Latest News, NBA / Apr 19, 2011 / 12:00 pm

How Trading Pau Gasol Turned The Memphis Grizzlies Into Contenders

Rudy Gay

Rudy Gay (photo. Douglas Sonders)

On Feb. 1, 2008, Michael Heisley, the owner of the Memphis Grizzlies, and Chris Wallace, the team’s general manager, were the two most vilified men in the NBA. They had just traded Pau Gasol to the Lakers in a move that was seen as one of the most lopsided trades in NBA history. They turned the Lakers into instant championship contenders, while getting pennies on the dollar in return. The package they got included Javaris Crittenton (now out of the League), Kwame Brown, a practically retired Aaron McKie, two late first-round picks, and the rights to Pau’s brother, Marc Gasol.

People unanimously criticized the trade, saying it was bad for the NBA, and Heisley forced Wallace’s hand because he wanted to make the team more attractive to sellers. Some proposed having the NBA prevent such unfair trades in the future, and Wallace was seen as incompetent. Well, three and a half years and one playoff victory later, Heisley and Wallace have managed to salvage their reputations, and in doing so, have made the Grizzlies a playoff contender for the next five years.

The process of returning the Grizzlies to respectability began in the summer of 2008 when the team traded for the draft rights to both O.J. Mayo and Darrell Arthur. To get Mayo’s rights they had to trade the rights to Kevin Love, but even though Love is currently the better player, Mayo has been a solid contributor to this year’s team. Arthur was disappointing in his first two seasons with the team, but has emerged as an athletic, energy guy off the bench for Memphis this season and is in the conversation for Most Improved Player.

That offseason they signed Josh Smith to a five-year, $59 million offer sheet when he was a restricted free agent. Even though the Hawks matched, it showed Heisley was willing to spend on his team. That summer they also signed Marc Gasol to a contract, bringing him to Memphis for the 2008-09 season. While Marc is not as skilled as his brother, he is tough, unafraid of anybody in the League and has turned into a top-tier center in his own right.

The ’08-’09 season was a disaster for the Grizzlies as they finished 24-58 and were mired in last place. The one positive out of that year, however, was the fact that they brought in Lionel Hollins to be their head coach midway through the season and he has done a spectacular job with that team.

The 2009 offseason was filled with more embarrassments for the franchise. They managed to get the No. 2 pick in the 2009 Draft, but the process of finding someone to pick there was embarrassing for the team. Multiple top prospects shunned the Grizzlies by refusing to work out for them, and they ended up selecting Hasheem Thabeet without actually seeing him work out for them. He turned out to be the highest pick in NBA history ever assigned to the D-League.

While the Thabeet pick and the pick of DeMarre Carroll in the late first round didn’t pan out, the Grizzlies got a steal in the second round in Pittsburgh’s Sam Young. He is a hard-nosed, defensive oriented player, who like Arthur, has been a key cog on the Memphis bench.

Then about a week later, Wallace made two trades that have changed the course of the Grizzlies for the foreseeable future. The first deal was trading Darko Milicic to the Knicks for Quentin Richardson. Wallace then flipped Richardson for Zach Randolph. Randolph has reinvented himself in Memphis and become one of the best players in the League over the past two years. He has also seemingly had no locker room problems and has helped rather than hindered team chemistry. He averaged 20 points and 12 rebounds this past season, and has been rock solid in the post for Hollins. The most telling statistic of Randolph’s improvement though is his field goal percentage. He shot 50 percent from the field this year, indicating that he’s taking smarter shots – which has been a big problem of his in the past. The Grizzlies were smart to sign him to a four-year extension this past weekend.

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  • control

    This is a brutal article. About 80% of it is highlighting horrible mistakes by the franchise.

    Really gotta get real, the Griz have won ONE playoff game, and suddenly they are being slapped with a “contender” tag? Really? They aren’t, nor will they be in the near future, they squeeked into the playoffs and will be going home for the summer soon enough.

    The title should be “How Trading Pau Gasol Turned The Lakers into Contenders”, or maybe “Zach Randolph is a fat over rated piece of shit”.

  • Brown

    They overpaid Conley when they didn’t need to. They should have signed him long-term but at less money, $7 mill a year would have been more appropriate.

    They GROSSLY overpaid for Randolph. Yes, he’s been productive and a big reason they’re in the playoffs, but $15 mill a season?! They could have had him for $10-12 mill easy.

    Put those two contracts together and that’s $5-7 mill each year they could have saved and spent on another quality player.

    Needlessly overpaying for Conley and Randolph is going to prevent them from becoming legit contenders.

    They’ll probably lose Marc Gasol too. He’s going to get paid a lot of money and the Grizz won’t be able to afford him. Had they not overpaid Conley and Randolph, they might have been able to.

