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Why a Zach Randolph Trade Is Still Unlikely for the Memphis Grizzlies

MEMPHIS, TN - MAY 27:  Zach Randolph #50 of the Memphis Grizzlies reacts in the third quarter while taking on the San Antonio Spurs during Game Four of the Western Conference Finals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at the FedExForum on May 27, 2013 in Memphis, Tennessee. 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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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D.J. FosterContributor IJanuary 7, 2017

Can the Memphis Grizzlies afford to keep Zach Randolph this season?

For a few select teams like the Miami Heat and the Brooklyn Nets, paying the luxury tax is more of an annoyance than a hindrance. Talent can be maintained almost regardless of the cost.

The Grizzlies, however, are not one of those teams. 

After making multiple deals last year at the deadline to get under the luxury tax, the Grizzlies were fiscally conservative in the offseason in order to stay below the dreaded tax line.

If history is any indicator, we can safely assume that the Grizzlies have no interest in being a luxury-tax-paying team any time in the near future.

This isn't necessarily about being "cheap," either. The new collective bargaining agreement punishes "repeater" tax teams severely, and that's something a small-market team like Memphis is wise to avoid whenever possible.

While trading Rudy Gay to the Toronto Raptors was an important step to remove pressure going into next year, the Grizzlies aren't completely out of the woods yet.

There's a decision with huge ramifications on the books and on the court looming for the Grizzlies, and it centers around the contract of Zach Randolph.

 

Zach Randolph's Deal

Randolph has a hefty player option for $16.9 million next season, which puts him in control of his future. Randolph's talented young backup, Ed Davis, will be headed for restricted free agency this offseason after the Grizzlies failed to negotiate an extension with him earlier this year.

While keeping both players would be ideal, it's also probably out of the question. With Randolph's $16.9 million and Davis' qualifying offer (which has to be offered to make him a restricted free agent), the Grizzlies will clock in at right about $68.7 million in salary after factoring in an extra roster hold.

MEMPHIS, TN - MAY 27: Zach Randolph #50 of the Memphis Grizzlies shoots the ball against Tiago Splitter #22 of the San Antonio Spurs in Game Four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2013 NBA Playoffs on May 27, 2013 at FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tenn
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

The projected luxury tax for next season is $75.7 million, so the Grizzlies would be very vulnerable to a sizable offer to Davis, and that's not factoring in unrestricted free agent Jerryd Bayless' contract at all.

Although it's hard to envision Davis getting much more than, say, Taj Gibson's deal worth about $8 million a season, particularly considering how little Davis plays right now, it's still not entirely out of the question. The cat was let out of the bag in Toronto, and teams know that talented big men are hard to come by.  

So if the Grizzlies can't keep both players next year, what are the options for this season?

 

No Dance Partners

Randolph's play has quietly declined a bit in the last two seasons, and at age 32, it's hard to imagine the bruising power forward as anything other than a declining asset at this stage of his career.

That doesn't mean Randolph isn't a very productive player. His fit next to Marc Gasol is perfect. He embodies the "Grit and Grind" style the team lives by. Fans in Memphis might riot if he's traded for pennies on the dollar.

It's those saved dollars under the tax next season that might make a Randolph trade attractive to the Grizzlies, but finding a taker for his deal is pretty difficult at this stage in the game.

DALLAS, TX - NOVEMBER 2: Zach Randolph #50 of the Memphis Grizzlies dunks against the Dallas Mavericks on November 2, 2013 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or u
Glenn James/Getty Images

A trade to a fellow Western Conference contender is highly unlikely, both because the Grizzlies would have good reason to fear Z-Bo revenge games in the playoffs and because playoff contenders in the same conference very rarely deal with one another.

Randolph's giant salary and uncertain future make him a tough trade piece in general, even for teams who might be looking for a piece to help put them over the top. 

The Charlotte Bobcats have Ben Gordon's expiring deal to cash in on, but pairing Randolph with Al Jefferson would be like swimming in molasses. More importantly, the Grizzlies would likely want some perimeter shooting on the wing in return, and the Bobcats don't have that to offer.

Even teams with a need for scoring that are in "win-now" mode would have a hard time dealing for Randolph. You would think that a team like the Cleveland Cavaliers would be a good landing spot, but matching salaries is tricky, and the Grizzlies need offensive production just as badly as the Cavs do right now. 

Most of the other teams in the league either can't take on Randolph's salary or don't have the expiring deals or perimeter talent the Grizzlies would need in return. The incentive is clear for the Grizzlies, but it takes two to tango.

 

Forward in Waiting

If the Grizzlies can't find a deal or don't want to trade Randolph and jeopardize their title chances, perhaps moving Davis would be a better option.

Trading Davis for a player with at least another year left on his rookie deal could eliminate the fear of another team using some back-loaded contract shenanigans in restricted free agency, or the possibility of simply having to let Davis go and not match his offer sheet.

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 20:  Ed Davis #32 and Austin Daye #5 of the Memphis Grizzlies fight for a rebound against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center in Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2013 NBA Playoffs on April 20, 2013
Noah Graham/Getty Images

That said, any team acquiring Davis would be taking on a similar risk and would likely need to be way clear of the luxury-tax line to feel comfortable doing so.

Although Davis has played a limited role for the Grizzlies this season, he's important to keep around as insurance for Randolph, as Z-Bo hasn't had picture-perfect health over the years.

While it would be easier to find a trading partner for Davis than it would be for Randolph, moving either player would present some challenges in terms of depth. The Grizzlies stumbled out of the gate, but things would likely have to get much worse before a deal for either frontcourt player would be considered.

 

Prediction

While this feels like the Rudy Gay trade all over again, Randolph's age and potentially expiring deal complicate matters where Gay's situation didn't.

The Grizzlies can stomach Randolph accepting his player option, but don't rule out the negotiation of a cap-friendly long-term extension. Randolph has made a home and revived his career in Memphis, and he might be willing to sacrifice money next year for financial security going forward. 

It's unlikely the Grizzlies will keep both Randolph and Davis long-term, but perhaps the wisest option would be to play this year out, compete for a title and then find a sign-and-trade partner for Davis in the offseason, similar to what the Sacramento Kings did with Tyreke Evans.

There are big decisions on the horizon, but unlike last year, the Grizzlies aren't backed into a corner and facing the luxury tax quite yet. With limited trade options available, it wouldn't be surprising to see Randolph remain with the Grizzlies this season.

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