Monday, October 25, 2010

Memphis Grizzlies: What To Look For In 2010-11

2009-10 Regular Season: 40-42
2009-10 Playoffs: N/A
Additions: Tony Allen, Xavier Henry, Greivis Vasquez, Acie Law
Key Losses: Ronnie Brewer
Projected Rotation Players: Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, O.J. Mayo, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Xavier Henry, Sam Young, DeMarre Carroll, Hamed Haddadi

Look for Rudy Gay’s massive contract to hinder the Grizzlies’ ascent to contention in 2010-11, and probably beyond.

Luol Deng. Andre Iguodala. Michael Redd. Andrei Kirilenko. And more recently, Joe Johnson and Rudy Gay. You wanna know the main reason we’re probably going see another NBA lockout in the summer of 2011? Mediocre teams grossly overvaluing their own guys. Scoring 20 a night on a middle-of-the-road team is not the sign of a franchise player.

NBA owners have put the league’s future in jeopardy not because of the decision to pay Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Tin Duncan $20 million annually, but because of a perennial inability to resist doling (Dolan?) out superstar contracts to players who would be no better than a third option on a title contender. In doing this, owners- most of whom are presumably pretty intelligent given their nine- and ten-figure net worths- make huge long-term financial commitments in order to essentially lock in a ceiling of mediocrity, all while running the risk of alienating other players on the team who feel (sometimes rightfully) that they’re every bit as deserving of the fat paycheck as the team’s “superstar.”

The five-year, $82 million contract given to Rudy Gay by the Grizzlies not only overvalues Gay by 50-60%, but will likely have the double-whammy effect of costing the team at least one, and probably two, of its other three good players. He's a nice young player, but seems a bit outlandish to reward 19.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.9 apg and terrible defense (from a guy who’s motivation and worth ethic have frequently been questioned) with max dollars. Throw in the fact that it will likely force the team to deal the super-talented O.J. Mayo, who’s due to get overpaid himself in a couple of years and has clashed Gay in the past, and this transaction looks, to put it delicately, questionable.

On the bright side, the Grizz will have almost $40 million (Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Marko Jaric and draft busts Hasheem Thabeet and Mike Conley, neither of whom warrants a contract extension) come off the cap at season’s end. While this more than offsets Gay’s huge salary, the savings are likely to be short-lived, as the Grizz will be looking to re-sign Randolph and Gasol, neither of whom would settle for a sub-nine-figure salary under the current system.

Bottom line: Vegas has the over-under on regular seasons wins for the Grizzlies at 38.5. This is a very talented team that’s got a year of experience playing together and does not share its division with an elite team.

Despite my less-than-flattering assessment of Rudy Gay’s contract, he is a very good player, as are frontcourt mates Randolph (who can get you 20-10 on accident), Gasol and, for as long he’s on the team, O.J. Mayo. The Grizz will also feature the perimeter defense of Tony Allen and the outstanding shooting of rookie Xavier Henry off the bench.

Not sure if they’ve got a postseason run in them, though it's definitely possible. Whether they reach the postseason, and regardless of what happens in the summer of 2011 and beyond, the 2010-11 Grizzlies should be at least a .500 team.

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