At this point it seems pretty clear that the Memphis Grizzlies did, in fact, offer to trade O.J. Mayo and Hasheem Thabeet for Monta Ellis. As shocking as the O.J. Mayo part is, this post is hardly about him, no, this is yet another praise post directed straight at Hasheem Thabeet.
Yes, Hasheem Thabeet has been playing well since his D-League call-up. I would even go so far as to say that, had Thabeet played this well all season, he would likely be #4 in the rookie rankings. That's right, #4, which isn't so bad at all; it's not the best, not by a long shot, but it's good news for Big Tanzania.
Thabeet's performance is not quite such great news for the Grizzlies front office, though. Why? Because it's going to cause one hell of a dilemma this offseason.
Not that a non-asset suddenly transforming into an asset is a bad thing; I don't think anyone sees it in that light. Thabeet's growth just puts the Grizz into a quite a bit of a pickle with Marc Gasol, who seems to be a perfect fit for Memphis on the offensive end.
Obviously the ideal solution would be to keep both. As the saying goes - this is not a real saying, by the way - you can never have enough height. The little problem is that #2 draft picks ain't cheap, and neither are top 10 centers. Here the plot thickens because, well, Michael Heisley is a bit cheap.
You see Hasheem Thabeet gets paid $4.5 million this season and, by the end of his contract, will be making about $6.5 million. Do you know how many other backup centers (not counting Raef La Frentz-level tremendously bad contracts) who make that kind of money? Rasheed Wallace, Andersen Varajeo, Nick Collison, Marcin Gortat, Joel Pryzbilla, Paul Millsap (not a center, whatever).
Now you might be inclined to say, "Well, it's not fair to not include bad contracts!" You're not seeing where I'm going here.
How many of the teams who signed those guys are thrilled to have them around this season? I'd say Andersen Varajeo and Joel Pryzbilla are the only two highly paid backup centers worth their price this year.
A backup center, even if you can play him with the starting center, only plays about 20 minutes a game. So paying them $5 million plus is legit, but only if they're your 6th best player. Why? Because you can get perfectly serviceable talent for around $2 million (my favorite: Zaza Pachulia; drop $2 milli for name, get the bruising for free).
So, to double back, what the hell should Memphis do with Hasheem Thabeet?
- The make-up trade: Everybody knows what a make-up call is right, good, moving on. The Grizzlies could have drafted Tyreke Evans, Brandon Jennings, or Stephen Curry instead of Thabeet. At this point, they can't trade him for any of those guys, but they could get someone similar. Since Thabeet's contract is sizeable, it wouldn't be too difficult to find a matching point guard. Let's assume that we want similar offensive skills to Little Mike, but much improved defense, some candidates:
- Ramon Sessions: Sessions scores in the paint like Conley, though he can't shoot. That's a bit of a problem, but he's also a much better passer. Anyhow, he'd save roughly $1-2 million a year going forward, and if he did replace Conley then that would save another $5 million or so, which will come in handy when we extend Marc Gasol and O.J. Mayo.
- Devin Harris: Way more expensive then Thabeet, but not much more expensive then Thabeet and Mike Conley. The two of them and a couple of this draft's picks (our's and the Lakers?) would make a mildly attractive package if Jersey lands the Wallotery.
- Jose Calderon: So money. Just couldn't be more perfect. He's fallen out of favor in Toronto - I could see Mike and Thabeet being enough to snag him and his reasonable contract. In a 3-point contest, I've got my money on Jose, plus he's Spanish, plus his defense is somewhat better than Mike Conley's.
- Darren Collison: Don't count it out. Hasheem Thabeet could complete the Hornet's big rotation, but Collison probably comes with the Peja Stojakovic contract. That used to be a good thing - no longer.
- Trade for picks: What kind of value is Hasheem Thabeet in a re-draft scenario? Could Thabeet and the 2 late picks swing the Grizzlies into the 4-8 range, bringing us to a top-10 and, likely, pick #14? I'm not sure. Last year Mike Miller and Randy Foye was enough to fetch the Wolves the Wizards #5 pick.
Even if we could get into that spot, do we want to be there? The wizards at DraftExpress.com have Wesley Johnson falling to #7, that's certainly worth a look. You'd have to be OK with Ed Davis - he's got a little Darrell Arthur in him, though - or high-potential Al-Farouq Aminu, who could both be there. Overall, though, this draft is already fat with big men, so Thabeet for picks might be a tough sell, not to mention a stupid one since only Favors and Cousins seem significantly more promising. Unless you can get into the top-4, which you can't, or can get Wes Johnson, I don't like the prospects of this move.
- Keep him, stupid: If Thabeet's as valuable as I'm preaching here, why not just hold onto him? You certainly could make a compelling case that the Grizzlies are already in a state of path dependence with Thabeet, since he won't have as much value as the #2 pick (prior to drafting him) until he's fully developed. And once/if he's fully developed, he's effectively untouchable after all the time and money invested in the development.
Of course, that's assuming you're the type of person who never sells low, which may or may not be a wise decision. In basketball managing, it's probably a near impossible position to take. Richer teams can afford to try to develop the (relatively) pricey Thabeet - the Grizz might need a cheaper option.
Look, Mike Conley's been playing better lately, but how many second chances is this kid going to get? At this point it's clear that Mike Conley will eventually become a decent scorer and somewhat acceptable distributor, but he's never going to defend. The Grizzlies need to capitalize on Thabeet's value to upgrade the point guard position with a player similar to Conley on offense but significantly improved defense.
And if they can't swing that deal, I think you hold onto the big guy. He's played better lately, but not well enough to hit the jackpot. I'm fully convinced that Thabeet will be a significantly bigger, better Samuel Dalembert as soon as next season. Honestly, that's not a bad thing to have. Ideally we could sign him to a smaller contract, but ideally having two centers would be blessing, not a worry.