|Where was this the last six years Tony?! Huh? HUH?!|
Like I said, there are a lot of great storylines in the playoffs. Can Lebron finally get it done, can Durant/Westbrook take "The Leap," is 'Khloe and Lamar' more exciting than the Lakers, will Dirk finally get his championship, can Derrick Rose be the MVP in the playoffs, will Andrew Bynum murder anyone, is Pau Gasol going to come to Grizzlies games and openly cry? All are legitimite storylines (especially the Laker ones...you didn't think I wouldn't get my shots in did you?), but perhaps no storyline is as interesting and improbable as the Memphis Grizzlies.
Don't get me wrong, I love what the Grizzlies have accomplished as much as the next guy. I think they're new, fresh, endlessly entertaining, and I wholeheartedly support them (please ignore my repeated pleas to contract them...I was coerced into saying those things). That having been said, when I actually took the time to sit and process what Memphis was doing, I was left scratching my head. About a week ago, I wrote a piece on the Orlando Magic and how you can't be successful with luck alone...well, apparently there's an exception to the rule. It's not that Memphis has bad players (though their roster isn't really all that loaded), it's that their personnel decisions have been completely horrific. Given that a serious "mistake" has been made with nearly every player on their roster, it confounds me how this team is even in the playoffs...and yet, they actually have a shot to WIN the playoffs. HUH?!?!?
Below is a player by player description of how Memphis acquired each of their key rotation players, as well as a few extra blunders that make their run seem even more incredible. Also, since I had so much fun with my Shock Level scale, I've created an all new Stupid Level scale! Yes, yes; very original, I know.
Stupid Level Scale
1 - Passing on Cam Newton in the draft
2 - Listening closely to my predictions...and then placing money on the opposite
3 - Trading down instead of taking Christian Ponder at #12
4 - Hiring Wade Phillips as anything other than a Walmart greeter
5 - Dropping your pants in the locker room to "prove a point" (sorry Casey)
6 - Trading Kendrick Perkins for Jeff Green (Shoot! I couldn't help myself!)
7 - Hiring Michael Vick to sponsor Purina Puppy Chow
8 - Placing NHL franchises in Atlanta, Nashville, Phoenix, Tampa Bay, Miami, etc.
9 - Selling a car to an Ohio State football player for $0
10 - Concluding that Rex Grossman is your best option at QB
Tony Allen - Stupid Level: 4.0
Few fans are as informed on Tony Allen as I, considering he spent the last six years frustrating the heck out of me as a member of the Boston Celtics. Tony's always been a fantastic defender, so that's not a surprise at all to me. He was one of our key weapons against teams like Miami and the Lakers since he could effectively cover Wade and Kobe for decent stretches of the game. The problem is, Tony was completely useless on offense. Like, beyond bad...it was literally painful to watch sometimes. Thus, when Memphis gave him a 3 year $10 million contract, I was shocked. I wanted to keep him, but not at that price. Apparently the Celtics felt the same way since they were more than willing to let Tony walk.
In retrospect, this looks like an incredibly savvy move by Memphis. I call it luck. Tony Allen had been in the league six years, more than enough time to figure out what kind of player he was, and had a career PER of only 14.4. Basically, he was an average bench player who could only play defense. This season, Tony had an unreal 18.4 PER. He's still not an All-Star on the offensive end by any stretch of the imagination, but somehow he managed to make an incredibly significant jump in production...in his seventh year. You say savvy, I say luck.
Darrell Arthur - Stupid Level: 5.0
Arthur ended up in Memphis after a big three team trade during the 2008 draft. For their part, Memphis shipped off Donta Green and a 2009 2nd round pick to Houston for the draft rights to Arthur. At the time, Green was a much better prospect than Arthur, thus the trade was widely ridiculed. Now, Arthur is a valuable role player on a winning team while Green can barely crack the rotation in Sacramento. I'll give Memphis props here...no luck involved, just a good trade. Still, Arthur had an 11.3 PER in his rookie season and an abysmal 10.5 PER in his second season. This season, Arthur's PER jumped up to 15.7. Again, I'm not calling luck, but a jump that big is fairly atypical.
Shane Battier - Stupid Level: 10.5
Before you go crazy and call me an idiot, just give me a chance to explain myself. I'm not giving the 10.5 to Battier. Goodness knows they made a great trade to land him! I'm giving the 10.5 to the personnel decisions that led to the trade.
Memphis had the #2 overall selection in 2009, a draft that turned out to be very strong. Despite getting a quality season out of rookie Marc Gasol, Memphis decided it would be a smart idea to draft a huge stiff in Hasheem Thabeet. Thabeet turned out to be, well, a huge stiff! He was even demoted to the D-League during his rookie season! The #2 overall pick was sent down to the D-League! If that isn't bad enough, consider who was still available when Thabeet was picked. James Harden, Tyreke Evans, Stephen Curry, and Brandon Jennings were all still on the board...still, anytime you can take a 7'2" piece of plywood over four much needed quality guards, you gotta do it!
Short story made long, Memphis wasted a golden opportunity to land a quality franchise cornerstone and then had to package Thabeet AND a future 1st round pick to land Shane Battier...who, by the way, is not under contract beyond this season. So, they might end up with nothing. Great move.
