May 15, 2013; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Memphis Grizzlies forward Tayshaun Prince (21) handles the ball against Oklahoma City Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha (2) during the second half in game five of the second round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. The Grizzlies defeated the Thunder 88-84. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Player Previews: Tayshaun Prince

Let’s give Tayshaun Prince some credit. He replaced a fan favorite, a leading scorer, and a perceived superstar in Rudy Gay. Even optimists thought he would only be a good glue guy (he was) on a team that struggles with scoring and floor spacing. He came into a new situation after 10 years in Detroit and helped the Grizzlies to a 27-10 record going into the playoffs. He drained a clutch three in Game 5 against the Clippers, and nearly broke the backboard against Oklahoma City.

But against the Spurs, we know what happened. San Antonio exploited our weak shooting at small forward, and quite frankly, Prince tanked. He played 20.9 MPG (limited by injury) against the Spurs, and collected 5.8 points, 2 rebounds, and .8 assists — all down from the previous two series — on 36% shooting from the floor and 33% shooting from deep.

Had Prince played at least up to his regular season level in the Conference Finals, the Grizzlies might have won one or two games rather than being swept — but we still would have lost the series. Even Quincy Pondexter’s shot-in-the-arm 3-point buckets were not enough to lift Memphis over San Antonio. Which leads us to a question: What’s next for Tayshaun?

Nothing is written in stone yet, but at his introductory press conference, coach Dave Joerger stated explicitly that Prince would remain in the starting line-up. The acquisition of Mike Miller in the offseason likely doesn’t change that, as he and Quincy Pondexter will probably split minutes at back-up 3 (and Miller might play the 2 at times, as well). Tony Allen’s new contract means he will stay a starter at shooting guard (I love Tony, but let’s face it, that’s a misnomer for him), and Bayless’ surprising opt-in on his player options leaves the Grizzlies with little flexibility when it comes to signing a more reliable sharpshooter in the backcourt.

You don’t have to be an offensive savant to realize that the Grizzlies may run into several of the same problems they faced with Prince last year, even with Joerger’s promises to “push the tempo” and better utilize the bench. At 33 years old, Prince is obviously winding down his illustrious NBA career, and if he is unable to at least find the open floor and hit midrange J’s when needed, the Grizzlies may be unable to advance past the Conference Finals (if, indeed, they can reach them again next year).

Can the Grizzlies move Prince this year? Memphis is replete with trade exceptions; they can package Tayshaun with one or two promising young guns or a few picks, but who would they get in return? Prince’s contract is a load at $7+ million, and unless he puts on a show next year, many teams won’t be interested in taking on an aging veteran with little left in the tank. I doubt Prince will be traded on his own. It seems more likely he stay until he can be rolled into a big-ticket trade package (maybe including Zach Randolph) in an attempt to jettison the Grizzlies forward after the 2014 season.

It seems obvious, though — doesn’t it? Quincy Pondexter is a much better option at starting small forward than Prince, evening out the offensive balance without sacrificing too much defense (Q-Pon is solid against smaller players, but admittedly weaker against the Kevin Durants and the Paul Georges of the world). A number of Grizzlies fans would rather see Prince, even at $7 million a year, come off the bench. His leadership and defense seem better suited to leading a back-up unit than they do supplementing our starters.

Barring an unexpected trade, our only hope seems to be that Joerger reconsiders his promise to start Prince. If he doesn’t, expect to see the same old Tayshaun in 2013-14, and maybe even the same old Grizzlies offense.

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