The Memphis Grizzlies had a pretty quiet summer, electing to keep their nucleus together for one more run at the top of the Western Conference. Eventually, though, they will face a crossroads where they must decide between paying a premium to stay relevant or blowing it up for yet another long rebuilding project.
Here's a look at their offseason moves.
DID NOT TRADE RUDY GAY
For all the talk about the Oklahoma City Thunder's future payroll issues, the Memphis Grizzlies are in an even tougher spot. Like the Thunder, they are a successful small-market team. Like the Thunder, they have a lot of money tied up into their stars. The difference? The Thunder must decide whether it's worth keeping a group of young potential superstars together, whereas the Grizzlies have already decided to keep a group of very good, but not super-elite players together.
This is where Rudy Gay comes in. Ever since signing a five-year, $82 million contract in 2010, Gay has been the closest thing to a franchise player on this roster. But he's not quite worth his contract, and so he's cast in the difficult position of being too good to lose, but not good enough to live up to his price. That's why we will always see his name in trade rumors, much like we did this summer. And when you look at the Grizzlies' future salary commitments -- Gay, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley are slated to make $58.8 million all by themselves next year, which is roughly the value of the salary cap -- you realize that something has to give. Either Gay goes, or the Grizzlies suck it up and pay a hefty luxury-tax bill.
The Grizzlies had a chance to get ahead of the process this year, but elected to keep their band together another season and kick the can down the road. There were talks about a high draft pick with teams like the Raptors, Cavaliers and others, but nothing materialized. In the end, Gay is back.
Was it the right call? It's hard to answer this question accurately without knowing what offers were actually presented to the Grizzlies, but in theory, I think they made the right decision. They're a very good team already, and they can always trade Gay in a salary dump next summer if this season doesn't go to plan. Why not go for it one more year and hope the team avoids major injuries like Gay's in 2011 and Randolph's last year? There will always be offers for Gay, so there's no need to rush.
LET O.J. MAYO GO
Mayo never really worked out as the Grizzlies anticipated when they traded for him at the 2008 NBA Draft. His development stagnated early on, and once the Grizzlies signed Tony Allen, Mayo's spot in the rotation was up for grabs. He eventually settled into a sixth-man role, but it was clear that was an admission that he never was going to be a huge part of the Grizzlies future. Both sides were biding their time until Mayo's rookie contract was up, and once that happened, he was gone.
In the short term, the Grizzlies will probably miss Mayo's bench production. He was the team's most active three-point shooter, so losing him makes an already-weak perimeter shooting club even weaker. He could also handle the ball a bit, though all attempts to turn him into a point guard failed miserably.
In the long term, though, a separation needed to happen. As noted above, the Grizzlies' payroll is becoming an issue going forward. Mayo would have wanted far more than the two-year, $8 million contract he signed with the Mavericks to stay in Memphis, and the Grizzlies simply couldn't afford that luxury. Also, given that the Grizzlies have tried to deal him so many times, there was a certain amount of angst that had been built up that couldn't have been overcome.
It's unfortunate things didn't work out, because in theory, Mayo is a very important player for the Grizzlies' style of play. But at this point, it's best that both parties moved on.
SIGNED JERRYD BAYLESS
Bayless will fill Mayo's role for half the cost next season. If he plays like he did in his half-season in Toronto last year before getting injured, this will be a steal. Bayless quietly showed a lot of growth after struggling with the Portland Trail Blazers, hitting 42 percent of his three-pointers and scoring 18 points per 36 minutes in 31 games last year. However, I worry his three-point shooting in particular was a fluke -- he was just 35 percent from deep the season before, and had never cracked 34 percent in any year before that. The Grizzlies need him to come close to meeting that three-point percentage number, because that is a major weakness of theirs.
RE-SIGNED MARREESE SPEIGHTS AND DARRELL ARTHUR
Both big men were kept for excellent value considering their production when healthy. In particular, Arthur's deal (three years, $9 million) is a steal, assuming he can stay healthy. Of course, he's now out for several weeks after missing all of last season, so maybe that's too much to ask.
TRADED DANTE CUNNINGHAM FOR WAYNE ELLINGTON
I'm not a huge fan of this move. Cunningham was very productive in limited minutes last season, and the Grizzlies need front court bodies given Arthur's sketchy injury history. Ellington is a fine shooter, but he's very limited elsewhere. Unless Memphis plans on playing him together with Bayless in a second-unit backcourt, I'm not sure where he's going to get his minutes.
DRAFTED TONY WROTEN
A sound high-upside decision in the 20s. Wroten had his issues at Washington, but he has star potential, and Memphis wasn't likely to find a rotation player with the 25th pick in the draft. You could envision a scenario where Wroten plays with Conley together, creating a terror of a defensive backcourt that will pressure the ball, get steals and get out in the open floor.