May 13, 2012; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies small forward Rudy Gay (22) controls the ball during the first half of game seven in the Western Conference quarterfinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs against the Los Angeles Clippers at FedEx Forum. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-US PRESSWIRE

Trade Rudy Gay?

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(This is the fourth part in an ongoing series.  If you missed the others, they can be found here: Intro, The Big Decision, The Big Men.)

One of the most surprising turnarounds for the Memphis Grizzlies franchise over the past two years are some of the contracts that have been handed out by owner Michael Heisley.

Part of that is the fact that the team has been much better lately, and that’s mainly because the Grizzlies have acquired more good players.  If it sounds kind of simple, it is.

It’s become clear in the past two years that Marc Gasol is the future of the Grizzlies and any move made in the future will be with him in mind.  Zach Randolph was the star of the Grizzlies first extended playoff run, and the guy that officially turned the page on the Pau Gasol era once and for all.

Mike Conley is the Grizzlies’ floor general and as we found out in the 2012 playoffs, things kind of fall apart when he’s not on the floor.  His contract isn’t good until you consider his value to the team.

The other big deal belongs to Rudy Gay, the longest-tenured Grizzlie who just saw an  up-and-down playoff run come to end with far more questions for him than anyone could have ever believed.

First of all, just comparing results from 2012 to the ones from 2011 isn’t exactly fair.  The 2011 Memphis Grizzlies had a fully healthy Zach Randolph, up-and-coming Marc Gasol and two veteran perimeter bulldogs in Tony Allen and Shane Battier that made life Hell for any player in the league, Durant, Kobe, Rose, whoever.

The 2012 Grizzlies fell apart because they ran into Chris Paul, had no dependable back-up point guard and had a reduced Zach Randolph.  They also played the worst quarter in NBA playoff history, which ultimately cost them the series.

So don’t take this as  me blaming Rudy Gay, or using him as a scapegoat.  Rudy wasn’t bad during the series, but he certainly didn’t rise to the occasion like many expected when the Grizzlies missed the western conference finals by one game in 2011.

By every tangible bit of evidence, Gay’s 2012 playoff stats would have made him the Grizzlies’ best perimeter player by far in the 2011 playoff run, the team just didn’t go as far.  It happens.

Unfortunately, ever since he joined the league, Gay has never lived up to his considerable potential.

That’s not the first time it’s ever happened, most guys underachieve as opposed to overachieving, but Gay was supposed to be closer to Carmelo’s level than Danny Granger’s level, but the truth is that Chris Wallace could call Larry Bird tonight, offer a Gay for Granger swap and Bird would laugh in Wallace’s face and hang up on him.  It’s true.

That brings us to the biggest obstacle for any potential Gay deal and that’s the fact that most fans overvalue Gay by a large amount.

Case in point: today I was chatting with my cousin and the subject of trading Rudy came up.  He asked who the Grizzlies may be able to get for him and I answered that the pipe dream would be a comparable player on a rookie deal still (Kawhi Leonard or someone of that ilk since the Spurs likely don’t do that deal either) or calling the Chicago Bulls and asking about a Gay-for-Luol Deng swap straight up.

My cousin seemed confused and even turned off by the idea, like the Grizzlies would be giving up way too much even though Luol Deng is better at basketball than Rudy Gay and makes less money, to boot.  Deng is an actual all-star rather than a paper all-star like Rudy.

But the same problem would reveal itself with Chicago.  The Bulls know that they can count on Deng every night, he’s comfortable with his role and as long as Deng is their second-best player, they’re a contender.

Gay’s 2011-2012 stats look like this.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that any 6’8 athletic forward in the NBA that plays 37 minutes could duplicate those stats, especially one that gets the amount of shots and open looks that Gay does.

Digging deeper, every one of his relevant stats were down from his 2010-2011 season that was shaping up to be his breakout season.  You don’t want to start sliding back in your sixth season.

So what could the Grizzlies get for Gay and not take a step back? His contract is bad, sure, but most guys in the NBA are overpaid and Gay is a big name.

