Valiantly, the Memphis Grizzlies scratched and clawed their way to game seven. They showed a lot of that signature grit and grind, but the banged-up Los Angeles Clippers displayed a fair bit of resiliency themselves. Ultimately, the Grizzlies make their playoff exit a round earlier than last season, when they shocked the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs.
The Grizzlies have now reached the most difficult step to climb: the step from playoff contender to title contender. All-Stars Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol along with Rudy Gay and Mike Conley make up a strong, talented nucleus, and the franchise has been wise to lock them all up for the long haul. Conley, Gay, and Gasol are still relatively young and figure to improve at least a little bit, but do they, along with the current role players, have so much room for growth that they’ll be able to compete with the likes of, say, Oklahoma City in a year’s time?
That one wasn’t a rhetorical question. Personally? I’d say they don’t, but some would probably say they do. Anyway, let’s assume the front office agrees with me. They’re not interested in becoming the Atlanta Hawks of the West (albeit a more-likeable version), so they’ll be looking to make a few additions via free agency. First thing’s first, though: they’ll have to assess their own free agents… most notably OJ Mayo.
Mayo has been a Grizzly since draft day of 2008. Although Memphis is the only city he’s called home during his NBA career, one could understand why he may be in search of a change. See, Juice had what has been his standout season to this point as a rookie, when he set career highs in points (18.5), minutes (38), and shots (16) per game. Since then he’s seen his playing time and his shot attempts decrease, and he’s also been involved in a couple of near trades to the Pacers (earlier this season, Tony Allen actually told him “goodbye” via Twitter, thinking a deal had been finalized). As of right now, Mayo’s role for the Grizzlies is to provide scoring off the bench. An important role indeed, but it may not be the one a typical 24-year-old of Mayo’s caliber seeks.
Maybe OJ Mayo isn’t a typical 24-year-old of his caliber. Via the Twitter account of Christopher Hrabe, a Memphis radio host…
Asked OJ if he wants to be back “Yeah. Why not? Good group of guys, good young team. Getting better each & every year. Better days ahead…”
Asked OJ if he wants long-term deal: “Talk to (agent) Rob Pelinka, man. I’m just a ballplayer. If you want his number I’ll give it to you.”
Just how much mutual interest will there be, though? Unfortunately for OJ, probably not enough. The Grizzlies owe about $62 million guaranteed dollars in 2012/13, most of which will be going to their aforementioned core of Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Rudy Gay, and Mike Conley. That puts them over the cap by a few million bucks, and with a qualifying offer of $7.4 million on the table for Mayo it seems that he’s likely to become an unrestricted free agent. With the option to play wherever he wants and other teams offering more than the Grizzlies, I figure Juice is likely to be a goner.
So, which teams (with cap space) could use a little scoring at the two spot?
*Cleveland Cavaliers: The Cavs current shooting guard situation could be better. They’ve got Daniel Gibson, a rather one-dimensional player, as well as Alonzo Gee, but he’s an unrestricted free agent. Omri Casspi isn’t the answer, and the draft may or may not provide one. If the Cavaliers are unable to retain Gee, who is certainly the favored option of the current group, then I could see OJ Mayo going to Cleveland to run alongside other young players like Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson.
*Boston Celtics: The Celtics and Grizzlies were rumored to have discussed a Ray Allen/OJ Mayo trade around the deadline, but the Celtics elected to make one last run with their ’07 trio. Could the two teams make the swap via free agency this coming offseason? I’m not exactly sure what kind of offers he’ll see, but Ray Allen would be a good fit in Memphis, where they need three-point shooting, and OJ Mayo could serve as a nice piece for the Celtics going forward.
*Orlando Magic: The Magic simply need some guys who can play. This says more about Orlando than it does OJ, but Mayo would instantly become their second or third best player if he were to sign with the Magic this summer.
*Minnesota Timberwolves: For obvious reasons, such as the fact that he doesn’t really do much of anything, Wesley Johnson is not the answer at the starting two spot. With Martell Webster figuring to be on his way out via team option, the T-Wolves have a gaping hole at Mayo’s position. It’s fair to say they could use a guy who can make a few shots, and play some half-decent defense.
*Phoenix Suns: The Suns have a lot of money to spend and don’t figure to attract a Deron Williams or an Eric Gordon (he’s restricted anyway). With Steve Nash possibly a goner, they, like the Magic, are in serious need of some guys who can play. Well, that is unless they’d like to pull a Charlotte Bobcats in 2013. Honestly, that’s probably the way to go. Still, OJ could be added on as a temporary go-to guy/part of the rebuild.
Of those situations, I like the fit with the Timberwolves. Unlike Ray Allen or Jamal Crawford, two other potential targets of the T-Wolves, Mayo has father time on his side. He’s a scoring threat with three-point range and defensive capability, and I think he’d be an affordable step in the right direction. Individually, Mayo would be given an opportunity to grow in an important role under an excellent coach. What I’m really saying is that the shots are there to be made, so it should work out for both parties.