Interesting Developments in Grizzlie-land

In what is perhaps some small measure of vindication for Heat president Pat Riley, Memphis has invited undersized 6’4″ shooting guard O.J. Mayo to participate in their summer league. The goal for Mayo would be to improve his point guard skills. Mayo’s shaky ball handling and poor decision-making have been major deficiencies throughout his first N.B.A. two seasons.

If you recall, Riley gave serious consideration to drafting Mayo with the second overall pick in the 2008 N.B.A. draft, before ultimately selecting Michael Beasley.

Draft analysts automatically assumed Beasley and Derrick Rose would go with the first and second picks in the draft. Many even considered Beasley to be the more talented. Mayo was therefore viewed as being a reach with the second overall pick at the time. Riley, however, had visions of turning Mayo into a point guard, in order to create a dynamic backcourt pairing with Dwyane Wade. The Heat needed (and continue to need) outside shooting, and using the second pick on Mayo could have added a ton of it. It was felt that Mayo could tee off from deep while Wade drove hard to the basket. Mayo also had the ability to create his own shot at will. Ultimately, Riley did not see enough to upend the more popular selection.

Mayo was then drafted with the third overall pick by the Memphis Grizzlies.

While Riley’s assessment of Mayo’s point guard skills appears to have been proven correct thus far into his N.B.A. career, the unexpected gem at the position appears to have come in the fourth spot in the draft, where the Seattle Supersonics – the Oklahoma City Thunder predecessor – selected Russell Westbrook. Westbrook has yet to develop a reliable outside shot, but his contributions in all other phases of the game have him as a sure-fire perennial all-star. However, without the ability to space the floor, even Westbrook may not have produced a quality backcourt pairing for Wade. In fact, no other 2008 draftee has shown the backcourt skills that would cause one to second guess Riley’s decision to draft in the frontcourt. While the frontcourt selection can certainly be second guessed, namely due to the superb play of 7’0″ center Brook Lopez, Beasley was widely considered the wise choice at the time.

Now just two years later, questions abound as to whether the Heat should, or even could, abandon its attempts to further develop Beasley and trade him.

Ironically, the answer to Beasley’s fate could once again be tied to the Grizzlies.

Ever frugal Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley has been running anything but an extravagant operation in Memphis over the past few seasons. So when the time comes, after restricted free agent Rudy Gay scoffs at Memphis’ $4.4 million qualifying offer, the cash-strapped Grizzlies may not be willing to match any big-money offer he gets. While Heisley has repeatedly rejected such a notion, the writing is on the wall.

As is being reported by the Memphis Commercial Appeal, a sign-and-trade could be the favored alternative. “The Grizzlies haven’t discussed that scenario as it relates to restricted free agent Rudy Gay. But it remains an option should Gay receive a contract offer sheet that is more than the Griz are willing to match.”

Gay does not serve as a viable free agent target for the Miami Heat due to his restricted status. However, if Heisley feels that Beasley could serve as a replacement for Gay at the small forward position, an interesting case can be made for a potential sign-and-trade arrangement.

Gay projects to receive on the order of $10 million in free agency, more than double that of Beasley. That would be an instant savings of more than $5 million to the Grizzlies, with Beasley still operating under the confines of the salary scale for another two seasons.

For the Heat, Gay could serve as the small forward component to a starting lineup that would feature Wade, Chris Bosh and a starting center that earns a greater than average N.B.A. salary if all went right in the offseason.

Teams can already start discussing potential sign and trade possibilities for the next season, so long as no discussions are with the player(s) involved. Miami is unlikely, however, to engage in such discussions just yet. The Heat has its eye on another small forward at the moment. Maybe you’ve heard of him. His name is Lebron James.

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