The Golden State Warriors are in position to use guard Monta Ellis and his $11 million contract to fill the hole they have at big guard/small forward by consummating the much-discussed trade that would send Ellis to the Memphis Grizzlies in a deal that features O.J. Mayo.
The possibility of trade talks resuming comes on the heels of the Warriors dealing Kelenna Azubuike, Rony Turiaf, and Anthony Randolph in a sign-and-trade deal with the New York Knights for coveted free agent power forward David Lee on Wednesday night.
Memphis is known to covet Ellis as the high-scoring star around whom they can build a team that includes forward Rudy Gay. The Warriors expressed great interest in acquiring Mayo, the 6'4", 210-pound former first-round pick out of USC.
In fact, a deal that would've sent Ellis to Memphis in return for Mayo and 2009 first-round pick Hasheem Thabeet was reportedly on the table before the 2010 trade deadline.
The Mayo-Thabeet contracts match up sufficiently well to enable the teams to complete the deal now. The hitch is that 7'3", 267-pound Thabeet was a bust in his rookie season out of UConn. After the reported deal with Golden State fell through, Thabeet was sent to the D-League. He did return to finish the season in Memphis.
Thabeet is earning $4,458,000 in 2010-2011. That's a high price for even a former top pick because he averaged roughly 5.5 points, barely three rebounds, and fewer than two blocks over the final two months of the season when he averaged 11 minutes per game.
Mayo will earn $4,165,560 in 2010-2011. He averaged 17.5, 3.8 rebounds, and 3.1 assists for Memphis last season. He is a physical player who can defend tough NBA Western Conference scoring guards who gave the Warriors problems with the 6'2" Ellis paired with Stephen Curry in the backcourt. Mayo could also man a small forward spot for Golden State, a team that has relied on smaller lineups under head coach Don Nelson.
Nelson, it appears, will be the head coach when the upcoming season begins. The Warriors are up for sale, but there is no indication a deal is pending. Nelson said he would return to the Warriors this season unless he was let go by the team. Given Nelson's history, he wouldn't mind lining Curry up with 6'3" Charlie Bell, a strong defender acquired from Milwaukee, with Mayo at small forward.
The club tendered a qualifying offer to make 6'5" sharp-shooter Anthony Morrow a restricted free agent. Golden State will almost certainly match any offer he receives from another club to help fill the void at big guard/small forward.
Mayo is durable. He has averaged 38 minutes per game and played in all 82 contests in each of his first two seasons in the league. While Ellis is a more explosive scorer, Mayo has the ability to shoot from the perimeter or post up smaller defenders.
While Thabeet remains a former No. 2 overall draft pick in a league where size matters, the deal could hinge on whether the Warriors see enough potential in him to take on his contract.
Golden State was overloaded with bigs before the deal for Lee resulted in sending Turiaf and Randolph to the Knicks. Ellis-for-Mayo would be a swap of frontliners between teams acquiring a player who fills what management believes is a key role.
The Warriors would have to determine if they could get 10 to 15 minutes per game of defense, shot-blocking, and body-banging around the hope from Thabeet. They'd also have to decide if they believe the inexperienced 23-year-old could develop an offensive game around the hoop. With Biedrins the only true center on the current roster, Golden State might see more use for Thabeet now than they did early in the year.
The Mayo-for-Ellis deal could be made without Thabeet, if the Grizzlies can find a taker for Thabeet's contract. Given that he was the second player drafted in 2009, there is potentially interest in Thabeet from a team with no need to rush him to extensive minutes or productivity.
Mayo will be spending the summer as part of the U.S.
Ted Sillanpaa is a Northern California sports writer and columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org