The Memphis Grizzlies have been the most improbably successful team in the NBA this year. What's even more impressive than Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, and Mike Conley carrying the load for a Memphis team that has gone from the lottery to a deep playoff run? The fact that they're doing it with OJ Mayo in a diminished role and Rudy Gay sidelined entirely. Because they've made it this far without Gay, who the team just signed to a fat contract extension last offseason, there has been some rumbling about the Grizzlies looking to trade their small forward. I don't understand why the Grizz would want to trade Gay, who is the team's star and probably their best player, with no disrespect to Zach Randolph. The fact that the Grizzlies have made it to Game Seven of the Western Conference Semis against the Oklahoma City Thunder without the 25 year old Gay, who has averaged 19.6 points per game over the last four years, is remarkable, and since his dislocated shoulder is expected to be fully recovered by the start of next season, one would think that it would only allow Memphis to go deeper into next year's playoffs (but who knows, maybe they'll stun OKC and even go on to beat Dallas).
Memphis' front office needs to understand that this remarkable playoff run has been made despite Gay's absence, not because of it. Having Rudy Gay sidelined by a shoulder injury is not addition by subtraction, rather, the Grizzlies have just come together with some very inspired play since the Tony Allen-OJ Mayo confrontation on the team plane back in February. On this Memphis team, all of their players know their roles. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol do the heavy lifting on the boards and scoring points. OJ Mayo has responded beautifully to his diminished role as punishment for his disappointing play earlier in the year and his behavioral issues. The trade for Shane Battier was a coup by general manager Chris Wallace, whose trades usually seem lopsided in favor of the other team (anyone remember the Pau Gasol trade?). Sam Young, Darrell Arthur, and Greivis Vasquez have provided excellent, gritty play off the bench, and let's not forget "Trick or Treat" Tony Allen. Despite being what Bill Simmons calls an "Irrational Confidence" guy, Allen has brought great energy to the team, and his never-back-down attitude has helped Memphis more than it has hurt.
Next season, barring unforeseen injuries, Memphis looks to field a starting lineup featuring Randolph, Gasol, Conley, Gay, and either Mayo or Allen. They may have only been good enough to gain an 8-seed this year, but with more time to come together and improve as a unit (they may be playing like vets, but remember Gay, Mayo, Conley, Gasol, and Vazquez are all very young players and will continue to get better) the Grizz will be capturing higher playoff seeding in the near future. They're riding Z-Bo to success this spring, but if they hang on to Gay like they should, they could very well be carried back to the Western Conference Finals next season by Gay. Trading Gay wouldn't allow for much of an upgrade in their starting 5, and since they seem to have their lineup set and plenty of very good bench depth, what good would trading Gay for a role player do? There has been talk of swapping him for Philadelphia's borderline star Andre Iguodala, because the two have almost identical salaries, but both Iguodala and Gay have similar skill sets and this trade would hinder the development of Evan Turner in Philly. Memphis might be inclined to look for another big body to play at center and occasionally at power forward, but they don't need any star-caliber players and trading Gay for a role player would be a terrible mistake.
With Gay playing the best basketball of his career (on both sides of the ball, at that), Memphis needs to hang on to him despite salary cap issues that will arise in the next year. It will be tough to hang on to Battier, Gasol, and Gay while having comfortable salary cap space, but the Memphis Grizzlies have some great fans who deserve to see their team hold on to this core and make a run. Even the players deserve it. Up until this point, Gasol, Allen, Randolph, and Arthur have always been afterthoughts. Now they're showing what can be done with enough willpower. What the Grizzlies have done this year is nothing short of remarkable, and given the teams he's had to be a part of the last few seasons, Rudy Gay deserves to be a part of it next year and beyond.