What If... Rudy Gay never got injured in 2011?

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Taking a look at one of the greater What If...'s in Memphis Grizzlies' history.

Regardless of how you live your life, everyone has sports regrets. Whether they are games you didn't get to attend, or ones you left to early, trades your team didn't make, or ones they never should have, they all lead us to the same question, "What if...?" What if the Braves had a legitimate closer in the 90's? What if they never traded for Mark Teixeira? What if Sam Holbrook actually understood what the infield fly rule was? (Can anyone hold me?) No matter how much success a franchise has, somewhere along the lines, you always come across a "What if," and for the Memphis Grizzlies, there is an extremely big one.

Now I know what you're thinking. "What if the Memphis Grizzlies never drafted Hasheem Thabeet?" That's too easy. Plus, I think every Grizzlies' fan has this conversation every time Steph Curry drains a 3-pointer, or every time James Harden crosses someone up, or literally all day every day at all points of life. Oh no, for the "what if..." I'm talking about, we have to go all the way back to the year 2011.

It's February 15, and just under 12,000 fans are at the FedEx Forum watching their upstart Grizzlies take on the Philadelphia 76ers. Memphis was only 30-26 on the season, but was already starting to show their home court advantage by jumping out to an 18-8 record. Up by 14 late in the second quarter, the Grizzlies took a timeout with at the 5:47 mark. The play was to Rudy Gay, and as he went up for the shot, Evan Turner raked him hard across the shoulder, and he went down, hard. He got up, but he never moved his arm, and went to the line to split the pair of free throws, shooting them one-handed. After an original prognosis of a four week absence, Rudy would go on to miss the rest of the regular season and the playoffs. You all know the rest of the story from here; Zach Randolph can ball, All Heart, Grit and Grind, successful playoff run, Rudy Gay is traded, Western Conference Finals. You probably won't find anyone who would argue that this story didn't end happily for the Grizzlies franchise, but I still can't help but wonder, what if Rudy Gay never hurt his shoulder...?

At the time he went down, Rudy was shooting a career high 47% from the field and 39% from beyond the arc, and leading the team in scoring at just under 20 points per game. In short, he was everything the Rudy Gay that got traded was not. He was efficient. He was worth his contract. He was playing team basketball. To go along with his scoring, Rudy was a career high 6.2 rebounds per game, 2.8 assists per game, and a career high 1.1 blocks per game.  He was still a poor ball handler, good for 2.5 turnovers a game, but at the rate he scored, it didn't hurt the team as badly. This is the Rudy Gay that anti-stat guys and Scoop Jackson said the Grizzlies traded away. This is what Grizzlies fans came to know as "Good Rudy." So if this Rudy never gets hurt, and keeps progressing at the rate he was progressing, does it change things in Memphis? In my estimation, it not only changes Memphis, but the entire NBA.

The Grizzlies were starting to gel in the game Rudy got injured in, and if he never gets hurt, I assume they not only win that game with ease (which they did anyways), but go on a little bit of a roll with the current squad. Instead of tanking resting the last few games and accepting the 8 seed, the Grizzlies finish with the 6 seed in the Western Conference, and knock off the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs. Then, just like the Mavericks, they get by the Lakers.[1] After that, they square off against the Oklahoma City Thunder, who still beat them in seven games, because with Kevin Durant's scoring production offsetting Rudy Gay, there is still no one to spread the floor for Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, because without the Rudy injury, the Grizzlies never reacquire Shane Battier. In the finals, LeBron and the Heat breeze by the Thunder in 5 games. (Not everything changes)

That offseason, the Grizzlies re-sign Marc Gasol, but let Zach Randolph walk, replacing him with the older, cheaper Kenyon Martin. With little help and more offensive responsibility, we would still see the emergence of the turnover prone, poor shot selection, terrible shooting percentage Rudy Gay, and the popularity of the Grizzlies would greatly dwindle after their deep playoff run. And when the time came for Michael Heisley to sell the team, they are unceremoniously moved to San Jose.  And, with yet another team in California, there isn't as big of a concern to keep the Kings in Sacramento, meaning they would indeed have been bought and moved to Seattle, bringing the SuperSonics back to the NBA.

So there you have it, the proverbial butterfly effect. A butterfly flaps it's wings in Japan, an talented small forward gets hurt, and there is still no professional basketball in Seattle. What do you think Grizz Fans? Do we all owe Evan Turner a drink?



[1] Also, in this scenario, I still like to believe that Andrew Bynum commits a ridiculous hard foul in the closeout game, I'd assume against OJ Mayo. This way, Zach can still do the "I'll beat yo a**" line, and don't have to lose one of the funnier parts of the Grit 'n' Grind era.

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