As soon as it became known that the Grizzlies were willing to deal star forward Rudy Gay in favor of some salary cap relief, all proverbial hell broke loose in Memphis.
First, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported that the Grizzlies and Phoenix Suns were attempting to iron out a deal:
The Memphis Grizzlies and Phoenix Suns are engaged in trade talks centered on forward Rudy Gay, league sources told Yahoo! Sports.
The Grizzlies have been shopping Gay to multiple teams, and found an interested trade partner with the Suns, sources said.
There’s no framework of a possible deal in place, but the Grizzlies have expressed a strong desire that any package involving Gay include Suns forward Jared Dudley and future first-round draft picks, sources said.
In an effort to avoid paying luxury tax in the short term, as well as get off the $17.8 million and $19.3 million owed Gay in the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons, new Memphis management has aggressively shopped Gay. The Grizzlies have made proposals on Gay to several teams, front-office sources told Yahoo! Sports.
With Memphis looking to slash at least $4 million in payroll and avoid paying any luxury tax penalties, a call to Phoenix made sense. The Suns have the leagues second-lowest payroll at the moment and can theoretically help absorb the necessary salary that would make this trade worthwhile for the Grizzlies—financially, that is.
As Wojnarowski also notes, though, the Suns are unsure if they can personally afford to take on a cumbersome contract like Gay’s. He is owed more than $53 million over the next three-years, and while he can opt out of his contract after next season, that still leaves Phoenix with more than $34 million committed to one player through next year.
Subsequently, it should have come as no surprise when Ken Berger of CBSSports.com reported the Grizzlies had also reached out to the Golden State Warriors.
In addition to conversations with Phoenix, Memphis has tried to engage Golden State in trade talks for Rudy Gay, league sources say.
— Ken Berger (@KBergCBS) January 8, 2013
On an offensively-inclined team like the Warriors, Gay’s potent inside out attack would fit like a glove. His understated defense ensures he would also have a fan in Golden State head coach Mark Jackson.
That said, per Berger, talks broke down when the Warriors insisted Richard Jefferson’s contract become a part of the accord as well.
The Grizzlies-Warriors talks stalled with Golden State’s desire to include Richard Jefferson ($21m left over two years) in the deal.
— Ken Berger (@KBergCBS) January 8, 2013
Thus, it has become clear the Grizzlies have a problem.
It’s not as if Gay is immovable. His contract is steep and he is overpaid, but he remains one of the best scorers in the game. Instead, the problem for Memphis is finding a team that is willing to absorb his contract without sending back any long term salary commitments.
Enter Zach Randolph.
According to Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal, the Grizzlies have also explored the possibility of trading the big man as well:
The Grizzlies have actively explored potential deals involving Gay as new ownership looks for ways to avoid being a perennial luxury-tax payer and maximize Gay’s salary slot with multiple players/draft picks.
Griz CEO Jason Levien, whom principal owner Robert Pera has entrusted to run the franchise, is gauging the value of several players on the roster. There also have been exploratory trade conversations centered on forward Zach Randolph.
Most would scoff at the notion of trading Randolph. He has blossomed into a star with Memphis and given his size, surely he means more to the Grizzlies’ success than Gay, the man who this team made a deep playoff run without in 2011.
Except that he doesn’t.
With Randolph on the floor, Memphis’ offense scores 5.3 points per 100 possessions more than when he’s riding the bench. On defense, however, the Grizzlies actually allow 0.2 points per 100 possessions less when Randolph is on the bench.
A big difference? Absolutely not, especially considering that means Memphis is a plus-5.1 combined with Randolph on the court, a more than respectable posting.
And yet Gay, in all his overlooked glory, has managed to have an even larger impact.
The Grizzlies are scoring 4.2 points per 100 possessions more with Gay on the floor, and their defense also allows 2.1 points less with him in the lineup as well.
Memphis is a plus-6.3 combined with Gay on the floor, a mark that exceeds Randolph’s impact.
Are you sold on the Grizzlies trading Randolph over Gay yet?
Of course you aren’t. Gay may have the more measurable two-way impact and their salaries may be virtually the same, but Randolph is a big and thus, of more value to the Grizzlies.
Except that’s not true either.
Remember, in the new era of the NBA, teams are increasingly switching to small ball lineups. Such blueprints would dictate the Grizzlies start one of their bigs—Marc Gasol or Randolph—while shifting Gay to power forward. Doing so does mean making some defensive sacrifices, but it also makes for a more versatile lineup.
It also makes for one Memphis is no stranger to using. The Grizzlies already tend to stagger the minutes of Gasol and Randolph, separating them in the name of versatility and for the sake of floor spacing. So it’s not like they’re not prepared or even against playing a diminutive lineup.
Moving Randolph also gives Memphis a better opportunity at shedding the amount of payroll it deems necessary. Though small-ball lineups are becoming more common, big men are still considered hot commodities. Teams also have no qualms about overpaying them, because of their size.
Franchises would be more apt to taking on Randolph’s contract without demanding the Grizzlies assume another long term deal in the process.
I mean, if we’re honest, scorers like Gay are nearly a dime a dozen in this league. His two-way impact remains undervalued, but when it comes to talented wings, the Association has a surplus.
In Memphis, however, there is an over abundance of bigs as well. The Grizzlies boast an All-Star center in Gasol and have two talented reserves in Marreese Speights and Darrell Arthur.
No, I won’t go as far as to calling Randolph completely expendable. Truth be told, Memphis isn’t going to improve regardless of who it trades in this situation.
That being said, the Grizzlies stand to get a whole lot more, while spending a whole lot less if they make the right call.
The same call that dictates they ship out Zach Randolph.
Not Rudy Gay.
Dan Favale is a firm believer in the three-pointer as well as the notion that defense doesn’t always win championships. His musings can be found at Bleacherreport.com in addition to TheHoopDoctors.com. Follow @danfavale on Twitter for his latest posts and all things NBA.