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Solving Problems: Grizzlies Must Keep Gasol
Posted By Susan Bible On September 17, 2011 @ 10:45 am In All,NBA | No Comments
Prior to the 2010-11 season, the Memphis Grizzlies had appeared in the NBA playoffs only three times (2003-04, 2004-05, 2005-06) in their 16-year franchise history. They were promptly eliminated in first round sweeps in each of these appearances.
Following 2005-06, the next three seasons were fraught with disappointing records of 22-60, 22-60 and 24-58, consecutively. Cue the departure of Pau Gasol, maturation of Rudy Gay, acquisition of point guard Mike Conley, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph and the team jumped to a 40-42 record in 2009-10.
Then the unexpected happened last season.
The eighth-seeded Grizzlies (46-36) took down the mighty first-seeded San Antonio Spurs (61-21) in the first round (4-2) of the playoffs. With that, Memphis became the fourth No.8 seed team in NBA history to knock off a No.1 seed. In a hard-fought Western Conference semi-finals showdown, the Oklahoma City Thunder prevailed (4-3).
The Grizzlies’ 13 playoff games were played without their star, Rudy Gay, which makes their run even more impressive. Gay missed the last 25 games of the regular season and the postseason due to a shoulder injury.
Zach Randolph, league-ranked third in rebounds per game (12.2) last year, solidified his value to the team. The Thunder’s Kevin Durant even proclaimed him the best power forward in the league following one playoff game.
Memphis now faces unique challenges as it tries to keep momentum going into the new season, and equally important, tries to keep the team together.
Marc Gasol: Memphis extended a $4.5M qualifying offer, making Gasol a restricted free agent. When the offers come rolling in – and they will – Memphis must make some hard decisions before rushing to match offers that are sure to be in the $10M-$12M range. Maybe higher. Memphis wants him to stay; Gasol has been non-committal at this point.
Gasol, with three NBA years now under his belt, actually turned in the lowest average points (11.7) and rebounds (7.0) last season than the previous two years (14.6 ppg/9.3 rpg and 11.9 ppg/7.4 rpg, consecutively). However, his performance during his first-ever playoff games was nothing short of inspired: 15.0 ppg, 11.2 rpg, 2.2 bpg. By season’s end, some were placing Gasol in the top five center’s list.
Shane Battier: The Grizzlies would like to retain the gritty glue-guy player, but with a healthy Rudy Gay returning, they will probably fail to offer sufficient money to convince him to stay.
Rudy Gay: Memphis was 31-26 when Gay was sidelined, ultimately for the remainder of the year. They went 15-10 to close out the regular season without him; some of these wins were over the Mavericks, Thunder, Spurs (twice), Celtics and the Hornets (twice). And in the playoffs, they posted a 7-6 record.
It’s difficult to talk numbers without a firm Collective Bargaining Agreement in place. What’s for sure is that Memphis has $55.4M payable in salaries next season to nine players, and has extended qualifying offers on two others (Gasol and $2M to Hamed Haddadi). Depending on the cap and luxury tax thresholds (all undoubtedly lowering; perhaps no soft cap), it would appear there will not be a lot of room to match offers on Gasol.
If they can’t match offers on Gasol, they sure can’t touch other young free agent centers such as Tyson Chandler (who should be scratched from any list; Mavericks owner Mark Cuban will see to that), Nene Hilario or DeAndre Jordan (restricted free agent). Greg Oden (RFA – Portland extended an $8.8 qualifying offer) may be worth exploring. One possibility is FA Samuel Dalembert.
Dalembert, ready to move on from the Sacramento Kings, is sure to field a number of offers for his services. For a player who earned $13.4M last season, who is now facing a sharp decrease in earnings, it’s probably all about the highest bidder at this point. The Grizzlies may have to get in line with the Knicks, HEAT and Rockets among others.
One would surely admit that a three-man front court rotation of Gasol, Randolph and Dalembert looks pretty good. That adds up to a whole lot of money though, considering Gay’s contract and Randolph’s recent $71M extension on the books, along with a potential Gasol deal.
Whether Gasol stays or he’s replaced by another starting center, Memphis needs to focus on shoring up the front court.
While Haddadi is a serviceable player, he’s not prepared to assume duties as the second big off the bench.
Should a youth movement continue to be the goal, they could consider players such as Spencer Hawes (RFA) or Alexis Ajinca. If they go with a veteran type, names to consider are Kurt Thomas, Dan Gadzuric or Jeff Foster.
Another issue to address is outside shooting. Memphis ranked dead last in total three-pointers last season (309) and 27th in three-point percentage (.334). Not only that, they were dead last in 2009-10 as well (344 total three-pointers) and 26th in percentage (.337).
Perhaps a veteran free agent such as Michael Redd or Anthony Parker could be signed on the cheap. It’s more likely, however, they will rely on internal development to address this problem.
Big-Name Trade Not Likely
Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley made it abundantly clear that Rudy Gay will not be traded anytime soon. We believe him. He’s also been clear about his intention to keep Gasol.
If indeed Memphis does not (or cannot) re-sign Gasol, they will not let such a huge asset merely walk away. In that scenario, a sign-and-trade is the best option.
With Memphis’ late-season success, it didn’t take long for trade speculations involving Gay to fire up. His contract – approximately $49.4M over the next three years – and the recent injury could make it difficult to find a decent trade partner. However, the swingman is only 25 years old and in those 54 games, he posted this line: 19.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.7 spg, along with career-high shooting percentages in field goals (.471), three-pointers (.396) and free-throws (.805). All reports indicate he has returned to 100% health.
Memphis nearly traded O.J. Mayo to the Indiana Pacers last season. The parties had agreed in principle, but for reasons that were not verified by both sides, the deal fell through.
Mayo’s playing time plummeted from 38.0 mpg in both 2008-09/2009-10 to 26.3 mpg last season, and of course, his stats took a dive as well. With a restricted free agency status coming up, along with his solid playoff performance, it could be argued that his value should be taken advantage of sooner rather than later.
Then again, Mayo led the team in three-point shooting and gave the team new life with increased minutes during the semi-finals.
The bottom line is this: the Memphis Grizzlies are closer than ever to making further postseason noise with Randolph, Gay, Mayo, Conley (these four alone are owed $45M in 2011-12) and Gasol, along with role players Tony Allen, Sam Young and Darrell Arthur (who, combined, will earn $3.0M). Last season’s rookies Xavier Henry and Greivis Vasquez (total $2.2M) show promise. Rookie Josh Selby has been lighting it up in summer leagues. The best bet for Memphis is to do everything humanly possible to keep Gasol.
Be sure to join Susan Bible this Saturday morning, 9/17/11 at 11:00 am EST, for her weekly NBA Chat. Get your questions in now.
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