The problem I found while looking around the NBA is that most of the teams that seem like natural trade partners for the Grizzlies and Gay would be unlikely to make a deal this off-season.

For instance:

1.) Grizzlies trade Rudy Gay to Philadelphia for Andre Iguodala:

http://espn.go.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=7fh2xpk

Pretty basic, the Grizzles’ small forward for Philly’s 3 man.  This deal would be great for Memphis because they would then feature two of the four or five best perimeter defenders in the league if they could team him up with Tony Allen.

The Grizzlies would also save about $1.5 million per year for the rest of Iggy’s contract.  It’s win-win for Memphis.

But why would Philly do this? They’re in the midst of their finest season since the Allen Iverson era and are two wins from the conference finals.  Sure, they benefited a lot from Chicago’s injuries in round 1, but if they beat Boston at close to full health, it proves that they’re much better than an 8 seed, which most people suspected all season.

Iggy is another guy who’s an all-star, as well.  Why would Philly pay more for a player that’s not as good? If they had lost in round 1, maybe they look to shake things up, and rightfully so, but when the team is on the cusp of the conference finals? Seems unlikely.

2.) Memphis trades Rudy Gay To Chicago for Luol Deng:

http://espn.go.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=7pt4asf

We touched on this one and despite Deng being better on a better contract, he’s going to have surgery as soon as Great Britain’s run in the Olympics is over.  It’s unlikely that Memphis makes a move before they see that Deng is healthy, and that could be the beginning of 2013 for all we know.

The biggest reason is that Chicago  has been the league’s best regular season team the past two years, and while that means little in the grand scheme of things, Deng was a big reason for that and Chicago would have likely been getting ready for another eastern finals against Miami had Derrick Rose not torn his ACL in game 1 of the first round.  Shoot, they probably beat Philly if Joakim Noah doesn’t miss the last three games of that series.

If the Bulls had been close to fully healthy this season and come up short again, I could see them deciding to shake it up, but with so many injuries in such a wide-open eastern conference? Why do anything? Start next year with your team, tread water and wait for Derrick Rose to come back for the playoffs.

If the Bulls come up short next year, however? This could be a real discussion.  Stay tuned.

3.) Memphis trades Rudy Gay to Indiana for Danny Granger:

http://espn.go.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=6llu5eh

Would have made a ton of sense had the Pacers flamed out in the first round again, but with the Pacers winning round 1 convincingly and currently up on the Miami Heat, they not only feel good about their team, but they probably believe they can win the whole thing.  If you feel like you’re a contender, the last thing you want to do is take a step back.

Granger for Gay would be a step back.

4.) Memphis trades Rudy Gay to Minnesota for Derrick Williams, Wesley Johnson and cap fodder:

http://espn.go.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=c4699nn

ESPN’s Bill Simmons brought this up in his Friday column and the idea is intriguing.  The Grizzlies get two young players on rookie deals to fill out their bench, including Williams, the 2nd pick in the 2011 draft.

I can see Minnesota liking this because they would then have their third star to go with Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio and instantly become one of the four most fun teams in the league.

Memphis does it because they get a guy that could duplicate Gay’s numbers and another high draft pick with lottery pedigree in Johnson.  Johnson’s first two seasons have been pretty uninspiring and may need a change of scenery.  He’s really like a lottery ticket at that point, with Williams-for-Gay being at the heart of the deal.

Understand, Rudy’s a good basketball player.  He does a lot of things very well, is one of the true nice guys in the league and does all kinds of good work off the court.  He’s embraced Memphis and put some roots down here.  This isn’t some overreaction due to losing in the first round of the playoffs.

You can’t be emotional when stakes are high and the Rudy Gay trade talk has been present since last summer, when it became obvious that the Grizzlies could play with the big boys without Rudy Gay.

When the Grizzlies lost to the Clippers, everyone sort of realized that Memphis could lose in the first round of the playoffs with or without Rudy Gay and if they could turn him into multiple pieces, and maybe retain enough flexibility to keep O.J. Mayo around, that may be a responsible decision to make.

Any other trade scenarios will be easier to discuss after the draft lottery, when teams know where they’ll be picking.

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