This morning, ESPN.com published a piece in which a group of eight "experts" offered predictions on where the top NBA free agents will land. On the subject of Rudy Gay, not a single ESPN prognosticator predicted he would remain with the Grizzlies. Four chose the Los Angeles Clippers as Gay's destination. Two tabbed the New Jersey Nets. And the New York Knicks and Minnesota Timberwolves got one vote each.
It's been an article of faith — or perhaps just a reflexive assumption — from the national NBA media that Gay will be moving on, and thus anything the Grizzlies do is fashioned into evidence of this. Draft Xavier Henry? No, not because the team needs outside shooting off the bench but because the team needs a Rudy Gay replacement. Sell a late first-round pick for $3 million? Not mitigating the cost of keeping Gay but evidence that the team is too cheap to keep him.
Well, I thought months ago that the inevitable selling of a draft pick was a financial precursor to retaining Gay — a trade-off owner Michael Heisley considered necessary whether fans did or not. And I'm almost certain that the team's unexpected decision today to not extend a $3.7 million qualifying offer to free agent Ronnie Brewer — thus making him an unrestricted free agent and removing the team's matching rights — is directly connected to the team's intentions to retain Gay.
This morning, I would have pegged the odds of Gay being in a Grizzlies uniform next season at about 65 percent. Now, I'd bump that up to about 85 percent.
When the clock strikes midnight tonight, the NBA's free-agent period begins, with Rudy Gay a key supporting player in this unfolding drama. But don't expect resolution on Rudy anytime soon.
So tomorrow is only the beginning of a process that could last several weeks. To get a handle on where things could be headed and what approach the Grizzlies should be taking, let's examine three different issues relating to Gay's free agency: His value as a player, the six possible end-games, and the most likely competitors to sign him.
Henry, despite his youth (still just 19) and pedigree (an elite-ranked high-school prospect), doesn't really seem to have the explosiveness you would assume in a star NBA wing player. And Vasquez's rather plodding athleticism would seem more at home in your rec league than in the Association. These are concerns — though more so for Vasquez. But these players each provide a trait that this particular Grizzlies team sorely needs. Henry, who shot 46% from the floor and 42% from three-point range at Kansas, could add a desperately needed outside threat to balance the team's attack and bolster a bench full of wayward shooters. Everyone identified that as perhaps the team's biggest need this summer.
But Vasquez could add a needed quality that has gone generally under-recognized: The ability to positively impact an offense without scoring. The Grizzlies offense is built on individual scorers, but those scorers will be even more effective with teammates who can spread the floor and draw attention (Henry) and who are adept at helping create shots for teammates (Vasquez).
My second favorite national holiday, the NBA Draft, is finally upon us. The draft begins at 6 p.m. Thursday night, and it sure feels like the Grizzlies are going to be dealing. Rumors so far are varied, from the dramatic (Zach Randolph to Minnesota for Al Jefferson) to the mundane (the team's latest pick, #28, for cash). And I think that the odds of the team selecting and keeping players with all three of its current picks — at #12, #25, and #28 — are slim.
The biggest rumor, Randolph-for-Jefferson, has been reported as "dead for now" due to Minnesota wanting for draft-related compensation. But I wouldn't be surprised if that scenario popped back up. Minnesota seems to be aggressively shopping Jefferson, a player Grizzlies GM has a history with and a fondness for. Jefferson is a very similar player to Randolph in size, skill, and production, but is several years younger, under contract (at a large but reasonable salary) for longer, and comes without Randolph's off-court concerns. A trade built around those two players probably wouldn't be popular initially among Grizzlies fans, but I think it would be a smart move.
If the Grizzlies don't use one or both of their late-first-round picks to move up or as secondary assets in a more significant deal, then I think the odds of selling one of those picks is strong. There are reports that the Grizzlies are demanding a second-rounder along with the requisite $3 million cash to part with a late-first-rounder. There are players I like late (that list comes later in this post) who could be on the board in the early second round. If the team were to pocket $3 million to move down and still snag one of those players, then I probably wouldn't complain.
The team appears open enough to dealing that you should expect more scenarios to emerge during the day leading up to the draft. Keep an eye on Golden State. They're said to be willing to part with anyone other than Stephen Curry. In the past, the Grizzlies have had some interest in both Monta Ellis and Anthony Randolph. I wouldn't be surprised to see one of both of those names pop up.
