Did the Memphis Grizzlies Make Right Choice by Going All in on Their Core?

Tom FirmeAnalyst IIJanuary 29, 2013

Jan 28, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Memphis Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay (22) celebrates making the game winning shot with forward Zach Randolph (50) during the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. The Grizzlies defeated the Sixers 103-100. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

A Rudy Gay trade had been thought to be the conventional path for the Memphis Grizzlies to avoid the luxury tax. However, the Grizzlies avoided having to make an immediate decision about trading Gay or Zach Randolph last week by shipping off Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington and Josh Selby.

Indeed, the Grizz are still contemplating shipping Gay. But the most recent rumor mentioned by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports alludes to how unlikely it is he'll be gone before the trade deadline.

For next season, staying under the luxury tax threshold remains a major objective of the Memphis front office.

The Grizzlies would have their hands tied if they keep all four core players. Gay, Randolph, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley combine for $58.7 million next season, and the franchise has $66.7 million committed to eight players—assuming they keep Hamed Haddadi.

That would leave little wiggle room for spending on complementary players.

Particularly, the Grizz would have trouble pinning together a bench after re-signing Tony Allen. The leader of the "grit 'n' grind" defense could do with a little less than his current $3.3 million salary. But that would still put the Grizzlies' payroll close to $70 million.

Then again, that's not that bad. The Grizz could hope to contend again in 2013-14 with the same lineup, a few decent bench players and a few scrap-heap signings. That bench would start with Darrell Arthur, Quincy Pondexter and Tony Wroten and end with the lovable Haddadi.

To complete the roster, they could simply take a few players for the minimum.

In order for that to happen, they have to see what they can do this year. After two years of having playoff runs stunted by injuries, the Grizz still have to see how deep they can go with both Gay and Randolph at full strength.

The front office might not believe this squad can win a title, as Adrian Wojnarowski told the Chris Mannix Show, but that's not the determining factor. With the suits having decided to keep the core intact through the end of the season, the Grizz are free to show how formidable their team defense and ability to win matchups are.

No one can stand up to the grinding defense Memphis plays. The Grizz are No. 2 in defensive rating with 99.9 points allowed per 100 possessions and every active rotation player allowing 101 or less per 100 except Jerryd Bayless. Only five times have they allowed 100 points.

Matchups are a major key in playoff series, and Memphis can dominate them both in the post and up top. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph hold an edge inside against almost any big-man duo. Allen shuts down high scorers, and Conley is close to his defensive capability.

Jason Levien, Chris Wallace and John Hollinger don't need to worry about whether they're costing the franchise by trading away a few role players instead of Gay or Randolph. If they decide to deal either one, waiting until summer would allow them to field the best offers.

Anyway, trading one of their top two earners would likely mean not contending for a title this year. Even though the Grizzlies aren't among the favorites, they're primed to battle for the crown.

Giving up on that possibility would have meant missing out on an opportunity.