Is it weird to get worked up over the idea of trading a guy who's playing 14.1 minutes per game, and whose contract is set to expire after the season? Koufos' camp is reportedly "less than pleased" with the role Koufos has had in recent years, and they'll probably look elsewhere for money and minutes this summer. Right now, we might as well consider Koufos gone past this season.
There's no need to accelerate that time frame to the trade deadline, however. The Memphis Grizzlies haven't let a peep leak from their side, but the Cleveland Cavaliers have reportedly turned to Koufos as a trade target to fill up their void of rim protectors. It's only a rumor now, and the Grizzlies might not even be interested, which would render all this into wasted effort.
But every time I see Koufos trade rumors pop up on my Twitter timeline, or in a Zach Lowe podcast, or in GBB emails, I want to throw something. So I don't have to reiterate why trading Koufos is a bad idea every time it comes up, here's MY COLUMN:
First, Koufos is good
This is probably a good place to start from: Koufos is good at shooty-hoops. He's one of the best backup big men in the entire league. At the actual shooting part, he's a bit limited – he has good touch on float shots and positions himself well, but he's definitively not what Gasol is on that end.
But on defense, Koufos is as good as a stone wall. He's a burly 7-footer with a solid sense of where to be and when, ranking 33rd in allowed field goal percentage at the rim among players that defend at least four attempts per game and have played at least six games this season.
We'll keep it succinct and leave it at this: Koufos is big, smart, and good. He's always been one of the more underrated big guys in the NBA, which is partly the result of a subtle playstyle, but he's extremely valuable to whoever has him.
Koufos is the only seven-footer on the Grizzlies bench
Anyone else remember when Darrell Arthur and Ed Davis were the Grizzlies' back-up big men? Having Jon Leuer and rookie Jarnell Stokes might be an even worse platoon than that, and neither of them has any business playing center either.
It may feel like a waste to keep Koufos around for the sake of plugging him for the 15 minutes per game that Gasol sits out, but the alternative is no better. Do you want Leuer and Stokes protecting the rim for a contender? And the Grizzlies have experimented with Marc Gasol-Koufos lineups, a pairing with the uncanny offensive smarts required to get by on that end.
Maybe most importantly: Koufos backs up maybe the NBA's best center right now in Gasol. Maybe from one perspective, that makes him expendable and surplus value. But under another lens, Gasol is a guy whose playing time should be trending down from the 34.9 minutes per game he sees now. Trading Koufos isn't making that any easier.
The return probably won't be worth it
Maybe the Grizzlies want a wing to anchor a platoon that hasn't thoroughly impressed – reasonable if we're looking at how the group of Vince Carter, Quincy Pondexter, and Tayshaun Prince has fared thus far. But trading Koufos won't be netting a Wilson Chandler anytime soon – getting someone like Dion Waiters from the Cavs would be just as likely to backfire as it would be to work out. And after weighing the chance that Carter and/or Pondexter bounce back, I'm not sure that the gamble is worth giving up Koufos.
Even after trading Koufos, the Grizzlies would have to find a new seven-footer to replace the hole he leaves on the bench. And for the record, Cavs center Brendan Haywood is more valuable as an unguaranteed $10 million contract next season than he would be as an active player in any capacity this season.
It's a 'go for it' year, so keep your best win now assets
The Grizzlies could also flip Koufos' expiring contract into a future asset, like getting their pick back from the Cavs. That has the convenient ripple effect of allowing them to move future picks as well, since that pick currently has restrictions upon it until 2019.
But the Grizzlies are 16-4 today, and that means right now that you can count them as a contender. The West is as competitive as ever, but the most talented team this year, the Oklahoma City Thunder, is playing from behind to make the playoffs. Over in the East, no one has really emerged as anything beyond dark-horse contender for now (the Cavs will probably figure it out sooner rather than later though). Most importantly though, the Grizzlies are playing the best ball they've ever played. That makes this a good year to go for it all.
It's not like their window immediately snaps shut after this season (although Gasol's impending free agency is a lurking pool of sharks), but the Grizzlies should remain conscious of how much value towards a championship they can juice out of their present assets versus what they can out of any future assets. The Grizzlies would much rather win this season and watch Koufos walk in the summer than flip him for a pick in the 20s.
That isn't to say Koufos is the difference between a Grizzlies team that can win it all and a Grizzlies team that can't, but winning a championship in the NBA is hard enough already. You never want to rip any component out of a team that's running so smoothly, especially not for something that can help later when your goal is win now. Koufos isn't untouchable, but trading him and coming out ahead in the ultimate race for a ring is an unlikely proposition.