By Nick Steblenko
Before I begin this week’s column, let’s flashback to last week for a moment. Remember how I was touting the Warriors as a much improved team from last season? I even threw in this little bit…
“After beating the Blake Show, and soundly might I add, it is not so difficult to see the Warriors in a favorable playoff match up later this season.”
Well now that may still be true, but after the Clippers got juiced up for an almost immediate rematch, the happy-go-lucky Warriors were tossed into the lions den.
Lambs to the slaughter.
Moving on to last night, the Warriors matched up against a team they can compare themselves to a little more, the Memphis Grizzlies, a potential playoff matchup down the road. The experienced Grizzlies showed Golden State a complete team at both ends of the floor, pulling out 94-87 win despite a combined 44 points from the Warriors back court.
Defensively, they were sound. With a very tall front court, the Grizzlies are able to match up down low and they out rebounded the Warriors 43-38, 13 of which came on the offensive end. The trio of Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay were simply a mismatch for the likes of David Lee, who finished with 10 boards, and Festus Ezeli, who finished with two.
In the Western Conference, bigger is better. Tim Duncan is still The Big Fundamental and #LobCity has officially taken over Los Angeles with DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin, so you know the competition to have a big front court is growing quickly. Even the Thunder have a slight mismatch down low with Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka. So, everyone in Memphis should be about ten feet off of Beale right now, right?
Where is Marc Cohn when you need him?
According to reports, Rudy Gay has been the centerpiece in trade talks between Memphis and a variety of teams including the Raptors, Suns, Kings and Warriors. The team’s leading scorer in 2012-13 thus far, Gay has been with the team since they drafted him in 2006. Though they have never made a deep playoff run during his tenure, the Grizzlies have improved in recent years, enough to where they find themselves right in the thick of the Western Conference standings in fourth place.
Memphis appears to be a fairly composed team at this point in the season. They have size down low in Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, and scoring coming from each of their starters. They play the best team defense in the league right now, allowing only 89.1 PPG, thanks to players like Tony Allen (1.7 SPG) and Mike Conley, who ranks second in the league behind only Chris Paul, with 2.44 SPG.
All in all, the Grizzlies sit in 4th place in the Western Conference, 3.5 games back from first place. Although their bench is a little weaker than they would like, Memphis still has a complete team when Gay is in the lineup. He is their most athletic player and can match up pretty well with most players around the NBA. He has the size and length to fit in a number of spots on the floor, and the skills needed to be a complete player. There is no reason this team needs to be talking trades right now. Right?
Well, let’s just say for a minute that they are talking trades, and that hypothetically speaking they found a buyer that would pick up the remainder of Gay’s five year, 82 million dollar contract that he signed in 2010. Why would they have done it? What would be their motivation for tearing a vital piece from their team in the middle of a good season?
The only scenario that this could possibly make sense in would go something like this…
Okay, that was a little dramatic.
Still, unless the Grizzlies are planning on making some major moves in the off season, it would make no sense to trade away Rudy Gay at a time when Memphis is finally putting itself back on the map. With all the things that are going right for a franchise that is still so young, the front office has got to be out of their minds to start messing with all of their hard work now. That is, of course, unless they are just showing up on the scene.
With new ownership comes changes. Control is everything in big business and the NBA is no exception. Rudy Gay was drafted to be a cornerstone; a building block to a championship team in Memphis. So far, the Grizzlies have won just one playoff series since Gay has been on the team. Even though that win just two years ago, the Robert Pera Group may be looking at this as their chance to upgrade and grow the team.
Dumping Gay’s contract would give them roughly 45 million dollars for the rest of this and the next two seasons. He is currently the 20th highest paid player in the league and scores 17.8 PPG. There is an argument to be made here and I’m not going to say I agree with it, but the numbers don’t really add up in Rudy’s favor. For that money, they could also have a talent like Derrick Rose, who is 21st on that same list.
MVP? Or middle of the road? Doesn’t seem like a difficult decision here.
It seems a little crazy right now because the Grizzlies are doing so well, but in the world of business, the return does not justify the principal. If Memphis ever wants to have a more prolific player on their roster, dumping Rudy Gay’s contract might be the way to do it. It would free up an enormous amount of money to be used toward future endeavors in the draft or in free agency. Rudy Gay may be a big part of what is going on at this very moment in Memphis, but in terms of the future, there isn’t much he can bring. It may be cruel, but as Warren Buffett always says, “Be fearful when others are greedy, and greedy when others are fearful.”