The Grizzlies have worked out 12 draft prospects over the past two days at FedExForum, but since only two of the group really seem to be legitimate candidates for the team's two late first-round picks (#25 and #28), I'm going to (try to) keep this report brief.
Even with no candidates for the #12 pick on hand, the team got a close look at two legitimate late-first round candidates: Xavier's Jordan Crawford and Maryland's Greivis Vasquez.
Jordan Crawford: Draft Express has Crawford at #38 right now, which seems about right to me. He was a hard player to get a read on in a workout. His wiry frame and hunched-over posture make him look weak, but he's sneaky explosive, with a quick first step and the ability to finish above the rim. He did not shoot the ball all that well at the workout, but has a history of making big shots when it counts. You get the sense that he might shoot better in a game than in a workout. If Crawford makes it, he seems destined to be a high-volume, instant-offense guy in the mold of a Flip Murray or Marcus Thornton.
Greivis Vasquez: Vasquez has uniformly been down in the 50s in all mock drafts throughout the process, but I included him on my most recent Grizzlies draft board because his name comes up frequently in discussions about players the Grizzlies plan to look at. The team likes him and apparently that information is starting to get out, as Draft Express has moved Vasquez all the way up to the team's #28 pick.
Despite spending what felt like seven years at Maryland (okay, it was four), I hadn't really paid much attention to Vasquez before. And because of his age (23) and athleticism (very, very ordinary), I was skeptical of the idea that he'd be first-round worthy. I'm a little less skeptical now.
The Grizzlies held two significant pre-draft workouts Sunday totaling 12 players. There were significant contenders for the #12 pick (Xavier Henry and Luke Babbitt) along with several options for the team's late-first-round picks. I was there for both workouts and, while I won't go into great detail on what happened, I'm giving brief notes on each relevant candidate.
There were two players in the morning workout who aren't really in the first-round mix: Marquette's Lazar Hayward and Michigan State's Raymar Morgan. Morgan, in particular, had a nice day, but I can't see the Grizzlies considering either player at #25 or #28.
James Anderson (Oklahoma State): Considered a darkhorse candidate at #12, Anderson was hard to get a read on. He was playing with a minor hamstring injury. He pushed himself through the contact drills — impressive in itself given how common workout cancellations are — but sat out the shooting drills. Nothing about Anderson really jumped out but it's hard to say how limited he was physically.
When I took my first Grizzlies-specific look at the NBA Draft a couple of weeks ago, I identified the three types of players the Grizzlies might target (particularly with their first pick, at #12) and divided them into groups.
With take two, I'm making my first attempt at ranking all the players the team might be considering. There are seven players I'm taking off the board as all but certain to be gone before the Grizzlies pick: John Wall, Evan Turner, DeMarcus Cousins, Derrick Favors, Wesley Johnson, Greg Monroe, and Al-Farouq Aminu. I had an eighth name on this list the last time — Kansas center Cole Aldrich — but it now appears that Aldrich could drop into the Grizzlies range, so I'm adding him to the Griz draft list.
There is some new information taken into account since my last post: The most important is probably the data that's emerged from the NBA's draft combine. The athletic testing results from that event are of only modest interest, but the thorough physical measurements are more important. Secondly, more statistical analysis has emerged, most persuasively John Hollinger's annual prospect rater rankings. Hollinger's system misses on plenty of players, but has proven over the years to be a slightly more accurate predictor of NBA success than the actual draft. Finally, I've had more time to talk to people who know these players better than I do. I take what I hear from team officials most seriously, but also value the observations of other media members and friends who follow college basketball much more closely than I do.
Below I rank my 10 favorite prospects (for the moment) that have a chance to be available at #12. It is highly likely that four of these players will be off the board when the Grizzlies pick, but it is a near certainty that the team's pick will come from someone on this list.
This is my own at-the-moment ranking of players I'd like the see the Grizzlies take at #12, not an attempt to guess what the team will actually do; that will come closer to the draft. Given how comparatively low the Grizzlies are picking and how comparatively little college basketball I watched last season, I anticipate my take on this year's prospects being more fluid than in years past. I'll revisit this list following the team's individual draft workouts, when, hopefully, I've had a chance to see most of these players up close. I won't be surprised if this list changes significantly at that time.
As in the earlier draft post, I'm including a parenthetical with each player that includes where they current stand on the mock drafts from ESPN.com's Chad Ford, DraftExpress.com, and NBADraft.net, respectively.
Grizzlies Draft Board: