Politics isn’t what we talk about here. Least of all budgets and taxes. But there’s been a lot of talk in the news lately about the fiscal cliff, and regardless of whether or not it’s a real thing politically, it’s a very real thing for sports franchises. In the NBA sometimes all it takes is one bad contract to constrict a front office for years, and then the owners lock out the players so they can get rid of the contracts so they can offer more bad contracts. But the concept of a fiscal cliff is something that makes a lot of sense when you think about the NBA and its luxury tax.
The Grizzlies have a several players making a lot of money next year. For the 2013–14 season, Rudy Gay will be making $17,888,931; Zach Randolph will be making $17,800,000; Marc Gasol will be making $14,860,523; and Mike Conley will be making $8,000,001. The year after that, Gay and Randolph have player options for $19.3 million and $16.5 million respectively, Gasol makes $15.8 million and Conley makes $8.6 million.
To put it simply, something has to give. That’s $58 million tied up in four players, and that’s not including Tony Wroten’s rookie deal, team options on Josh Selby and Quincy Pondexter, Marreese Speights’ player option, or Hamed Haddadi’s $1.3 million. The Grizzlies are a small market team with a new ownership group. Unless they’re willing to go far into the luxury tax to keep the entire core together, somebody’s going to have to go eventually.
So, with that in mind, let’s look at what NBA Trade season for the Grizzlies might look like.
Are the Grizzlies a buyer or a seller?
They’re a seller because of the money issue. One of those big contracts probably has to go, and if I had to guess it’d be either Rudy Gay or Zach Randolph. Rudy is a good player who’s paid like a great one, and Zach, even though he’s having a great year this year, may not have many more great years left in him at 31. Zach’s trade value will never be higher, but for Rudy Gay’s salary, the Griz are going to have to take some bad contracts in return. The issue remains, though: 4 players, $58 million. Eventually something has to give.
But they could also be a buyer. The Grizzlies’ bench is stronger than it was last year, but it’s still not consistently where it needs to be. Wayne Ellington was brought in to be a shooter, but he’s streaky, and while sometimes he can make big shots in clusters — like he did Monday night against the Bulls, or in November against the Heat — other times he just doesn’t have it. Whether or not you think the Grizzlies are buyers depends on whether you think Ellington, Jerryd Bayless, and Quincy Pondexter are good enough from long range to keep defenses from packing the paint. Some nights they’re great, and other nights, well, we lose to the Suns 82–80.
I get the feeling that the Grizzlies are making a run with the players they have right now. Teams this good don’t come easily, and a lot of the Grizzlies’ success this year comes from the fact that they’ve played together so long. Messing with the formula is risky in the short term when the team is 16–6. But there’s still the outside shooting question that’s dogged this team for three years. Who shoots the three? Are they good enough that it doesn’t matter?
Top Three Grizzlies Trade Ideas
I’m not really going to call these my "top three" because I don’t want to imply that I actually endorse these. I’m perfectly happy to see the team keep everything the way it is this year and make a run with who we’ve got, and then make moves in the offseason.
A Rudy Gay Trade
I kinda hate myself for even thinking of this one: Rudy Gay and Josh Selby for J.J. Redick and Hedo Turkoglu.
The salaries are within $800,000 of each other, but Redick has 1 year left at $6.1 million and Turkoglu has $11.8 with 2 years left. Redick instantly provides a serious long-range threat, but where would he play? Would he start instead of Tony Allen? Come off the bench in Ellington’s spot? Would Turkoglu fit into the Grizzlies’ pick-and-roll offense?
I threw Selby in there because it’s clear to me that the Grizzlies — at least the current crop of management pre-Pera Era — are bad at developing players once they’ve drafted them, especially guards. (And wings.) Mike Conley is the exception. Sam Young, DeMarre Carroll, Xavier Henry, Greivis Vasquez, and Hasheem Thabeet? All gone. Traded for other pieces. Or, in some cases, money. Carroll was flat-out fired when the Grizzlies didn’t pick up his option. So I don’t think the Grizzlies would hesitate to trade an underdeveloped young talent like Selby if he were a piece that could make a deal like this work.
A Zach Randolph Trade
I didn’t even want to figure this one out. That’s how much I love having Zach Randolph in a Grizzlies uniform. Dude has turned his life around, has turned the Grizzlies franchise around — along with Tony Allen, they’ve completely changed the culture of the franchise — and does great things in the Memphis community. But. He makes a lot of money.
If we really have to get rid of Zach Randolph, here’s the way I would do it, in a three team deal that makes no sense whatsoever but blows up a huge chunk of the Grizzlies’ salary cap problems:
Besides, Josh Smith is a good player, and that still puts Redick on the Grizzlies to shoot the long ball, and with this trade you just have to hope that Darrell Arthur and Marreese Speights can make up whatever rebounding and scoring you lose by losing Randolph…
…I’m trying way too hard to sell that trade. I never want Zach Randolph to be traded. Ever. Especially not at the same time as Rudy Gay for $30 million worth of expiring contracts. That’d be terrible.
A Tony Allen Trade
While we’re making trades that I hate and so do you, let’s talk about Tony Allen. He’s in the last year of his contract with the Grizzlies, and he’s not playing quite the same way he did the last two years. He’s been hampered by injury all season, and he’s not getting any younger. It feels like some other team is going to vastly overpay Allen this offseason, so even though he’s a huge part of your defense, why not trade him now?
…Just kidding; couldn’t make myself do it.
What We’ve Learned.
The Grizzlies have been together a long time. This team’s core has played together for several seasons now — Gay, Gasol, and Conley the longest, before the additions of Randolph in 2009 and Allen in 2010. I love watching these guys play in Grizzlies uniforms. And I’m attached to them. I don’t really want to see any of them get traded.
But basketball is a business. The financial issues I talked about in the opening will not go away on their own, and eventually something will have to be done about it. And when it happens, there are going to be a lot of heartbroken Grizzlies fans sad that their guy got traded away. Change is hard, especially when you’ve got a group that’s been together so long.
Ripping off the Band-Aid and blowing up the team is inevitable. They’re good right now — probably too good to mess with — but they won’t always be. Such is the nature of the NBA, especially in a small market like Memphis. We’re good now, and then we’re going to be bad, and then hopefully we’ll be good again. Thinking about trading huge pieces of the team’s identity only hammers home the fact that these things are long cycles, and we may be nearing the end of the current phase of Grizzlies history. We won’t know until we go over the cliff.