Last offseason, the Memphis Grizzlies essentially handed the keys to their franchise over to small forward Rudy Gay. The 24-year-old responded with a great regular season, averaging 19.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. Then he injured his shoulder and things got interesting.
After Gay separated his shoulder in mid-February, it appeared he’d be back within a month. That didn’t happen. In fact, he was shut down for the year. Since his exit, all the Grizzlies have done is sneak into the playoffs with the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference, knock off the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs and give the No. 4 seed Oklahoma City Thunder all they can handle in the Western Conference Semifinals.
So is Memphis better without its franchise player? We’re not sure, but with the Grizzlies on the hook for the final four years of a five-year, $82 million contract, they might have some thinking to do this summer.
Without Gay, the team looks very different. Now, things go through twin post powers Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol on virtually every possession. It has changed the offense completely, and in Gay’s absence, guys like Greivis Vasquez, Sam Young and Tony Allen have stepped up. Frankly, the team’s ball-movement, aggressiveness and tempo have all improved since Gay went down.
The Grizzlies will never have a huge payroll, so they have to be careful what they do with contracts. The team already handed out a five-year, $44 million extension to point guard Mike Conley, and inked Zach Randolph to a four-year, $71 million extension ($66 million guaranteed). In addition to that, Gasol, an emerging talent, will be a restricted free agent this summer and will command a hefty pay raise.
When all that is considered, Gay’s contract looks like a big problem for Memphis.
The Los Angeles Clippers have been looking for an upgrade at the small forward spot and could be a potential trade partner this summer. The Clippers have some young players they might be willing to part with in exchange for a proven scorer like Gay. In addition to the Clippers, several teams are sure to be interested in Gay if he’s made available.
We’ll keep monitoring this situation over the summer.