O J Mayo is an exceptionally talented player. I am not implying, suggesting or hinting that he is anything but that.
However, is that enough of a reason to trade him this season?
Mayo is not expected to resign with Memphis this offseason. His qualifying offer for next season is in the neighborhood of $7.4 million. That’s over $200,000 more than Mike Conley’s contract pays him next season. With Gasol, Gay and Randolph all making close to maximum pay the idea of paying Mayo more than the team’s starting PG seems unlikely. The Grizzlies also have RFA’s in Darrell Arthur, Sam Young and Marreese Speights that need to be addressed in the off-season. The Grizzlies will likely want to resign at least one of these players. The summer of 2013 will see Tony Allen as a restricted free agent as well.
This leaves very few options for the Grizzlies.
1) Move Mayo Before the Trade Deadline -
By trading Mayo the team will get something of value back and put the risk of not resigning him on the receiving team’s shoulders. This is the most common move of teams in similar situations. New Orleans did this very thing with Chris Paul this past off-season when they traded him to Los Angeles for Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman, Al-Farouq Aminu and draft picks for Paul. It is rumored that with Orlando’s troubles this season they will do the same with Dwight Howard.
For the Grizzlies, the issue in this situation is what value to place on Mayo. He doesn’t have the NBA resume of Chris Paul or Dwight Howard. Mayo started his career hot but has faded noticeably of late including being suspended for taking reported Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) and losing his starters role on the team. Last season the Grizzlies looked to move Mayo for Josh McRoberts and a draft pick. Rumors were that the Grizzlies had entertained thoughts of trading Mayo for Anthony Morrow or Jordan Farmar this season (possibly with a draft pick included). These are not haughty demands for a player taken with the 3rd pick in the draft.
The problem is that trading Mayo, since the Grizzlies are over the cap, involves receiving some sort of salary in return. The Grizzlies want to free up finances this summer not restrict more money. This reason alone makes it difficult to deal with the Grizzlies for Mayo. A team would need to offer a player that fills a need and/or has an expiring contract. For New Jersey this was a problem since they want Mayo’s contract to expire to free up cap space to make a run at Dwight Howard this summer. They didn’t want to let go of expiring contracts for Mayo.
Another issue with trading Mayo mid-season is the need to work another new player into the rotation. Mayo is capable of producing every game at any time. A new player will need to learn the Grizzlies defensive and offensive sets, learn how the team ticks and build chemistry with his new teammates. That doesn’t always happen right away.
2) Trade Mayo This Summer
This act, called a sign and trade deal, involves Mayo finding a contract with another team, then signing with the Grizzlies anticipating a trade to the true team he wants to play for in exchange for assets.
The problem here is similar to the previous option. The Grizzlies don’t want to take on more salary. They are trying to eliminate salary to resign other players. The Grizzlies have their starting lineup locked up for the 2012-13 season. They need flexibility to fill out the reserves for next season. If Mayo is destined to be moved the sign and trade must include a lower cost player who will fill the need for a scorer with range coming off the bench.
3) Extend the Qualifying Offer
By extending Mayo the Qualifying Offer they are taking a risk that he accepts it immediately but that isn’t the usual situation for free agents. Any injury during the next season could ruin his ability to get a long term deal. More likely Mayo would prefer to see what his talents can garner in the open market.
For the Grizzlies, Mayo is a luxury. The Grizzlies have Sam Young, Quincy Pondexter and even Josh Selby who could fill in as backup SGs next season (assuming Young re-signs) and all are paid far less than Mayo for the opportunity.
None of the players are as talented as Mayo offensively but they all are serviceable. Signing Mayo to a contract that exceeds Conley makes little sense but Mayo probably believes he can command that much in the open market. It would take a great sales job to convince Mayo to accept less than his qualifying offer to remain with the team next season, especially in a backup role.
4) Fail to Extend the Qualifying Offer
If the Grizzlies simply admit that Mayo is not part of their future plans they can simply refuse to make the Qualifying Offer or pull the qualifying offer if it has already been made making him an unrestricted free agent.
This would likely be a terrible public relations move. Mayo has a lot of support among Memphis fans and simply allowing him to walk could upset them. Then again, getting anything for Mayo likely will upset his fans who believe his value is greater than the team can receive in compensation. The decision to not offer Mayo the Qualifying Offer would likely revolve around the team’s first round draft pick situation. A lottery pick, especially a top 3 pick, could make Mayo expendable with nothing received in return.
The real issue is can the Grizzlies afford to not let Mayo walk? By freeing up the cap hold the Grizzlies would still be above the salary cap but far more likely to be able to resign other team free agents such as Sam Young, Marreese Speights and/or Darrell Arthur. The Grizzlies could let all those players contracts expire but in doing so would likely be over the salary cap anyway. That restricts the team to only using a mid-level exception to sign one free agent. Anyone else signed would need to be done at the league minimum.
What the team is more concerned about is the luxury tax. Mayo resigning at the qualifying offer level would put the Grizzlies over the luxury tax threshold. This coming season it is a simple dollar for dollar penalty but the following season that rises to higher penalties depending on how far above the cap you are. It was reported recently that the Grizzlies were the 2nd least profitable team in the league last season. Can the team afford to incur even more expenses for a role player off the bench?
Of course, this all assumes Mayo is unable to regain his starting role or is viewed as a starter despite coming off the bench. That is a serious question. Last season Allen was the team’s defensive force but at 30 how many more years does he have? He already is losing minutes to Mayo. That trend likely will continue next season and beyond.