    Wallace did a good job turning the team around, but his fiscal irresponsibility will handicap them going forward. They’ve reached their ceiling.

  • chrome

    cosign control

    The title doesn’t make sense at all. You pointed out the moves that was made after the trade and how it turned them relevant. So how does trading gasol turned them into “contenders”?
    And I wouldn’t be so quick to label them contenders after winning a single game over a Ginobili less spurs team.
    Srry…but poor article in my opinion.

  • johnsacrimoni

    I fail to see the correlation between trading Pau and where they are now. The writer makes it seem as though there is a direct cause and effect between the Gasol trade and the rest of the moves they’ve made the past 2 1/2 years. Basically they traded Pau Gasol for Marc Gasol.

  • MattO

    I don’t think they pulled back on the Mayo trade, didn’t they just fail to file the paperwork on time? From this article, it sure doesn’t sound like Heisley wanted to keep Mayo..

  • neoy

    man why is everyone jumping on the Grizz band wagon all a sudden.. the only 2 legit moves that girzz made was signing Tony Allen and trading for Shane Battier

    I have a feeling they are going to trade Mayo for virtually nothing this summer, and mayos gonna blow up in their face

  • Mt. Pleasant

    Still bitter about Heisley and Hollins stealing this francise from Vancouver.

    Hope they never get better, watching empty arenas in Memphis for the last five years was my only consolation.

  • darko’s doughnuts

    @control: You know absolutely nothing about basketball. Zack Randolph is playing unbeleivably right now – and just last year was an all-star in a talent-laden western conference. Also remember, the Grizz are playing WITHOUT thier best player, superstar Rudy Gay. They just went on the road and took it to arguably the best team in the NBA this regular season. Conley, Mayo, and the supporting cast are all playing good basketball. And, thus far in the playoffs, Marc is outplaying Pau.

  • neoy

    relax there with “superstar rudy gay” lol

  • David

    Good article.

    The idiots who’ve already posted have obviously NOT been watching how much the Grizzlies have improved. It’s NOT just ONE victory … it’s their whole record in general. The Grizzlies will be back next year in the playoffs..watch out.

  • IannyB

    Kobe highlighted the factthat the Lakers weren’t supposed to have given up Marc.Hopefully they can snag him in the offseason.

  • control

    Oh damn, Darko is attackin me! And to think I’ve always loved Darko’s game, guess his food sucks though.

    Griz are winning DESPITE having Fat Zach on the team. Its the first team that hasn’t conpletely imploded when he joined, in his entire career. Probably because management destroyed the team just before he joined it.

    The guy is the poster boy for stats not meaning shit. Probably one of the worst passers in the league too.

    You also outlined the reason for the Griz’s success, the entire team is playing very well. Not just the team drug dealer.

  • UncheckedAggression

    Such a misleading title. The Grizzlies are not contenders and if they were, it would have little to nothing to do with that horrible trade. Signing Gay to the contract they did completely hamstrung them. Conley’s contract isn’t any better.

    No one fears the Grizzlies and no one will in the foreseeable future. Get over it.

  • Me

    PLEASE TRADE MAYO. really wish he’d go to Chicago, Then it’d be a wrap for the East.

    He won’t flourish until he’s away from garbage ass Conley. How this dude is a starter, let alone making 9milli a year, is dumbfounding to me.

    Could you imagine if they had Love instead of Mayo and Randolph? That would be an awesome frontcourt duo. (although i don’t hate him as much as some, i’m not a big fan of randolph)

  • K Dizzle

    Griz woulda been better served trading Mayo and Thabeet for Monta….which they also tried. Hopefully, they can Jeff Green his ass to some team for a stud cuz it’s clear he ain’t wanted there.
    Griz need to enjoy this season cuz next season, the Warriors are better, the Kings are better, the Rockets are better, Clips are better and the Jazz are better. Wins will be tougher to coe by. I mean shit, they’re the 8th seed this season and EVERYBODY but the Suns(unless they get something for Nash) are gonna improve.

    Like someone else said, Phuck em anyways. Stealin that frachise from Vancouver was a crime. Now you got 3 overpaid players in your startin 5 and after the new CBA gets inked, Gasol is as good as gone.
    Anybody wanna overpay for a legit top 5 center under 27?
    Knicks? Warriors? Heat? Hawks?

  • wyatt

    Wow, lots of idiots on here.

