2012 NBA Off-Season: O.J. Mayo Joins Mavericks.


You know that feeling you get when you know something is going to happen, but it still stings when it does? It’s almost as though the anticipation makes it worse and when it happens, you wonder if it would have been easier had it happened unexpectedly.

That’s a little how I feel right now about O.J. Mayo’s departure.

Mayo came into the league with such promise, but had a rocky tenure with the Grizzlies. We’ve talked about it here before, but Mayo had a tougher row to hoe than most guys just entering a new situation. Usually with a lottery pick, a franchise will put that guy in the best possible situation to succeed. They’ll get him playing time, they’ll make moves to build around him, they’ll make him the face of a franchise. So on and so forth.

That never happened for Mayo in Memphis, not in the last two years of his career anyway. He joined the Grizzlies after the 2008 Draft and finished runner-up to Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls in the Rookie Of The Year voting. His second year was even better than his first as the Grizzlies rebounded from doormat to a fringe playoff team. The addition of Zach Randolph helped, but the Grizzlies’ young core of Mayo, Rudy Gay and Marc Gasol taking the leap carried the Grizzlies to 40 wins.

Then for whatever reason, all the Mayo momentum kind of stopped. The Grizzlies drafted Xavier Henry, another shooting guard in the 2010 draft. Then the Grizzlies signed Tony Allen, another off guard. Pretty soon, Mayo was sitting in a crowded backcourt for no real reason other than the numbers playing out that way. Around the midpoint of the season, Mayo was suspended for alleged steroid abuse and Henry was lost for the season. Oh yeah, and Allen also fought with Mayo on a team flight home from Los Angeles and by all accounts,  Allen won.

When Lionel Hollins approached Mayo about moving to the bench, he accepted his new role and the Grizzlies took off as a team. Still, how much money did he leave on the table by willingly leaving the starting line-up and coming off the bench? Maybe that was the best role for him and Hollins realized it early.

Still, his numbers definitely dropped off when he came off the bench, even though he played a comparable amount of minutes. In my opinion he was asked to do too much with that second unit. Between moonlighting as a point guard, defending and having to create every shot with the bench unit, he was bound to get worn down. Perhaps even more so than someone who played more minutes, but was asked to do less.

Mayo’s statistics weren’t particularly stellar, either. In a lot of ways, he has been an average, run-of-the-mill shooting guard. He doesn’t have typical size for an off guard, he wasn’t a knock-down shooter, not a top-notch defender. He did produce, but in a rather inefficient way. There’s no reason to think that he’ll be very difficult to replace in the Grizzlies’ line-up.

Yet, I’m going to miss him. I’ll miss his swagger, I’ll miss his beard, I’ll miss his three-point celebration that always brought FedEx Forum to it’s feet. I’ll miss making bourre jokes when he and Tony Allen interact. I’m going to miss the O.J. Mayo experience. More than anyone else on the team, Mayo felt like a big-time star. He was an actual name player. He was one-and-done from USC that some people thought could be the best player in the 2008 draft. That draft featured Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Eric Gordon and a slew of other names. He didn’t quite get there for whatever reason, and it may not even be his fault.

The only thing I know for sure is that I’ll remember the O.J. Mayo era fondly. He was a good solider, he played hard every night and hit a ton of big shots for the Grizzlies. He was instrumental in the Grizzlies’ rebirth and for that I’ll always be thankful.

I guess what it amounts to is that Mayo is the first key guy from the Grizzlies’ best team ever to move on. Yes, Shane Battier was there in the playoffs and hit the huge shot in game 1 against the Spurs, but Mayo grew with the team and Battier was more of a stopgap. For the first time in two years, the band isn’t getting back together. This team that came together and kept steadily improving is now going to have to find a way to retool and go further without one of the key cogs in the Grit N’ Grind machine.

The hardest part will be seeing Mayo in a different uniform, playing well for a different team, and a division rival at that. Random moments like this one will get further and further away, but will continue to be remembered fondly.

The truth is, Mayo and the Grizzlies needed to split up for both sides’ sake. Mayo is due a chance elsewhere for a team that may use him in a way that compliments him more and the Grizzlies couldn’t win with what they had and while it wasn’t all Mayo’s fault, it was time to shuffle the deck and inject some new faces. I’m not sure if Jerryd Bayless can fill Mayo’s role, but we’re going to find out.

I said it once and I’ll say it again; when O.J. Mayo returns to Memphis, I’ll be cheering for him when he’s announced. I hope you will too.