Mike Conley - Stupid Level: 8.0
Conley has been a pretty solid player and, despite what others say, has somewhat lived up to the #4 overall pick that he was. Still, he's nothing special. It's a point guard heavy league right now and you can find guys like Conley all over the place. Heck, Memphis literally gave one away a few years earlier in Kyle Lowry! (traded for Adonal Foyle, Mike Wilks, late first round pick that turned into nothing) Despite this, Memphis awarded Conley with a 5 year $45 million extension only a few games into this past season. Because it's always a good idea for a small market team who constantly whines about losing money to lock up an extremely average player to a big, long term extension. For some perspective, Conley has a career PER of 14.4, which is below the league average of 15.0. And for those who will scream about his development and how he finally had his breakout year...he only had a 15.9 PER this season. Average player. Really dumb contract.
Marc Gasol - Stupid Level: 11.0
Another off the charts stupid move! Wow! This is amazing! While Marc has turned into a fine player, the trade that brought him to Memphis was anything but fine. In the deal, Memphis sent Pau Gasol to the Lakers for Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Marc Gasol, and two future 1st round picks (eventually DeMarre Carroll and Greivis Vasquez). Not exactly what I would call an equitable trade. At the time, it stirred a major controversy and even inspired some to postulate on possible conspiracy theories. Honestly, I was really angry when this happened because the Lakers were essentially handed a good team in return for nothing.
In retrospect, it wasn't the worst trade ever, but it's still pretty close. Oddly enough, some are now going so far as to claim the trade is even. WHAT?! Are you serious?! First of all, Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, and both first round picks are fairly inconsequential. Throw them out. The trade boils down to Pau Gasol for Marc Gasol (unless of course you think Greivis Vasquez is the next Jason Kidd...didn't think so). Let's look at the numbers:
Marc Gasol: 3 seasons, 12.6ppg, 7.8rpg, 1.4bpg, 17.6 PER, 7.6 Win Shares per season
Not bad at all for Marc! He will likely improve a bit more, but at 26 years old, he's probably close to his prime already. Still, he's one of the best centers in the league and 7.6 Win Shares is an excellent contribution.
Pau Gasol: 3.5 seasons, 18.7ppg, 10rpg, 1.4bpg, 23.1 PER, 13.2 Win Shares per season, 3 All-Stars, 2 All-NBA teams, 3 Western Conference Championships, 2 NBA Championships
So...this isn't really even close. Don't overreact to one bad playoffs from Pau, he's been FAR better than his brother. 13.2 Win Shares per season is nearly double his brother's contribution!
Rudy Gay - Stupid Level: 8.5
I guess this is pretty similar to the Mike Conley situation. Rudy Gay is a fantastic young player and it was important for Memphis to hang onto him, but it's just not an option for a small market like Memphis to dish out such an albatross of a contract. Let's look at it this way; Rudy has career averages of 17.8ppg and 5.6rpg. Pretty solid. He has an above average career PER of 16.0, which is artificially a point or so lower because of his rookie season. Again, pretty good. For those "lofty" numbers, Rudy Gay was given a 5 year $84 million contract; the maximum allowed. Let me put it another way...a player who contributes only 4.1 Win Shares per season was given a Lebron James level contract. He backed that up by averaging less than 20ppg, getting hurt only 54 games into the season, and watching his team play better after Shane Battier was acquired to replace him.
O.J. Mayo - Stupid Level: 7.0
O.J. was selected #3 overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves in the 2008 draft. Kevin Love was selected #5 overall by the Memphis Grizzlies in the same draft. Later in the first round, Memphis reached a deal to send Kevin Love and Mike Miller to Minnesota for the rights to O.J. Mayo. So...Kevin Love for O.J. Mayo. How'd that turn out? Considering the Grizzlies were willing to trade Mayo for Josh McRoberts and a crappy draft pick this season, I'd say not well.
Zach Randolph - Stupid Level: 3.0
I'd say the Z-Bo situation was less stupid and more bizarre. See, Randolph had always put up big numbers, but had consistently been a distraction off the court. He's been labeled as a bad character guy and he's had several legal issues. Add some of the worst low post defense to that and you've got a classic me first numbers guy. In the eight season prior to being dealt to Memphis, Randolph had contributed only 28.4 Win Shares to his teams. Essentially, he was a fantasy stud who was anything but a franchise player. Nobody knows what happened or why it happened, but Z-Bo is a totally new basketball player. In his two seasons with Memphis, Randolph has contributed 20.2 Win Shares. That's almost as much as his previous eight seasons combined!
As I said, you can't always say these types of things are luck. However, it's tough to look past things when literally every crappy move turns into gold! I can't honestly look at any of the above moves and say they were shrewd decisions, but they've somehow worked out. You know what, good for Memphis! This team isn't anywhere near as talented as OKC, but they're toughness is impressive. I like OKC, so it's impossible for me to root against them, but I won't be devastated if Memphis keeps rolling. After eight iffy seasons, Zach Randolph has turned into the best low post player in the game. After one of the worst trades of all time, Marc Gasol has worked out to be the perfect compliment to Z-Bo. After a slow development and a terrible contract, Mike Conley has ended up being a dynamic point guard. After six painfully uneven season, Tony Allen has become a legit NBA starter. It really is confusing to me. Perhaps things will fall apart next year, perhaps their gross mismanagement of the salary cap will kill them in the future; for now, Memphis is an awesome story and I wish them the best of luck.