February 20, 2014. The NBA trade deadline looms, lurking on the horizon just prior to All-Star weekend. While there are plenty of names being bandied about, there are obviously only a few that fans in Memphis care much about.
Let me preface what follows (as though I could preface something that precedes #EnglishNerddom) by saying that I, for one, do not envy the Grizzlies’ front office on the decisions they will have to make over the next few weeks. With that said, here is what is staring back at them right now.
The Grizzlies are currently 22-20 and the 9th seed in the always-competitive Western Conference. They are currently 2 games behind the Dallas Mavericks for the 8th seed and 2.5 games back of the Phoenix Suns for the 7th seed. For those of you looking at homecourt advantage, they reside 7 games behind the Los Angeles Floppers…er, Clippers for the 4th seed.
If I were a betting man, I’d probably check the lines at SportsBettingOnline.ag to place a wager on the Grizzlies not only making the playoffs, but finding themselves in the mix for the 4th or 5th seed. You know, if gambling wasn’t “illegal”. *winkwink* (Good thing the NSA only taps phones, eh?)
The next eleven games will determine the future for quite a few players currently wearing Beale Street Blue. With 7 games on the road, including trips to Portland, Minnesota, Oklahoma City, and Atlanta and 4 at home (the toughest of which will likely be Dallas), the Grizzlies are in prime position to make some noise and re-establish themselves as a legitimate threat.
However…what if the team doesn’t make up any significant ground over the next 11 games? Or, worse yet, what if another important player should happen to suffer a significant injury? *knockonwood* What then?
This team is built to win now. Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, Mike Miller, and Tayshaun Prince have a lot of miles on them. Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are entering their respective primes, with Courtney Lee and James Johnson right there, too. ZBo and TA specifically have been looked upon as vital cogs in the Grizzlies’ postseason aspirations for continued success. And yet…either of them could be dealt in less than a month.
Before you go grab your pitchforks and torches and head down to the Forum (calm down, HPTMatt!), know that I’m just exploring the possibilities.
Zach is scheduled to make $16.9 million next year if he picks up his player option. While he has publicly stated his willingness to take a “hometown discount” in order to retire in Memphis, that plus $5 will get you a cup of coffee. Not doubting ZBo — just stating facts. While he isn’t as prone to losing effectiveness due to declining athleticism as many players would be, he will start dropping off sooner rather than later. And the drop-off for most big men tends to be sudden. But what if he follows the model of divisional foe Tim Duncan? What if he maintains a high level of production for another 4-5 years? What if he becomes another Steve Nash-to-Phoenix level of continuing excellence?
The Grindfather has been a defensive dynamo since getting an opportunity to shine in Memphis. Of course, with how Courtney Lee has been playing since his arrival in Hoop City, TA’s injury issues, and the very reasonable contract that Quincy Pondexter signed this past offseason, there is a time-crunch at the SG position. While many believe that Q-Pon is the most likely to be headed elsewhere due to his outburst directed at Dave Joerger, he is still the better outside shooter and overall offensive player — and that cannot be ignored. How will #9 fit back into the rotation once he returns to the lineup? Would he be willing to come off of the bench?
There are other players to watch, too. Kosta Koufos and Ed Davis certainly lead that list. Given the lack of quality centers in the league, I think it is more likely that K2 will be retained for the rest of his contract (again, if we’re placing odds on it), while the more consistent level of play that Ed Davis has displayed makes him an attractive way to potentially dangle Tayshaun Prince’s contract out there for a starting-quality SF and (possibly) another backup PG in case Nick Calathes has a setback. As we have talked about previously, the Ed Davis question is one that has to keep the front office up late at night. How much will he command as a restricted free agent? How close is he to being ready to step in as the starting PF for this team? Is he steak — or just the sizzle?
So…who’s ready to step into the shoes of Jason Levien, Stu Lash, John Hollinger, Chris Wallace, and the rest of the guys in the front office and make these decisions?
*touches nose* Not it.
If it were my team and they were still around .500 in mid-February, then I’d have to explore what the trade market is for Zach with an eye on a decent first-round pick and a solid, young (read: cheap) player who could contribute. I’d also explore trade possibilities for Tony (since no one will take on Pondexter until he proves he’s healthy) in case a GM is asleep at the wheel and overvalues him. I think you would have to at that point. Keep your younger core together, and look to retool for another run next year.
If the team appears to be rolling along when they reach the All-Star break, then the choice is pretty easy: maintain status quo unless someone just makes you a stupid good offer for one of your guys. Possibly make a minor move to pick up another ball-handler, but otherwise just keep on keepin’ on.
But if they start to struggle again, then know that there will be plenty of sleepless nights and tough decisions to make. Definitely something to keep in mind over the next few weeks.