NBA@2: Trade That Shifts The Balance Of Power?
The NBA trade deadline is just under two weeks away, and while there are a number of interesting names being discussed among NBA teams, none might be more interesting than that of Memphis Grizzlies guard O.J. Mayo. Mayo has been the subject of protracted trade talks, has even been traded twice, though the Grizzlies backed out at the last minute each time. He’s had some off-the-court issues that have the Grizzlies questioning his long-term fit with the team, but the truth is the Grizzlies understand that they simply can’t afford him after this season.
It’s not so much what Mayo is doing, but what he is capable of that has made him the talk of teams looking for a shooting guard. He averaged 18.0 games as a starter over the first two years of his NBA career, and most believe he could do that or better now that he is in his fourth year as a pro. The problem for Memphis is that after ponying up the dough for Zach Randolph, Rudy Gay and now Marc Gasol, it is highly unlikely that they will be able to do so for Mayo, who is set to be a restricted free agent this summer. The qualifying offer is just over $7 million, but for a team like the Indiana Pacers, who have long coveted Mayo, it wouldn’t be too hard to throw a great deal more money at Mayo to finally add him to their roster. There is simply a limit to how much luxury tax a team like the Grizzlies can afford to pay.
That said, the Grizzlies would certainly miss his contributions.
“O.J.’s a big part of what we’re trying to do,” Marc Gasol told HOOPSWORLD recently in talking about the trade rumors surrounding Mayo. “He’s a unique player, great shooter. He’s been with me through the whole process for four years. I’m very close with O.J.”
The question for Memphis is likely whether they go ahead and trade Mayo now, or hold onto him and see how far the team can get this season before considering their options this summer. Despite losing All-Star forward Zach Randolph for basically half of the season, the Grizzlies have hung around. They’re sitting at 20-15, holding onto the West’s seventh seed, and are anticipating Randolph’s return for the stretch run.
“I’m very excited,” says Gasol. “We’re right there in a good spot but I think we still can play a lot better. I think if we keep executing and playing together and trying to make each other better, we can really get to a higher level. The good thing is we have a couple days of practice (after the All-Star break) and that’s going to be very useful.”
There are certainly some interesting names being bandied about as the NBA trade deadline approaches, but none could prove to be as influential as O.J. Mayo. In Indiana he could help make the Pacers contenders, while in Minnesota he could take the Timberwolves from a bubble team to a solid playoff team.
He might also be the difference between a deep playoff run and a first round elimination for the Memphis Grizzlies.
Indeed, the decision to trade Mayo could shift the balance of power in the NBA; probably not among the top teams, but certainly among those handing around in the middle. Even as Pau Gasol, Michael Beasley, and Eric Gordon appear to be on the move, Mayo may prove to be the player who has the biggest impact on his new team if the Grizzlies do, indeed, choose to pull the trigger on a deal.
Houston’s Forward Thinking
When the Houston Rockets traded Shane Battier to the Memphis Grizzlies at the NBA trade deadline last season, the move was based on two beliefs. First, they believed that Hasheem Thabeet might be their starting center of the future. Second, they believed that Chase Budinger was ready to take over the starting small forward position.
Well, at least they were half right.
Budinger was not the defensive game-changer that Battier has been throughout his career, but he did bring a potent offensive attack to Houston lineup after the trade. After averaging basically 8.0 points in 18.3 minutes per game before the trade, Budinger averaged 13.2 points in 33.0 minutes over 13 starts in March, and then 14.1 points in 31.7 minutes over seven starts in April. He also had career-bests of 4.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists in that final month of the season.
The Rockets didn’t really plan for Budinger to be their starting small forward after aggressively pursuing Carmelo Anthony via trade, but for his past, Budinger made the most of the opportunity when it fell into his lap.
You might think that Budinger’s inspired play would have made him the Rockets’ assumed starter for 2011-12, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. The team drafted Chandler Parsons with the 38th overall pick in last summer’s NBA draft, and it’s Parsons who has started 29 of their 35 games this season. That would be enough to start a rivalry in many situations, but with Budinger and Parsons that has yet to be the case.
“There’s no rivalry at all,” Budinger tells HOOPSWORLD. “We’re teammates and we like each other, but definitely learn from each other. I try to give him as much knowledge as I can of being in the NBA longer, so I just try to help him as much as I can.”
“Yah, definitely no rivalry,” agrees Parsons. “Chase has been great as a mentor. He’s been in the NBA two years and coming in he was the starting small forward. I just wanted to soak up everything and really learn from him and see how he does and what he did to get to where he was. There’s no hard feelings, though, at all. At the end of the day, we’re winning games and I think that’s what both of us care about.”
The Rockets may have their issues in free agency, but when it comes to mining quality players out of the second round of the draft they’re as good as any team in the NBA. Budinger himself was the 44th pick in the 2009 draft, chosen by the Pistons and then traded to Houston and has been better than at least a third of the players taken in the first round that same year. He knows what it takes to overcome perceived weaknesses with hard work and determination, and he is passing his experience along to his new protégé.
“The most important thing he taught me is how it’s a long season,” says Parsons. “You’ve got to keep working hard, but also enjoy it, especially with the lockout. The games, it’s like four games a week, so if you have a bad game, move on. If you have a good game, move on. It all comes quick and you’ve just got to keep going with it and take it day by day.”
For his part, Parsons is making his mark on his new team. He’s averaging 7.5 points and 4.7 rebounds, but his ability to finish around the rim and play strong defense has made him a solid addition to the Rockets.
“He’s been playing great so far,” says Budinger. “The biggest thing is how well he’s playing defense because I know in college he wasn’t known for being a defensive player so he’s done a great job at coming in here and really playing defense.”
The duo of Parsons and Chandler may not be marquee, but they have been pivotal in Houston’s success over the first half of the season. Now one game beyond the All-Star break, the Rockets are 21-15 and clinging to the Western Conference’s sixth seed. They are still very much looking for a star player, or at least a significant upgrade at the small forward, currently chasing Minnesota’s Michael Beasley, but until they get a deal done the one-two punch of Chase Budinger and Chandler Parsons will continue to serve them well.
Vote Of Confidence For Keith Smart
The future of the Sacramento Kings is beginning to come into focus, with a new arena deal all but done and the team coming together on the court, as well. Kings co-owner Joe Maloof recently sat down with Sports Illustrated‘s Sam Amickto talk about the state of the team, and his first order of business was to assure everyone that head coach Keith Smart would be back with the team next season.
“Yes,” Maloof said emphatically when asked if Smart’s option would be picked up. “With no disrespect to our past coaches, we really have someone who everybody likes now. The players like him, the basketball staff likes him, we trust him, and he knows the game. Keith Smart is a wonderful coach, and we’re lucky to have him. … Yes, we’ll pick it up. We want him to be our coach forever.”
Smart established his reputation as a players’ coach during his time with the Golden State Warriors, and that reputation has grown now that he’s having a great deal of success dealing with troublesome center DeMarcus Cousins. As Amick details, Cousins has found a new bond with Smart that is keeping him grounded both on and off the court.
In Cousins’ six games under Westphal, he averaged 13.7 points (on 38.6 percent shooting), 9.3 rebounds and 26 minutes. In the 28 games since the coaching change, Cousins is averaging 17.4 points (on 44.9 percent shooting), 12 rebounds and 30 minutes. Beyond the numbers, Cousins’ play has been reflection of the ways in which Smart is changing the team’s culture. It started with Cousins, whom he visits with often outside of the team’s facility, and has since extended to his teammates.
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