Last night's 104-85 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center was a huge stepping stone for the Memphis Grizzlies. While everyone wants to talk about how bad the Lakers looked and speculate as to why Los Angeles is no longer playing championship level basketball, I am interested in why Memphis isn't playing like this more often and solidifying themselves as a playoff team out West. I'm not sure if I should look at Memphis as a 15-19 team who is currently last place in the Northwest Division, an astounding 14.5 games behind San Antonio or if I should look at the Grizzlies as the team that has beaten Los Angeles twice (including at LA), won at Dallas, and beat the Miami Heat. The Grizzlies have a lot of young talent and two legitimate stars with Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph, I think they should finish as the 7 or 8 seed out West and this is how they can get there.
There are really only six teams in the NBA that have a legitimate shot at winning the NBA Title this season. The Spurs, Mavericks, Lakers, Celtics, Heat, and Magic, along with some extreme dark horse picks like the Thunder, Jazz, and Bulls, are the only teams that need to be making trade decisions with the "win now" philosophy in mind. Memphis's talent is young and they are probably two or three years away (at best) from being able to even say that a Championship is in their sights. This is not the Orlando Magic; they do not need to overhaul their roster. There are some small adjustments they can make this season and in the off-season that will keep their core in place while still improving their lineup. They have Rudy Gay locked up until the 2015/2016 season and point guard Mike Conley under contract a year further than Gay.
Los Angeles Lakers amount of money under contract for next season: $92 million.
Memphis Grizzlies: $40 million.
The Grizzlies have great cap room and do not need to worry about finding a franchise player or point guard for the next five seasons.
I think Zach Randolph is the best kept secret in the NBA. If I were to ask you to immediately name me your top five power forward/center type of guys, I'm sure the response would be some mix of this:
Dirk Nowitzki, Amare Stoudemire, Pau Gasol, Chris Bosh, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Blake Griffin
Very few people will link Randolph to that elite category of guys even though his stats for the past ten seasons have been right there. There's a reason this guy makes 17 million dollars this season. At 18.9 ppg he is ahead of Tim Duncan, Pau Gasol, and Chris Bosh. At 12.5 rpg he trails only Joakim Noah, Dwight Howard, and Kevin Love. He's also fifth in the league in double doubles.
Losing Randolph would leave a significant hole down low for the Grizzlies and unless they could fill it with Blake Griffin, I do not see why they should even think about trading him or not resigning him.
I think the Grizzlies should try to lock him down for four more years during the season so they can begin the rest of their off-season plans. An extension of three years, 50 million with an option of a fourth year would be the right amount to give Randolph and no other contender could match that amount for him. I'm sure the New Jersey Nets would be able to offer him a larger contract in the off-season but then Randolph would be back on a rebuilding team to spend possibly the rest of his career.
Sign Randolph now.
Marc Gasol becomes a free agent at the end of this season. His contract this year was $3,480,000. Teams will definitely offer more than that for the improving and young (about 25 years old) Gasol brother.
His stat line is 11.7 ppg and 7.3 rpg. He is surprisingly 2nd on the team in assists and 1st in blocks. Gasol is definitely worth keeping.
If Randolph signs on, then the Grizzlies will probably only be able to offer Gasol 7-8 million a season. There will probably be 3-5 teams that will offer him 10. If Randolph chooses not to resign with Memphis (preferably letting them know before the off-season so they could receive something for him and not be empty handed a la Cleveland) then Memphis should increase the offer sheet with Gasol and designate him as the new main option big man down low.
The Grizzlies can not afford to lose Randolph and Gasol this off-season. If they can keep them both they will remain in the playoff hunt.
I like OJ Mayo's game, but in terms of what they could get for him in a trade along with the make-up of their roster, the decision to trade Mayo makes the most sense.
