The Memphis Grizzlies were the darlings of the 2011 NBA Playoffs. As the eighth seed, they knocked off the top-ranked San Antonio Spurs. Then they pushed the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Game 7 edge, in what was a very entertaining series.
Zach Randolph used the playoffs as his coming out party—or comeback story, however you choose to look at it. Either way, Randolph proved that he belongs in any argument about the top power forward in the league.
With so much momentum, and such a young, talented team returning, Memphis fans have to be at the top of the list for "fans who wish this lockout would end," right?
Sure they are. However, there is the "Rudy Gay Issue" that must be resolved first.
Gay was the Grizzlies' best player before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in March of last season. Most fans, including yours truly, thought the Grizzlies might fold without their star player. Instead, the Grizzlies actually got better.
How is that possible?
Part of the reason was Gay's "usage rate." Gay isn't the ball=stopper that Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James is, but his usage rate last season was 23.3 percent. That means that Gay was the guy with the ball trying to make something happen on almost a quarter of the Grizzlies' possessions.
With Gay off the floor, the Grizzlies became more balanced. They also got the ball inside more, where Randolph dominated and center Marc Gasol also emerged as a very good post presence.
The Grizzlies also became a better defensive team when Gay was hurt. Gay plays small forward. So do Tony Allen and Shane Battier. While Gay is a pretty good defender, Allen and Battier are two of the best defenders in the NBA at that position.
So with the ball going to Randolph, the Grizzlies' offense actually got better. With Allen and Battier tag-teaming guys like Kevin Durant, the Grizzlies' defense was a whole lot better.
So where does this leave the Grizzlies?
That is the million dollar question. Rudy Gay is only 25-years-old. At 6'9", he is a plus 40 percent three-point shooter and shoots over 47 percent from the field as a whole. He is long, athletic, and he can get you 20 points without hogging the ball (his usage rate is 23 percent, compared to Carmelo Anthony's 32 percent).
Gay is a helluva player.
Personally, I'd love to see Gay stay with the Grizzlies. It would not surprise me, though, if Memphis made a phone call to Orlando.
Can you imagine a lineup with Howard, Randolph, Battier, O.J. Mayo, and Mike Conley? That lineup would give any team in the Western Conference a run for their money.
Of course, all of this depends on Howard making a long-term commitment to the Grizzlies. If he wants to win a championship, Dwight Howard should listen very hard to this offer.
It beats the heck out of the team he plays for in Orlando.