Memphis Grizzlies Better off Trading Zach Randolph Than Rudy Gay

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 9, 2013

PHOENIX - NOVEMBER 05:  (L-R) Zach Randolph #50, Rudy Gay #22 and Darrell Arthur #00 of the Memphis Grizzlies react in the final moments of the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center on November 5, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Grizzlies 123-118 in double overtime.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The new Memphis Grizzlies front office certainly hasn't shied away from making its presence felt.

Even if it means a drastic shakeup on what has been one of the most dominant franchises in the Western Conference.

The Grizzlies (22-10) have at least an outside shot at the conference crown. Their suffocating defense (they're holding opponents to a league-best 89.1 points per game) and balanced offensive attack (four players average between 13.1 and 17.8 points per game) has helped them capture the NBA's fourth-best scoring differential (plus-5.7).

Yet, that doesn't appear to be enough for the Grizzlies new regime. Memphis has reportedly had conversations about dealing either Rudy Gay or Zach Randolph (according to Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal).

Trade talks are nothing new to Gay. His six-plus-year career has seemingly included an annual pass to the rumor mill.

Not surprisingly, he's emerged as the more likely trade candidate for a Memphis front office not yet convinced that Gay can live up to his contract (which has two years and over $37 million remaining after the 2012-13 season).

His 40.8 field-goal percentage has done nothing to cement his future with the franchise, and his blend of size (6'9", 220 pounds) and athleticism has kept him near the most desirable trade commodities on the market.

But moving Gay has the potential to set back a franchise still trying to leave their mark on the NBA landscape.

Randolph won't bring back the same kind of return as Gay would.

That shouldn't fuel the Grizzlies' fire to move Gay, though. Rather, it should be a clear sign about which player is the better option to structure their franchise around.

Randolph has logged plenty of NBA mileage, along with a history of knee injuries. And he's no bargain himself, with two years and $34-plus million remaining on his contract (assuming he exercises his 2014-15 player option).

Keeping Gay around is about more than his age and relative health, though. He offers this club a unique set of skills unmatched on the roster, with more drop-off between him and his backup (Quincy Pondexter) than Randolph and his backups (Marreese Speights and Darrell Arthur).

A Marc Gasol-Speights frontcourt may not have the same punch as the Gasol-Randolph tandem does, but it's a far superior option to having Jared Dudley (the reported target for Memphis, along with future draft picks) take Gay's place in the starting lineup.

The abundances of rumor mill appearances for Gay stem largely from the perception that he's not yet realized his full potential. When he's clicking on all cylinders, he's nearly as unguardable as perimeter players come.

He hasn't yet channeled that raw talent into consistent dominance, which is even more impressive considering he's tallied at least 19 points per game in four of the past five seasons.

Even if the Grizzlies are convinced that he never will fully realize that potential, the 2012-13 season is a curious time to consider moving him.

Besides the fact that the franchise is playing some of the best basketball in the team's history, Gay's value may have bottomed out given his uncharacteristic shooting performance (he's a 45.3 percent shooter for his career). His 14.9 Player Efficiency Rating (coincidentally a measure conceived by analyst-turned-Memphis-executive John Hollinger) is his lowest mark since his rookie season.

Randolph, meanwhile, will only lose trade value at this stage in his career. But he hasn't cut into his value sharply yet, corralling 12 rebounds per game and shooting 50 percent from the field for just the third time in his 11-plus year career.

From the outside looking in, the Grizzlies' best move appears to be standing pat. But that doesn't offer the new brass the chance to place its fingerprints on this franchise, nor does it lessen its luxury tax bill it appear destined to pay for the coming seasons.

So if there has to be a move, it has to be Randolph. He's older, less talented and far easier to replace than the dynamic Gay.

But if the 26-year-old Gay is only worth Dudley and draft picks, then what's the 31-year-old, surgically repaired Randolph going to bring?

Luxury tax savings are great for the new owners, but they'll be a tough sell as the team's biggest acquisition for season-ticket holders.

*All statistics used in this article are accurate as of Jan. 8, 2013.

**All salary figures used in this article courtesy of