This is a rant (one very close to the one I went on when the trade went down):
"WTH!?! Memphis got rid of Rudy Gay!?! When? How? Why??? Did they get Danny Granger in return? Did Mark Cuban give up on O.J. Mayo now that Dirk is back? I sure hope it wasn't about money. I hope it wasn't about dumping an expiring contract without regard to the overall importance of the player to the squad. Damn. There goes their run at the title. Just watch. This is going to come back to haunt them in the playoffs!"
This is gratification (or what I sounded like after the Grizzlies lost to the Spurs):
"I told you! This is exactly what I was talking about! Two overtime games and in both games they had no one to draw a play up for to win either game?!? This is why you keep Rudy! Just for these reasons and these types of situations! No team wins a championship without a guy who can drop buckets on his own terms in those moments. The Grizzlies management should've known that! The Grizzlies management should've known better than that!!!"
This is the missing of Rudy Gay. (Or what will for the rest of this column be disguised as proof that sometimes -- more not than often -- the "B" in NBA stands for basketball, not business.)
* * *
Basketball is the winning business, not the business of saving money. Not saying that the Rudy Gay trade in January was all about money (apparently there were problems of court spacing and running plays for both Gay and Zach Randolph that had become an issue), but saving cash was at the very center of why Memphis decided to part ways with the one player who proved scoring 20 points per game (18 ppg career average) and taking big shots came as natural to him as denial comes to Amanda Bynes.
And now they are out. Vacuum cleansed out of the playoffs by a team that is not four-games-to-none better than them. But this is what happens when a title-contending team in the middle of a championship-building season decides to go "Moneyball" and forgets that (regardless of shooting percentage and PER) in order to win it all a team has to have a create-for-himself-bonafide-multidimensional-scoring-option-that-can-get-to-the-free-throw-line-at-will-and-score-from-3-when-the-clock-is-under-0.5-seconds-left player on your squad.
Especially when the teams they have to go through to get to the promised land all have one or two of those types of players on their rosters.
When the Grizzlies traded Gay, the Lakers still had a healthy Kobe Bryant, the Rockets had James Harden, the Clippers had CP3 and Jamal Crawford, Denver had Andre Iguodala and Danilo Gallinari was healthy, Golden State had Steph Curry and San Antonio had its big three -- Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, who are all capable of winning games single-handedly -- plus previous championship rings to back it up.
And that was just in the West.
Come East and if a team is serious in trying to win a ring, at some point it has to imagine and strategize for running into LeBron James. At some point a team should realize it needs some type of scoring counterpoint to him. Again ... if that team is serious about attempting to win a championship.
With scoring droughts in Game 2, especially relying on Jerryd Bayless (who took four of the team's final six shots in OT) off the bench as the go-to guy, the void in the Grizzlies' offense left by Gay was more evident than ever. With Randolph falling into one of the worst shooting slumps of his career, being reduced to a "shell of himself" player and not being able to make hardly any baskets (Randolph scored a total of 44 points and shot 30 percent for the series), the Grizzlies needed a player like Gay to take the pressure off of Randolph and Mike Conley Jr., someone to carry the scoring load. Instead they had to rely on Quincy Pondexter, who led the team in scoring twice in four games off the bench.
(Quincy Pondexter? Seriously? That's your impromptu, replacement go-to guy against the Spurs??? Brilliant plan.)
Gay played it diplomatic on "First Take," appearing as a guest Wednesday morning and responding to Stephen A. Smith's question about whether he watched the series having similar thoughts as the ones I had above. All Gay could say about watching his former team get ousted was, "I felt this year was our year ... I definitely thought I could help."
Help is a beautifully restrained statement. The Griz needed Rudy Gay more than OKC needed Harden once Russell Westbrook went down; they needed Gay as much as Chicago needed Derrick Rose once the whole Bulls roster went down. Memphis had no backup or backup plan in case (as it did with Randolph) its No. 1 option/guy who could go for 20 slumped or was shut down.
If anything, Memphis should have looked at Dallas and seen what can happen when "trying to save money" gets in the way of the game. The Mavericks have not been close to the same since they allowed Tyson Chandler to walk after the 2011 season. At least the Mavs won a championship before they let the shark tank get the best of them.
* * *
This is what kicking oneself in the butt sounds like. (Or some version of what has to be going on in the minds of the front-office execs of the Memphis Grizzlies.)
Dealing Jose Calderon's expiring contract for Gay from Toronto's standpoint was a competent and savvy business and basketball move. It made sense. But the Raptors are not trying to win a championship anytime in the immediate future and what they needed/need from Gay is totally different than what the Grizzlies needed/had.
So what if his shooting percentage wasn't the greatest, so what if he could at times be a liability on defense, so what if it would have been a struggle for Lionel Hollins to have him co-exist on the blocks with Randolph and Marc Gasol offensively. Gay was the one player who had the ability to get the Grizzlies out of scoring slumps that seem to happen to every team, every season in the playoffs when facing great defensive teams becomes unavoidable.
How Chris Wallace (GM) didn't think about that, I don't know. How John Hollinger (VP) didn't think about that, I don't know. How Rob Pera and Steve Kaplan (chairman and vice chairman) allowed this to happen, I have no idea.
I'm not saying that Gay is worth the almost $18 million he was due next season or the more than $19 million he was on the books for in 2014-15, nor am I saying that the Grizzlies would have beaten the Spurs with him, but I am saying the organization owed it to the basketball-side of their business dealings to at least for this season finish it out "as is" and see what their team would have done with the original parts they'd put together to make a potential June run.
I am saying that the Grizzlies wouldn't have been taken out like they were or gone out like they did.
Because instead of taking steps forward, the Spurs series proved that the Memphis Grizzlies actually took a step or two back. Back to the original grind. The conference finals is not the time nor the place for miserly roster behavior from earlier this season to rear its "god has a really twisted sense of humor" head.