At the shooting guard position, Memphis started Tony Allen last night against the Lakers. Now Tony Allen has historically guarded Kobe Bryant very well (Boston vs. LA series), so the decision made sense for this isolated game. However, I think with Tony Allen and the young Xavier Henry, the Memphis Grizzlies would be able to move on and potentially improve at shooting guard without Mayo.
Xavier Henry is 6'6, 220 lbs and 19 yrs old
OJ Mayo is 6'4, 210 lbs and 23 yrs old
The Grizzlies spent the lottery pick on Xavier last draft and should pour their attention to this freak of an athlete who shoots the three better than Mayo. Xavier could turn into a star in this league and his size will be more suitable for the Kobe Bryant-Brandon Roy Western Conference. Bring in Tony Allen off the bench like the Celtics did behind Ray Allen and I think the Grizzlies will be just fine.
That brings me to the trade. OJ Mayo is scheduled to make 4.4 million this season and 5.6 next year which means a lot of potential trades can be created, but they're not going to get back an elite 10 million plus guy for him. Teams that really need a shooting guard and would be desperate to trade for one this season are the Utah Jazz and Chicago Bulls. The Utah Jazz do not have the right mix of guys that they would trade nor the right salaries. That is why I think the Grizzlies should execute this trade with the Bulls. Here's how it would look...
Trade OJ Mayo to the Chicago Bulls for Taj Gibson and Ronnie Brewer.
The contracts match up nearly identically.
Chicago desperately needs a shooting guard, and Mayo would give them one of the best starting fives in the league. Gibson would give the Grizzlies depth at the post which may be necessary if Randolph or Gasol head to different teams next season.
Chicago may be hesitant to part with another big man since Noah is injured right now, but Chicago has a comfortable 8 game lead in their division, meaning they pretty much are guaranteed to finish in the top 4 seeds. Chicago needs a playmaker like Mayo to compete with the Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen, Jason Richardson, and Joe Johnson out there in the Eastern playoffs.
Plus, Ronnie Brewer would be a good backup to Rudy Gay.
Memphis may want more for Mayo, but I think they should really look into this deal. Xavier Henry is 19 years old and at 6'6 220 lbs and I think he could be a star in this league eventually. Having Henry to step into the shooting guard spot and then Tony Allen to split minutes and come in for defensive assignments like he did last night with Kobe, the Grizzlies can move on without Mayo, even though Mayo is a very solid player.
Thabeet is only averaging 1.5 ppg and 1.3 rpg in 9 minutes a night. Last night against L.A. he was the only player on Memphis with a (-) in the (+/-) category. Thabeet was a -7 which compare that to Marc Gasol who was at +26. At 7'3 and only 23 years old, it may seem crazy to part with Thabeet, but I think there's a potential trade with Orlando that would really benefit both teams.
Orlando would trade away Chris Duhon and Malik Allen who's contracts add up to be only around 200-300 thousand dollars less than Thabeet. Orlando needs another big man, particularly a backup center for Dwight Howard, and they would love the option of putting in a 7'3 Thabeet for 10-15 minutes a night.
In return Memphis would have a dependable backup point guard in Chris Duhon and an expiring Malik Allen contract which would give them about 1.5 million extra in the offseason to tack onto either Randolph or Gasol's contract. As we've seen this year and previous years in the NBA, it is hard for a point guard to remain healthy for all 82 games. Being able to bring in Duhon if Mike Conley were to get injured and having him there to backup the young star, the Grizzlies would have security and a deeper backcourt. Yes, losing the prospect of Thabeet could come back to haunt them, but right now they are parting with a 1 point 1 rebound type of guy.
Three years from now the Spurs, Mavs, and Lakers should be far too old to still compete for the NBA Title. Teams like the Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder, Portland, and maybe even Golden State will rise since their core talent is all fairly young. Here's what the Grizzlies roster could look like as soon as next season and I think this group could be in the mix for years to come.
The Memphis Grizzlies should be a playoff team this year and with the right moves will continue to rise up the bracket in years to come.