    !) Z-bo is one of the few unguardable players in the league today. He is unreal with his use of his body in rebounding and positioning due to his lack of athleticism. He can hit shots from virtually anywhere on the floor with almost no space. He is one of the best power-forwards in the game now in terms of scoring and rebounding. He is not a great defender though. He also is a much better passer now at this point in his career, just watch some games now to find out. Z-bo is easily an Allstar caliber player.
    2) Conley, if you actually watch him play, is one of the better point guards in the league. Now, he is not Rose, Paul, Williams, Nash, or Parker, but he competes with all of them and is having a great year and will only get better. Much deserving of his contract. And he is not making 9 mil a year; he has a 5 year, 40 mil contract.
    3) Z-bo is not overpaid. He is not the player he used to be (a black hole on offense and a team disrupter); just do some research on his time in Memphis.
    4) No, the Grizzlies are not contenders, yet. But I guarantee you every team in the West admits they are good and would not want to face them in the playoffs. Just ask them. Their core of Conley, Gay, Randolph, and Gasol can and do compete with any team, anywhere, on any night, and this year, with a better defense and deeper and better bench, they can beat anyone and did win alot of games. Yes, the only way to gain respect in this league is to win playoff games, so we will see if they do.
    5) No, this article is not about the Thunder, but honestly, they won two playoff games last year and people are ready to anoint them Western Conference champs. It is stupid to he hypocritical, so if the Grizzlies win two or three games in this series, they should also be taken seriously.
    6) I could argue with you guys all day, and I can point to this season, yes because we live in the present, not the past, and I can win most arguments. Look at film, watch the Grizz play, and do some research before you bash this team.
    7) Again, I repeat, I do agree with you all that the article is misleading in the fact that as of this second, the Grizz are not yet contenders. But in the West, where the Spurs’ and Mavs’ windows are closing because of age, the Grizz, Thunder, Nuggs, and Blazers look to be the new West powers along with LA in the near future.

  • wyatt

    Also, the Kings, Rockets, Warriors, Clips, and Jazz are not better, are not close to being better, and will not be better next year. Zbo tooled Griffen every game the faced each other. Also, about being the 8th seed, well guys, watch some basketball. The Griz could have been the 6th seed but instead rested their starters in their last two games against the Clip and Blazers. They almost beat Portland without Allen and Zbo, and they almost beat the Clips without Conley, Allen, Zbo, and Marc (Marc did play a little bit).
    And about the CBA, the Larry Bird rights, or some form of them will probably be kept, so the Grizz will be able to sign Gasol. Again, do a little research.
    You guys dont know anything about the Grizzlies because you dont watch them at all. Not necessarily your fault you cant watch them, but dont make posts that are completely unfounded in terms of logic and research.

  • superfreak


    Are you riding on Tony Allen’s c*ck or what?

    I’m not even a Grizzly hater, but you make it seem like this team was brought out of heaven and they will win every game in the next decade.

    Everyone else is right about ZBo and Conley getting overpaid. Yes, ZBo is very offensively talented, but he does lack on the defensive end. Paying him 15M and giving Rudy a max contract when neither of them are truly “superstars” is unwarranted. On top of that, Conley is definitely and up and coming PG, but he would of easily settled for a long term 7M/year contract. Most teams don’t need to pay 9 million for a 2nd tier point guard.

    Your comment about teams not wanting to face the Grizzlies- I’m sorry, they’re not at that point yet. If I was a coach, I probably wouldn’t want to face LA/OKC in the west. Grizzlies would not be a team that would come to mind.

    The reason why people say the Thunder are up and coming is because they have 2 legitimate superstars on their team. I’m sorry, but Conley/Gay is not Westbrook/Durant. They won 2 playoff games against LA and was 1 defensive box out away from forcing game seven. Winning 1 game against a banged up SA club doesn’t warrant the Grizz to be “legitimate contenders.”

    Out of the teams that were listed to get better, I can really only see improvement in the Clips and maybe the Warriors. How does ZBo “tooling” BG in their matchup have anything to do with the Clips not getting better? Because ZBo played well in that one game against BG, suddenly the Clips are now forever doomed? They have a good young core and is developing a nice niche. They’ll be contending for a playoff spot in the next couple years.

    I think the Grizz are playing great, but they are not without their faults. You sound like the GM who is trying to warrant all these overpaid contracts.

  • http://www.DarkWingPro.com DarkWing Productions

    Dime you guys are better than this. Chill with the ESPN style hyperbole, it was ONE win! And they’re probably loosing Gasol in the offseason, so that’s a step back they’ll be taking.


    this guy needs to cash in his reality check, because the griz are still a team that has to grow alot. there team is made up of b and c players. winning games mean nothing if u dont win in the play offs. tell me the trade was a good one when they are hoisting a trophy !!

  • http://brokejumper.com/ brokejumper.com

    The 09 draft was crap other than griffin, Thabeet was a legitimate choice and he still has upside.

  • Jeremy

    Um… anyone ready to give Daniel Marks an apology?