The Memphis Grizzlies front office is staring down the Rudy Gay trade front like a 10-year-old contemplating jumping off the high dive. Dealing Gay could be a bold move to relieve a salary burden, but it could also hurt a little.
The Grizzlies won’t make the leap unless they’re absolutely sure. This much they made clear to Gay’s agent, according to The Commercial Appeal, saying they won’t deal him before the trade deadline unless it’s a “no-brainer.”
Surely, Memphis could move him and come out well. The team just might score more without him, like when he went down with a season-ending injury in 2011.
Then again, some risks are associated with the possible loss of their leading scorer. Having to find someone else to take all the shots he normally takes might not be easy.
Follow along to see a breakdown of the dilemma the Grizzlies face while weighing the possibility of trading Gay.
The top reason for trading Rudy Gay is that it removes one of the two biggest salaries from the payroll. He makes about $16.5 million this season and $17.9 million in 2013-14.
This contract is outsized for a player who isn’t a superstar. It’s hard to justify paying that figure to someone who doesn’t score 20 points per game. This season makes those dollars even more painful for the small-market franchise, as he hits only 41 percent from the field.
The Grizzlies could trade Marreese Speights or a combination of other players to get under the luxury tax threshold. However, Speights has the right to veto trades. Also, no other Beale Street baller has a skill set that teams desire like they do Gay.
Thus, Gay seems to be a logical player to move to lift a fiscal weight off their shoulders.
An impending dilemma for the Grizzlies after dealing Gay would be how to deal with the loss of their leading scorer and shot-taker. Gay has led the team in scoring and field-goal attempts per game in five of the last six seasons.
Before this season, he could be easily counted upon to put up between 19 and 20 per game.
He consistently tallies between 16 and 17 shots per game.
No one else on the roster is as automatic a scorer as this former Connecticut Husky. Zach Randolph had been, but he has shot less this season than before.
That’s why scoring has been a team effort in Memphis.
Anyone who wonders how the Grizzlies could recover the scoring from the loss of Rudy Gay can look at how they rallied after he went down in February 2011.
Complementary backcourt players snapped into action to replace his scoring. Sam Young, who filled in as the starter at the 3-spot, Tony Allen and O.J. Mayo stepped up their output.
The Grizzlies averaged two more points per game in the final 23 games of the regular season than in 59 games he played. Also, their offensive rating was slightly higher.
Memphis could do the same later this season if Gay were to be packaged. Allen could reappear as a significant scorer as he did that year and in 2012 when Zach Randolph went down. Mike Conley could be called upon to score more.
Gasol and Randolph would become the top two shot-takers.
Bench shooters, such as Wayne Ellington and Jerryd Bayless, could be pushed to flex more three-point activity.
The players who have time and again surrendered themselves for the team purpose could once again lay themselves out to make up for the loss of a superstar with everyone pitching in.
As much as the Grizzlies have lived up to a Three Musketeers-esque image the last couple years, they might not succeed in doing it this time around. The team’s offensive performance simply hasn’t suggested it.
With Gay absent on Monday, the Grizzlies amounted just 73 points in a 26-point loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. On Dec. 26, when Gay first missed for personal reasons, the Grizz huffed up 89 points while producing 100.7 points per 100 possessions.
Anyway, the Memphis bench might not be able to help make up for the loss in scoring. Jerryd Bayless has been anything but effective as a shooter. Quincy Pondexter is out indefinitely. Wayne Ellington is a low-usage shooter who doesn’t create his own shot.
In an ideal situation, the Grizzlies would be able to extend their championship window by trading Gay. Shedding his salary would allow them to pursue better complementary players than the ones they currently have.
Last summer, the Grizz found themselves scooping up Jerryd Bayless for the mini-mid-level exception while better established perimeter shooters, such as Courtney Lee, Carlos Delfino and Ray Allen, stood out there.
With money available, the Grizz would be able to find a better outside creator and perhaps make a move for an additional big man.
Getting the right player after unloading Gay could extend the team’s championship window. Putting Bradley Beal with Marc Gasol and Mike Conley would make the Grizz a real title threat for several years.
Having a killer scoring threat who has years to grow like Beal does to go with Conley’s point guard skills and Gasol’s inside-out ability would be a boon for this offense long term.
Whereas Memphis is a contender for a couple more seasons with this core, making the right deal and adding good complementary pieces could keep the “grit ‘n’ grind” in title debates for years to come.
Rudy Gay is a rare physical specimen among small forwards. He’s one of two starters at the position who stands 6’9”, and LeBron James is the only one with a greater combination of size and strength.
That the Grizzlies would pull in a smaller player in exchange for Gay is highly likely. The player coming to Memphis would probably be a perimeter shooter. That would assuredly mean that the guy would be smaller than Gay.
Big small forwards are a precious commodity in this league. Having such a big guy at the position is even more special for a roster that has a majority in the backcourt and would likely see that grow after trading Gay.