league championship game most valuable player honors. He had 22 points, five rebounds and 13 assists in January. But watch him work compared to the way he did during that magical 2015 Irish season. He’s a shell of his former self. Not attacking. Not playing downhill. Not taking or making that step-back jumper. Too hesitant. Too much in his own head. Paralysis by analysis.

In a make or miss league, he hasn’t made enough shots (a career 41.1 percent from the field, 31.1 percent form 3). Make a few more and maybe he sticks. Miss too many and he gets traded. DNP-CD’d.

Paxson didn’t help Grant’s game by constantly bringing in other guards. They signed Rajon Rondo. Traded for Cameron Payne and Kris Dunn. Kicked the tires on Isaiah Canaan and Michael Carter-Williams. All with Grant there on the roster. The Bulls’ brass may have liked him, but always seemed to want to like someone else more.

Grant gets another chance to hit that proverbial reset button in Central Florida. He’s already done it so many times in his pro career that his thumb has to hurt. But the Magic has only one other veteran point guard currently on the roster — D.J. Augustin, another former Bull. Grant will be the backup. Should get minutes. Should get an opportunity to run screen/roll with rookie Mo Bamba. Should be able to prove he can play for first-year coach Steve Clifford as the Magic start over.

Grant’s got the tools to help that total rebuild.

Saturday’s trade underscores how hard it’s been for former Irish to make it at the game’s top level.

One of Grant’s closest friends and former running mate, Pat Connaughton, remains in search of a new team after Portland renounced his free agent rights after three years. Maybe it’s time to give baseball a chance. Point guard Demetrius Jackson, who left school a year early, hangs by a thread with Philadelphia. The Sixers’ depth chart flashed on the TV screen over the weekend during summer league. It listed five point guards and Jackson wasn’t one of them. Swingman V.J. Beachem didn’t receive an invitation to play summer league. Power forward Bonzie Colson isn’t medically cleared to compete in summer league. Point guard Matt Farrell has seen some run with the Miami Heat. But much of that has been off the ball.

A 2015 consensus first team All-American, Grant had the best chance of all to make it in the league for a prolonged period. He enters next season on an expiring contract that will pay him $2.4 million this season.

His NBA time, like that rookie deal, might be about up.

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It was a frustrating and confusing two years in Chicago for former Notre Dame guard Jerian Grant. The Bulls sent Grant to the Orlando Magic on Saturday.