Many fans of the Memphis Grizzlies actually celebrated the trade of Rudy Gay. Although this is strange, considering he was their leading scorer, reasons such as “financial flexibility,” “been better without him,” and “he doesn’t come through in the clutch” were given by fans of the Grizzlies in support of the trade. While it’s admirable for fans to support their team, this trade should set off alarms in Grizzlies fans that Memphis is no longer serious about winning a championship, either short or long term.
I’ll start by addressing the “financial flexibility” argument. Memphis is still over the salary cap and will remain over the salary cap for the foreseeable future, unless more salary dumps take place. Had Memphis kept Jose Calderon, the Grizzlies could have possibly been under the cap threshold this summer. However, by trading for Tayshaun Prince, the Grizzlies will only shed approximately seven million dollars in salary this summer (a number that includes important piece Tony Allen), which would likely leave Memphis approximately three million dollars over the cap. Assuming Memphis only signs players on one year, veteran minimum deals this summer, then the Grizzlies would be under the cap in the summer of 2014. However, if this is the strategy in Memphis, it is clear they are giving up on being a legitimate contender not only this year, but also in 2013-14. I am also of the opinion that it is preposterous to think that the team would suddenly turn around and start spending money to compete with an aging nucleus after writing off two years where they could have had at least a puncher’s chance of making real noise in the playoffs.
The playoff run Memphis made in 2011 had a very intriguing side effect, a large portion of Memphis fans truly believe their team is better off without Rudy Gay, regardless of anything else that is going on with the roster. Let’s remember a few things about that playoff run before we continue: 1) Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol were both in contract years, meaning they had more financial motivation then they will have for another couple of years; 2) the Grizzlies had both O.J. Mayo and Shane Battier on the team, meaning that there were still quality wing options on the team that could both play defense and score the ball; and 3) the Grizzlies beat an old Spurs team that continues to be much better in the regular season than the playoffs and played a young Thunder team, which had also just won its first playoff series. However, Memphis was never close to a championship and clearly needed to add talent to compete with the elite in the Western Conference. Memphis fans love to claim that “Gay doesn’t deliver in the clutch.” However, a quick look at stats from last year on 82games.com tells a different story. If you discount the numbers of Tony Allen, who nobody would clamor for Memphis to run their offense through during the clutch, then Gay was far and away the best Grizzlies player in the clutch and arguably a top 20 player in the NBA in clutch situations. This is by far the most puzzling stance that Memphis fans take because Gay was better than Conley, Randolph, and Gasol in the clutch during 2011-12.
Finally, even if you believe that the Gay trade standing alone is a good move, Memphis fans shouldn’t look at this move in a vacuum, but should look at the alarming trend with the Memphis roster since the playoff run of 2011, especially at the wings. In 2011, the Grizzlies wing players were Allen, Gay, Mayo, and Battier. Currently, the Grizzlies have Allen, Prince, Pondexter, and Chris Johnson. Meanwhile, the other positions on the team, except for backup point guard, are not significantly better (if better at all). Because the drop-off has been achieved bit by bit, including the dumping of Wayne Ellington before lasting a full year, many Memphis fans haven’t even noticed.
Much hope came with the acquisition of the Grizzlies by Robert Pera; however, it seems to have been unfounded. The Grizzlies have been in cost cutting mode since letting Shane Battier leave. However, the real salary purge began with the departure of O.J. Mayo as a free agent this past summer. Since then, the Grizzlies have lost Mayo, Speights, Wayne Ellington (Mayo’s replacement), Hamed Haddadi, and a first round pick to acquire Jerryd Bayless, Jon Leuer, Tayshaun Prince, Ed Davis, and Austin Daye.
But don’t worry Grizzlies fans, you are better off without those guys.