May 19, 2013; San Antonio, TX, USA; Memphis Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph (50) reacts after a play during the fourth quarter against the San Antonio Spurs in game one of the Western Conference finals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at AT

Wroten Trade a Precursor?

The Tony Wroten trade that disappointed a portion of Grizzlies fans (even non-Wroten fans) bears a striking resemblance to a similarly-received trade made last January. The Cavs deal that sent Speights, Selby, and Ellington to Cleveland in exchange for just Jon Leuer went down less than two weeks before the Rudy Gay trade, and while many rightly chalked it up as a tax-dodging move, some didn’t understand why we had to shed those salaries if we were going to lose Rudy’s (and Hamed’s — never forget) so soon after. But the Cavs trade wasn’t bad business, in fact it was necessary to help pull off the Gay deal: Memphis management knew that if they were over the tax line when they tried to unload Gay, they would have a hard time getting a good offer in return; buyers would know the Grizzlies were desperate to shed money and would lowball them.

Now, we had a feeling Memphis would trade Wroten after his poor summer league performance sent them searching for a better backup point guard option, which they found in Nick Calathes. (Josh Akognon also lines up behind Mike, and for an explanation for why he was kept instead of Wroten, check out Hal’s take here.) But for a top-50 protected draft pick? That’s laughable even before you think about how bad the Sixers are likely to be and how unlikely it is they’ll earn a pick lower than 50. The Grizzlies got nothing for Wroten — except their salary total under the tax. The Grizzlies now have “breathing room,” or more specifically, leverage at the bargaining table.

So is another franchise-altering trade in the works? It’s certainly interesting to consider what the Grizzlies have in their money drawer:

– Trade Exception (Wayne Ellington, expiring 1/22/14) — $2,083,042
– Trade Exception (Josh Selby, expiring 1/22/14) — $762,195
– Trade Exception (Rudy Gay, expiring 1/30/14) — $7,489,453
– Trade Exception (Hamed Haddadi, expiring 1/30/14) — $1,300,000
– Trade Exception (Donte Greene, expiring 8/15/14) — $1,027,424
– Trade Exception (Tony Wroten Jr., expiring 8/22/14?) — $1,160,040

Before you get too excited, trade exceptions can’t be combined. Still, that $7 million left over from the Rudy Gay deal should be burning a hole in the ownership’s pocket, and you can bet that this front office, value-conscious as it is, knows exactly when it expires. Furthermore, under the new CBA, a team can only make full use of its exceptions when it’s under the cap, making the Wroten trade — “trade” — even more worthwhile.

The acquisition of Fab Melo makes things interesting, too. While he certainly might come in handy if disaster strikes in our front court, the Grizzlies really don’t need him. But a 7-footer is always, always worth something and can be a good deal-sweetener should the organization be considering a big trade.

So Memphis now has the leverage, the time, and the assets to pull the trigger on another substantial deal. You know they’ll have their eye on Zach’s $17 million player option for next season, Tayshaun’s $7 million contract, and maybe even Bayless, who may have surprised them when he decided to return at just over $3 million. A package of one or two of these contracts, together with assets like Fab Melo and Willie Reed, could return a serious player or two in a trade. The question now becomes how long they are willing to keep the current core in tact, and how they want to manage the end of Z-Bo’s hefty contract. Remember, Zach inked his current deal the same night he helped the Grizzlies when their first ever playoff game in San Antonio. 12 days later, he finished off the Spurs single-handedly. He was worth every penny that night, but at his current performance level, his contract is starting to feel more like Rudy’s did going into 2013. If the ownership and Joerger decide to move the team in an up-tempo, shooting-focused direction, Z-Bo might be the first piece out the door. I don’t like the thought of it either, but I’m not paying the bills.

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