I’ve come not to praise the 2011-12 Grizzlies, but to bury them. They underachieved, plain and simple. A lost season and a missed opportunity to position themselves as a contender. The 2012-13 Grizz will look different from the past 2 years, although at this point it’s hard to say whether the team will have minor cosmetic surgery or something more serious. Just in case Chris Wallace is scouring blogs again for advice, here’s my 2 cents on what should be done.
First and foremost, put me in the Trade Rudy Gay camp.
Now, I don’t blame Rudy for the Clippers series, and I don’t suggest trading him for his underwhelming performance. Granted, it’s hard to separate the concept of trading Rudy Gay from the 2012 Playoffs, but I’m going to try to do just that.
The case for trading Rudy Gay is built upon different lines of reasoning. One reason is the aforementioned 2012 Playoffs, although I would lay the majority of the blame for the Clippers flop (see what I did there) at the feet of Lionel Hollins and Chris Wallace (although you should keep reading this Chris).
A secondary reason for trading Rudy Gay is that he cannot co-exist with Zach Randolph. Chris Herrington has debunked this over and over again, so just go read point 4 here for context.
The reason to trade Rudy Gay isn’t a new issue, it’s just a recurring Grizzlies issue that’s never fully been addressed. I implored the Grizz to avoid giving Rudy Gay a big contract for several reasons.
1. I feared a large Rudy contract would come at the expense of Marc Gasol (didn’t happen, obviously).
2. I feared a large Rudy contract would come at the expense of O.J. Mayo (about to happen, although this is no longer a concern given O.J.’s regression).
3. I feared that a large Rudy contract would keep the team from being able to field a suitable bench given the financial restraints of being a small market team (about to happen).
The last two Grizzlies seasons have proven that the team needs the following things:
1. A suitable backup point guard
2. A reliable 3-point threat to spread the floor for the Randolph/Gasol tandem
3. Wing players that know their role
4. A backup center
The Grizz had a suitable backup point guard in Greivis Vasquez but traded him for Quincy Pondexter. (This hurt the 2012 Grizz more than Rudy Gay ever did). This should be a non-issue yet, in typical Grizz fashion, it is.
Second, the Grizzlies have needed a 3-point threat for two years and haven’t even tried to fulfill this need. Why, uh, I’m not sure. Ask Chris Wallace.
Third, I’m not a big fan of the small forward. To me, the small forward is the easiest position in the NBA to skimp on. Championship teams are traditionally built around a low post/scoring guard combination and most teams just fill the small forward position with a glue guy (Bruce Bowen/Shane Battier/etc.) and move on. You can find a 3-point shooter/defender and plug them in pretty easily. The only time a small forward is worth investing in is if you have a top 10 player (LeBron/Carmelo/Paul Pierce/etc.). The second tier small forwards are Fools’ Gold (Rudy Gay, Tayshaun Prince, Rashard Lewis). Teams see enough potential that they end up overpaying at the one position that can be sacrificed. What the Grizzlies truly need is a defense first small forward and a shooting guard that can spread the floor/create his own shot if needed. The Grizz have neither. Rudy Gay is a shoot first small forward and Tony Allen is, well, Tony Allen.
Fourth, while Hamed Haddadi is a fan favorite and well worth the cheap roster spot, he shouldn’t be the team’s only legit backup center. Then again, if Gasol gets injured, the team is screwed anyway, so I’m not overly worried about this.
Ultimately, the Grizz can’t fix the above leaks without spending. But they can’t spend without getting rid of someone. Let’s assume that the Grizzlies let Mayo walk, resign Darrell Arthur or Marreese Speights (not both), resign Haddadi for cheap and don’t sell their draft pick. Are you confident that the below lineup can win 8+ games in the playoffs next year? And Grizzlies fans should not accept anything less than Conference Finals expectations.
Randolph/Arthur or Speights/Cunningham
Gasol/Arthur or Speights/Haddadi
The starting lineup is still strong, and there’s serviceable bench players in Pondexter, Cunningham and Arthur/Speights, but the team above, as constructed, has a ceiling of the Second Round of the Playoffs. It’s one Conley injury away from the lottery (2008 Chris Avis just died typing that). And as much as I like the Gasol/Z-Bo tandem, what will stop teams from just clogging the paint at will? As much as Tony Allen is beloved, he’s as much harm as good. For any defense he brings, he takes away offensively, and he’s crazy too.
The only way the team above improves is if Selby makes a leap and the team somehow strikes gold with their late draft pick, which history does not favor.
Heading into next season with the above roster intact and a few role player changes is a safe play and pretty much ensures another playoff trip, but is that enough? Isn’t it time to go ahead and swing for the fences? If the Grizz play it safe and next season ends in disappointment, we’ll be right back here again, asking the same questions after another lost season. Who will believe then?