But, let’s say the Grizzlies unload Gay and pick up a couple solid — but not game-changing — long range shooters to cut into their future luxury tax burdens. Then let’s say this actually improves their three-point shooting. Who is going to create offense and open up teammates in the game’s final moments? You could point to Mike Conley Jr, but he’s shown a reluctance to take over games down the stretch, and their beasts down on the block might not be able to avoid teams doubling down and forcing the issue from the outside. Gay’s length, plus his ability to get a turnaround over just about every defender in the league, shouldn’t be discounted simply because he’s having an early season shooting slump. We know the Grizzlies’ new hire, stats maestro, John Hollinger, must be looking at Gay’s lowest PER (15.0) since the 2008-09 season (when he was just 22) and probably thinks they can do better with some more shooters at a lower cost (the guy did invent PER), but that’s neglecting the game’s final moments, where Gay’s ability to get a decent look with teams buckled down on defense should not be discounted.
Also, since Hollinger has to be playing a leading role in the evaluation of Gay, we should look at his plus/minus this season. It’s right behind their triumvirate of starters mentioned from above: Conley, Gasol and Randolph, via 82games.com. For the season, the Grizzlies have scored more and defended better when Gay is on the floor, and his place as the small forward and power forward (when the Grizz bring in Jerryd Bayless and Wayne Ellington at the guard spots, and move Quincy Pondexter to the small forward with Gay and Gasol holding down the rest of the frontcourt) represents a better winning percentage than any 5-man units that don’t involve Gay.
With Rudy Gay on the floor, the Grizzlies score 106.4 points per 100 possessions, which is good enough to be sixth in the league overall, trailing only the Thunder, Heat, Knicks, Clippers and Spurs. With him off the court, they’re back around their overall average this season at 102.1, via 82games.com. With Gay on the court, the Grizzlies also give up 99.8 points per 100 possessions, which is right in line with their overall defense (99 points given up per 100 possessions). With him off the court, they’re giving up 102.2.
So the Grizzlies team scores more when Gay is on the court, and they play better defense when he’s on the court. Both numbers can be ascribed to his playing the majority of his minutes with the starters, all of whom — save Tony Allen — possess better plus/minus numbers. John Hollinger knows all this, and knows that if the Grizzlies are going to make a splashy trade that opens up the court more on the offensive end, their best bet is Gay and the $16 million he’s owed this year (plus the $37 million he’s under contract for through the 2014-15 season). Conley’s deal doesn’t take enough money off, and point guards are harder to come by than a three-point shooter they’re looking for in exchange for Gay. Gasol and Randolph are signed through the 2014-15 season too, but they’re the franchise cornerstones, and probably the best center/power forward tandem in the league.
Even though Rudy Gay might be paid like a superstar, with nary an All-Star or All-NBA nod to his bio, he’s still a long, lean forward that can get into the lane and create havoc late in games. He’s not shooting up to par this year, but he still defends well enough and scores efficiently enough to keep the team in the black when he’s playing. Yes, the Grizzlies desperately need some three-point shooting to rectify their predictable offense, but at what cost? And when you’re a legitimate threat to host a playoff series in a wide open Western Conference, why roll the dice on a big move before you have to?
The Grizzlies have more than a month before they’re locked in with Conley, Gay, Randolph and Gasol over the next three years (the trade deadline is February 21), so they should either wait for a perfect offer that may not come, or settle in with the four man unit they have for the next three years (Tony Allen is a restricted free agent this summer, and they’ll probably let him bounce). The perfect offer is a trade that dumps Gay’s contract, but gets three-point shooters (plural), and a player with the capability to — at the very least — create his own shot off the dribble. If not, why mess with a good thing? If Randolph gets hot like he did in the 2010-11 postseason, but Gay shoots and defends at career averages, the Grizzlies will still be a mediocre offense team with one of the top defenses in the league come spring time. That’s title contention, and you don’t want to forfeit title aspirations to save a few dollars in luxury tax fees. When you’re this close, why switch up personnel that hasn’t really been given a chance at full strength to succeed in the playoffs? Trading Rudy Gay might be an answer, but the Grizzlies rely on him to create so much offense when their set plays fall apart late in games, it’ll be hard to make up for that when he’s gone. There are other ways to dump contracts without dumping the one guy that is probably going to take a last second shot for your team.
The Grizzlies are in the discussion as Western Conference title contenders, even if they’re at a second tier right now behind the Clippers, Thunder and Spurs. But that’s with a middling offense that can only get better. They should roll the dice. Not many teams get a chance to compete for a title, and this year’s team has that chance.
What should Memphis do?
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