When evaluating two players, sometimes it's best to cancel out any other noise and just look at the numbers. Of course, there are a lot of things that stats can't tell you, but it's still a good way to build a solid foundation to work from. Take this comparison, for example:
- Player A (per 36 minutes): 16.1 points, 11.8 rebounds, 0.4 blocks, 46% field-goal shooting, 17.9 PER
- Player B (per 36 minutes): 13.8 points, 10.2 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, 53.9% field-goal shooting, 17.8 PER
Without any other knowledge, those two players are pretty close in value, right? But what happens when we factor in a few other numbers?
Player A is 32 years old and on track to make $17 million a year on average over the next two seasons.
Player B is 24 years old and will make $3.1 million this year.
All of the sudden, it's a lopsided race on paper. Unfortunately for the Memphis Grizzlies, keeping Player B (Ed Davis) over Player A (Zach Randolph) is much more difficult in practice than it is in theory.
According to ESPN.com's Marc Stein, however, the process of retaining Davis may have already started, as the two sides have reportedly discussed a deal this month. But what does that mean for Randolph? And why can't the Grizzlies just keep both players?
What kind of money should Davis get?
Whether the Grizzlies can keep both Randolph and Davis for the next two years depends largely on the amount of money Davis will demand, either before the October 31 extension deadline or later on this offseason.
At least from a cap perspective, the Grizzlies won't need to move Randolph if Davis gets an extension, because the increase in Davis' salary won't take place until next season. For now, Memphis can battle for a title with a full deck, if it so chooses.
It's next season where the financial issues come into play, and perhaps the Grizzlies might want to jump in front of that tax train while there is still some leverage to be maintained in a Randolph trade.
While Davis doesn't quite have the combination of potential and past production like freshly compensated big men DeMarcus Cousins, Derrick Favors and Larry Sanders, he's at least in the conversation.
A better comparison for Davis may be Taj Gibson, who received a four-year, $33 million dollar extension (with incentives) before the start of last year.
Both Gibson and Davis have been blocked to playing time by offensively productive yet overpaid power forwards, so statistically, it's not surprising that they've put up very similar career numbers. Even if he's not the defender Gibson is, Davis' youth and efficiency offensively probably gives him the nod in this comparison, and perhaps that will equate to a few extra million guaranteed overall.
For the sake of figuring out the cap room Memphis will have, let's give Davis an ascending deal that starts at $8 million next year. Could that fit with Randolph's $16.9 million owed next year?
Cap concerns for Memphis
The salary cap next year is projected at $62.1 million, with the tax line projected at $75.7 million.
Factoring in Kosta Koufos' $3 million non-guaranteed deal and Quincy Pondexter's qualifying offer, extending Davis for a salary that started at $8 million would put the Grizzlies right around the $71 million mark, and that's before having to match on Pondexter in free agency, which is something the Grizzlies will have to do unless he's extended before October 31 or simply not given a qualifying offer next offseason.
Point being, keeping Davis, Randolph, Koufos and Pondexter all on the roster next season would take the Grizzlies right up to or past the tax line with no wiggle room.
Because all exceptions count toward the luxury tax, the Grizzlies would then be paying $1.50 on every $1.00 spent over the tax. That's something nearly every ownership group wants to avoid, and for that reason, keeping three out of the four players listed above is probably more realistic.
Why Randolph would be shopped
Trading Randolph still wouldn't be an easy decision, even if Davis gets his extension. Randolph has achieved icon status in Memphis along with Tony Allen, and as improbable as this seemed four years ago, he's at the heart of a team capable of contending for a championship.
Randolph has been a very good playoff performer over the last few years as well, whereas Davis has only played 48 career playoff minutes after wasting away in Toronto and being buried by Lionel Hollins last postseason.
Still, the front office for the Grizzlies showed last year that financial flexibility is a chief concern when the team traded away Rudy Gay to Toronto to land Davis. With the rumors swirling around Randolph much like they did around Gay last season, Randolph could be headed toward a similar fate this season, even if the Grizzlies are playing well.
For longevity's sake, aggressively fielding offers for Randolph makes sense. Despite their current status as contenders, Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are still young core pillars. As long as those two are around, the window for contention will stay open.
Basically, Memphis has to decide if forfeiting current assets and limiting flexibility in order to retain Randolph is less damaging than a potential drop-off in production on the court.
If the Grizzlies invest in Davis before October 31, we'll have a better idea of which way the team is leaning. Randolph will be shopped around the league regardless, but it's the financial pressure created by a Davis extension that could provide the extra motivation to move Randolph at the peak of his value, before it might be too late.