The Memphis Grizzlies will likely be contenders to reach the NBA Finals next season. With Zach Randolph heading into what should be a full season of play after missing most of this season due to injury, Rudy Gay rising in the small forward ranks and Mike Conley doing the same among point guards, the Grizzlies will be on the rise.
But that rise might require them to make a trade in order to add a player in a key role as they did this season. The Grizzlies had been rumored to be looking to trade O.J. Mayo in a few scenarios, but they instead dealt Sam Young so that they could clear salary to sign Gilbert Arenas.
This year, the Grizzlies could help the cause by trying to trade one of their contract-year players, since contract-year players are generally the easiest to trade. Their three contract-year players include Tony Allen, Josh Selby and Dante Cunningham.
Each player has value, although Selby's value is difficult to pin down since he played sparsely in his rookie year. Also, it's important to note that the contract statuses of Cunningham and Selby could both change this summer if the Grizzlies decide to pick up the options on them.
Here's a ranking of the likelihood of the three players being traded:
3. Allen (2012-13 salary: $3.3 million)
To put it in plain language, Allen can't and won't be traded. To say a player is untradeable is difficult. However, when a player is such a basic part of the fiber of his team the way Allen is for the Grizzlies, he's untradeable.
Who is the most likely contract-year player on the Grizzlies to be traded?
Some may say that he isn't a big enough part of the Grizzlies offense, but offense isn't his purpose. Allen is a defensive specialist, and he's perhaps the best perimeter in the NBA. He puts pressure on ball-handlers, cuts off passing lanes and plays terrific help defense.
Allen gets steals while playing either one-on-one or when playing passing lanes.
He's one of the few perimeter players who gives a constant effort to make it difficult for opposing offenses.
Beyond the numerous ways he affects the game on defense, Allen makes others better on defense. As the Wall Street Journal noted, Allen schooled coaches and Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace on defensive philosophy.
Also, in the article, Lionel Hollins said that Allen came into Grizzlies camp after being signed by Memphis playing like high defensive energy "was expected."
Allen's defensive intensity is emulated by the whole team. That's why the Grizzlies led the league in steals and turnovers forced the last two years and had five players with at least a steal per game this year and four players picking up a steal per game last year.
Writing for the 3 Shades of Blue blog, JHuber suggested that trading Tony Allen would be a plausible move. He said, "I love Tony Allen, but you could probably talk me into sacrificing his killer D for someone who provides more offense."
Trading Allen would cost the Grizzlies dearly. First, they'd lose their identity as a defensive powerhouse. His teammates feed off his defensive intensity. There would be no "Grindhouse" without the hardest grinding Grizzlies defender.
Second, giving up Allen to get another scorer wouldn't make sense as far as strategy is concerned. A team simply can't have five players trying to shoot. The Grizzlies couldn't hang together if Mike Conley, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and the 2-guard were competing for shot attempts.
If the Grizzlies are to hoist the trophy in June, it would be with Tony Allen pushing the defensive intensity. Meanwhile, if Memphis were to trade him, that isn't a possibility.
2. Selby (2012-13 Salary: $762,195)
Selby is in an entirely different position from what many envisioned he'd be in when he was a senior in high school. Roughly two-and-a-half years ago, he was the No. 1 prospect in the nation, according to Rivals.com. Despite the attention focused upon him, Selby struggled through injury and time spent on the bench in his year at Kansas.
After becoming a YouTube star during the lockout last year, Selby settled into a role near the end of the Grizzlies bench. He went back and forth between Memphis and the NBDL's Reno Bighorns in the latter part of the season. In the playoffs, he saw an ever-so-brief moment of action against the Los Angeles Clippers.
People haven't seen enough of Selby to know what his value is. He only played more than 15 minutes three times this season. Also, he only scored more than five points five times and amounted three or more assists three times.
Selby has to show more reliability as a playmaker to attract real trade interest. His 27.1 percent turnover rate wasn't at all pleasing, nor was his 34.7 percent field-goal shooting mark.
He may be traded, but it'd only be as a trade kicker or small salary relief move near the trade deadline.
1. Cunningham (2012-13 Salary: $2.09 million)
If any Grizzlies contract-year player will be traded, it would be Cunningham. Cunningham is skillful, helpful and inexpensive.
Cunningham plays tenacious athletic defense. In a Feb. 2 win against the Atlanta Hawks, he held Josh Smith to 11 points. In a Mar. 30 win against the Minnesota Timberwolves, he posted 13 points and a game-high 14 rebounds in place of an injured Gasol, countering Kevin Love's effort on the boards.
Cunningham averaged 3.8 rebounds per game and 7.9 per 36 minutes.
A team could easily take on Cunningham's contract, whether the Grizzlies are to make a deal involving him in the offseason or in the weeks leading up to the trade deadline. Also, the Grizzlies would be able to clear enough salary to get a good player to help their championship pursuit.
Conclusion: Cunningham is a decent possibility to be dealt.
Cunningham seems like the only contract-year player for Memphis who could be traded independently. Allen is too valuable to the team to be traded. Selby wouldn't be traded on his own unless a team sees great potential that the Grizzlies have yet to tap.
The Grizzlies could be looking to add a player to aid their title chase, perhaps a scorer with O.J. Mayo likely going elsewhere for more money and a starting role.
Memphis has $62.5 million committed to nine players for next season. Michael Heisley has told The Commercial Appeal he won't spend over the luxury tax threshold.
Thus, the Grizzlies would have to trade someone to get the desired player. With his modest role on the team, promising value and reasonable salary, Cunningham may very well be that guy.