Three-Year Plan: The 2008 NBA Draft.


(This is the fourth part of a series that details Michael Heisley’s Three-Year Plan to totally rebuild the Memphis Grizzlies. The first three parts can be found here: Michael Heisley And The Three-Year Plan,Grizzlies Draft Rudy Gay, and Grizzlies Trade Pau Gasol.)

When we last discussed the Grizzlies’ rebuilding plan, Memphis had just traded the best player in franchise history to one of the franchises that most Memphis fans hate.

The Pau Gasol trade to the Lakers was a happy time for Grizzlies fans that had never warmed to the Spaniard’s game and Memphis’ lack of playoff success with Gasol in tow. It was also a sad time for Memphis fans as it was a clear sign that the Grizzlies were going to take a step back for the foreseeable future.

Obviously, the rest of the 2007-2008 season was a sad, depressing state of affairs as the best player the Grizzlies actually got in the Gasol trade was Javaris Crittendon, unless you happen to be a big Kwame Brown fan for some odd reason. However, the Grizzlies were well positioned after the trade to bottom out and give themselves a good shot at a high lottery pick, and the chance to draft one of the two presumed franchise players in that draft, Derrick Rose and Michael Beasley.

The lottery was unkind to the Grizzlies again as they got the third pick in the draft and used it to draft Kevin Love from UCLA. As I’m sure you’re aware now, Love ended up becoming a good player, just not in Memphis. The Grizzlies immediately moved to trade Love to Minnesota for USC shooting guard O.J. Mayo.

The trade itself actually broke down like this: the Grizzlies received Mayo, Antoine Walker, Marko Jaric and Greg Buckner and the Timberwolves got Love, Brian Cardinal, Mike Miller and Jason Collins. For the Grizzlies, only Mayo ever played significant minutes in Beale Street Blue.

The trade was praised as a master stroke for the Grizzlies as most thought that Mayo had star potential and Love would never improve too much past the level he was at when he entered the league.

However, Love evolved into an MVP candidate and Mayo spent four up-and-down seasons in Memphis.

Still, if the Grizzlies had kept Love, they almost certainly don’t pursue Zach Randolph at the 2009 NBA Draft and they probably don’t beat the Spurs in the 2011 playoffs. Yes, Love is the better player, but the Grizzlies needed Mayo more at that point, and maybe they still do.

In sports sometimes, a trade can be a negative and a positive  at the same time, depending on how you look at it. The Mayo/Love deal is this principle in it’s most basic form.

The Grizzlies felt like they needed a big name to solidify their backcourt with Mike Conley Jr. and Rudy Gay already on board. Also, and this can’t be overstated, EVERYONE thought that Mayo was going to be a better player than Love coming out of college. The details of his bizarre recruitment aside, Mayo had finally gotten going late in his season at USC. In fact, there were even whispers that Miami Heat President Pat Riley would take Mayo over Michael Beasley with the second pick. He was that good.

Love was seen as plodding, nonathletic and no hops. He also didn’t have typical size for an NBA big man as he was listed at 6’10, but is probably closer to 6’9 in socks. That’s not a problem if you’re athletic and can jump out of the gym, but Love didn’t have that going for him either. This mock draft was one of the more typical mocks before the 2008 draft.

I’m just not sure that the Grizzlies don’t make the same decision today that they did then. It’s not that they didn’t like Love, they just needed Mayo more. Sometimes a trade works out for both teams, and this was one of the cases, even if Minnesota hasn’t yet made the playoffs with Love on their roster.

But the Grizzlies weren’t done. They also had the Lakers’ first-round pick as a result of the Gasol trade and needed players all over the board. Lucky for Memphis, Darrell Arthur was falling down draft boards fast after a rumor about his kidneys had spread to other NBA General Managers. Arthur was viewed by many as a lottery talent, but any injury concerns would justifiably scare teams off. However, Chris Wallace has always been a fan of guys that went to Kansas and with Arthur being the Jayhawks’ best player on their national championship team, Wallace decided to pick his man.

Arthur’s career has been up-and-down so far, but that’s mainly been because of fluke injuries. It’s important to note that the injuries had nothing to do with his kidneys, however. Arthur missed most of his second season in Memphis, but was a key player on Memphis’ 2011 team. However, his 2011-2012 season was ended before it ever began. Only days after the lockout ended, Arthur tore his Achilles Tendon and missed the entire season. The Grizzlies signed Dante Cunningham away from Charlotte and traded for Marreese Speights, but they never got the same production from their bench that they had with Arthur.

While it looks like Mayo will almost definitely be playing elsewhere this coming season, Arthur recently signed a three-year extension to remain with the Grizzlies and all signs point to him being completely healthy in time for opening day.

In a lot of ways, the 2008 draft has been the best and worth of the Grizzlies as a franchise. The Mayo trade was absolutely defensible on paper (and still is, in my mind) but didn’t work out because Mayo has struggled with his role and Love has overachieved in a big way in Minnesota. Gambling on Arthur’s kidneys was seen as a Hail Mary at the draft, but he has turned himself into a legitimate Sixth Man of the Year award candidate when he’s fully healthy.

It’s also worth mentioning that had the Grizzlies kept Love, they probably don’t draft Arthur at 27 and go in a different direction, and probably nab a player who isn’t nearly as good as Arthur is.

So when you sit down to critique the Love/Mayo trade you have to ask yourself if you’d rather have Mayo, Randolph and Arthur or Love, Donte Green and Quentin Richardson. I bet you picked the first group, I hope you did anyway. It’s a nice thing when trades work out for both sides, and the O.J. Mayo/Kevin Love swap did just that.