The Memphis Grizzlies were getting ready to clinch a playoff berth for the fifth time in franchise history when an alarming trade rumor surfaced from the trash heap. According to Yahoo! Sports, the Grizzlies were close to acquiring Ray Allen from the Boston Celtics for O.J. Mayo and a draft pick. The problem was that the Celtics wanted more.
Boston Celtics wanted to rip from the Grizzlies' core
If the Celtics had their way, they would have picked up a few key players from the Grizzlies in the Allen deal. According to The Commercial Appeal, the Celtics wanted Mayo, Mike Conley, Dante Cunningham, Josh Selby and draft picks.
While this seems on the face to be a fair deal, the Celtics would have taken far more than Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley and general manager Chris Wallace could have stomached.
First, Allen only earns $10 million this season before becoming a free agent, while the Grizzlies would hand the Celtics $14.6 million. Conley earns $6.5 million this season. Mayo earns $5.6 million. Cunningham rakes in $2 million. Selby earns $550,000.
So much for the Celtics unloading salaries.
Second, and more importantly for the Grizzlies, they would have lost three players in their rotation, including two of their core players. Mayo provides a major scoring punch off the bench. At the deadline, the Grizzlies had no other scoring guards off the bench.
Furthermore, Heisley saw Mayo as much more than others might have. He may have seen Mayo as becoming the next Manu Ginobili, a major scorer off the bench. For that, Heisley didn't seem willing at any point in the last 15 months to let Mayo go.
Losing Conley would have meant losing their starting point guard and one of the four players they'd committed to for the next few years, along with Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. That would have severely damaged the Grizzlies' chances of doing anything in the playoffs.
Losing the point guard at the trade deadline typically kills a team's rhythm. For the Grizzlies, they would have lost a top-notch defender and the primary outlet passer for their transition offense.
Also, the Grizzlies would have lost a sizable amount of chemistry by losing Conley. Conley is a floor general and a team leader. Players take cues from Conley on offense. The offense wouldn't be the same without him.
Rudy Gay would have had to handle the ball more and might have lost scoring opportunities since defenders would have been watching him more closely.
Losing both Conley and Mayo would have meant that the Grizzlies would have had to start Jeremy Pargo, even if they still signed Gilbert Arenas. Pargo is fine starting in some cases, but he turns the ball over too much to be effective as a full-time starter.
Josh Selby might not have been a big loss, but the Grizzlies wouldn't have wanted to lose Cunningham at that point. Cunningham was the first big man off the bench for the Grizzlies with Randolph out. Even with Randolph back, Cunningham served a significant role.
He plays more minutes than Marreese Speights when they face athletic big men. He provides strong, athletic defense that Speights can't give, and the Grizzlies weren't sure Randolph could give coming back from injury.
The Grizzlies rotation is a big, complex puzzle. Losing Conley, Mayo and Cunningham in exchange for Allen and maybe a toss-in player would have shattered the puzzle. The rotation wouldn't have fit together as well without those three players, and the chemistry of the team would have been disrupted.
Just a Mayo-for-Allen deal would have been questionable for the Grizzlies
If the Grizzlies were to make the preliminary deal of Mayo and a draft pick for Allen, one could hardly tell if they could have done as well or better in the playoffs this season. Allen does shoot better than Mayo, hitting 45.8 percent from the field and 45.3 percent from three-point range, compared to Mayo's 40.6 percent and 36.4 percent in the respective categories.
However, Mayo is more effective defensively. The third-year pro averages 1.5 steals and 3.6 defensive rebounds per 36 minutes, compared to 1.1 steals and 2.9 defensive rebounds per 36 minutes for Allen.
Allen would have been able to fit Mayo's primary role, which is scoring a good amount off the bench. Allen averages 15.1 points per 36 minutes compared to 16.9 points per 36 minutes for Mayo.
Also, Allen would have provided veteran leadership that would have come in handy in the playoffs.
But would that have meant anything if he were frustrated by having to sit on the bench behind former Celtics teammate Tony Allen?
Indeed, he would have had to sit behind the grinding defensive role player because the Grizzlies already had three scorers in their lineup. With the possibility of Randolph returning to the lineup, they couldn't have had all their starters being scorers.
Thus, one could have hardly figured how Ray Allen would have fit on this team that relies so highly on chemistry.
Conclusion: Grizzlies just fine without completing the deal
That the Grizzlies and Celtics didn't go through with the deal is just as well. Memphis has now just about locked up the fifth spot in the Western Conference. Randolph has transitioned well back to the rotation despite having to come off the bench. The Grizzlies have successfully taken Arenas in as well.
Whether the Grizzlies would have done well with Allen is hard to tell. Fortunately, Grizzlies fans don't have to spend too much time wondering what would have happened because the team is finishing the regular season just fine. Soon, the Grizzlies could be looking at a great playoff run without the deal happening.