Grizzlies' Gay could be a diamondin the rough this summer

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Rudy Gay

“The thing that jumps out at you is his athleticism,” Hall of Famer and longtime team executive Jerry West said of Gay. “To be in the upper echelon you have to have a combination of things. The physical gifts. He has those. He was a player with so much room to improve when he came out because he was so young. I’ve seen his total game get better and to watch his growth is eye opening.”

(Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty Images)

He doesn’t get talked about much with the big free agents, in part because he is a restricted free agent. But some of the teams lining up for this summer’s potential free agent bonanza are quietly eying Memphis’ Rudy Gay as the secret diamond in the rough.

Some of the scenarios being discussed have LeBron James perhaps winning a title—or making the NBA Finals—and staying in Cleveland, and then maybe Chris Bosh joining Dwyane Wade in Miami. If that were to happen, the three A-list free agents would be off the board, leaving several teams to fight over the likes of Amar’e Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer, David Lee (no one expects Dirk Nowitzki to leave Dallas) and Joe Johnson. When you want to pay big money for a star, you want a finisher, someone to whom you can throw the ball and isolate to make a last shot. Among that group, there’s perhaps only Johnson, and I can see given his age and superior athletic ability, teams will go for Gay.

I can see, assuming you cannot get any of the Big Three, someone throwing a max offer front loaded with a bonus at Gay. I know Hall of Famer and longtime team executive Jerry West has a bias because he traded for Gay when he ran the Grizzlies. But West is one of the most knowledgeable talent evaluators in NBA history, and while not connected to any franchise now, West keeps a keen eye on the league and he sees big things coming for the underrated Gay.

“The thing that jumps out at you is his athleticism,” West said in a phone interview last week. “To be in the upper echelon you have to have a combination of things. The physical gifts. He has those. He was a player with so much room to improve when he came out because he was so young. I’ve seen his total game get better and to watch his growth is eye opening.”

West acknowledged there was a lot of criticism of the acquisition because it was for the popular and effective Shane Battier, of whom West is a big fan. But, said West: “If I were the Grizzlies, I’d be happy with the trade. He’s not even close to his potential yet. He’s got this ability to do things that will shock you. He can be tremendous defensively. He makes blocks and steals and has turned into a capable passer. I thought early on he tried to score too much and you didn’t see his total game.

“He can play both forward positions because he is so long,” said West. “He could probably be a multi-dimensional player.

“He plays young at times,” West conceded of the 6-8, 23-year-old. “He doesn’t play like Kobe or LeBron. He’s not at that level. But his numbers are impressive (20.6 points and 6.1 rebounds). He can get better with his footwork. With his ballhandling he can drive left but sometimes is not as comfortable. Sometimes with that big stride in the scoring area he floats instead of elevates. And he relates to (coach) Lionel Hollins well. They’ve got a nice young team. Rudy is a player who a lot of people will have interest in for the free agent market.”

There have been some rumors around already, strongly denied by the Grizzlies, that they have plans to trade Gay rather than lose him without compensation this summer. Though you wonder in their small market and last in attendance, but with a developing team, just what they’ll do. There are a lot of teams for a variety of reasons beginning that process now with the trading deadline less than a month away. So here’s a look, using primarily my own informed speculation and talks with team officials, of a dozen of the big time players most likely to be traded:

1. Amar’e Stoudemire, Suns. I’d say the final straw was when he told the Arizona Republic he considers it a Big Four free agents this summer with LeBron, Bosh, Wade and himself. Translated: I want max money. The Suns are now seventh, a game and a half out of ninth in the West and now with Leandro Barbosa having surgery. I can’t see them making their future with Stoudemire when they may not even be a playoff team this season.

2. Kevin Martin, Kings. They haven’t won since his return, though they’ve all been on the road as he’s averaged 14 points on 34 percent shooting. It just doesn’t make sense to keep his contract with three more years with a poor financial situation and some very good young talent being squeezed by Martin’s return.

3. Marcus Camby, Clippers. There’s much talk about the Cavs moving Zydrunas Ilgauskas’ expiring deal, and he will be traded. The hang up is the Cavs want him released so he can return after 30 days, though they cannot officially demand it as it’s against the rules. Tracy McGrady’s expiring deal is the biggest, but it’s questionable whether he can play. Camby can make an impact the rest of the season. The Clippers, to the surprise of many, will take a contract of a good young player, like say Andre Iguodala, because with Blake Griffin for next season they believe they can be really good and are said now willing to spend.

4. Caron Butler, Wizards. The speculation has been more about trading Antawn Jamison, and who knows what will happen with a decision on Gilbert Arenas’ suspension this week. The Wizards are committed to change, though with an ownership change coming up, they are being careful to make a deal that looks good. Butler has gone sideways with the team in his relationship with Arenas and general behavior, blowing off end game plays last week. With just one year left on his contract, he’d be a quick fix addition for someone.

5. Chris Bosh, Raptors. The talk has been the Raptors are feeling they may have to make a deal while it looks more like Carlos Boozer is staying put They’re said to have been offering around the likes of Antoine Wright, Amir Johnson and Jose Calderon in various packages to add a player to perhaps entice Bosh to stay. But they’re also believed to be open to seeing what they can get now, and, after all, even with that nice win over the Lakers Sunday, they’re still hanging around .500 with Bosh and a healthy team.

6. Tayshaun Prince, Pistons. They are in a major addition by subtraction position with so many perimeter players. With the team for sale you can see them looking for expiring deals. Richard Hamilton’s deal has three years and Prince one more. He had some heated disagreements with coach John Kuester last week which just presages a change.

7. Andre Miller, Trail Blazers. You never know for sure with so many players going down and whether they’ll just need bodies. But the fit has been bad from Day 1, and the thinking is it’s never going to work out well.

8. Tracy McGrady, Rockets. Oh yeah, him. He’s still out there waiting to be traded. The Rockets are waiting for teams to fall out of it and make a deal to save money. They’ve had their eyes mostly on Iguodala, though several teams have. They’re one of the teams that has done well against the Lakers and feel with a nice addition who knows.

9. Josh Howard, Mavericks. He’s becoming a tougher sell given he misses so many games. But the Mavs are anxious to make a big move with Howard or Erick Dampier, the latter whose contract is attractive to teams as it’s not fully guaranteed for next season. GMs say watch for them to try something major.

10.Troy Murphy, Pacers. You figure no one wants that T.J. Ford contract given his physical issues. Murphy and Mike Dunleavy also have a year left, after which the Pacers figure to try to do something. Murphy is the kind of fallback for some teams, like the Cavs, if they can’t make a bigger move like for Jamison.

11. Kirk Hinrich, Bulls. Hinrich’s value is up again with his unselfish play and improving shooting doing wonders for the Bulls’ game. Would the Lakers take a shot as they’ve long liked Hinrich and have been awful off the bench and still have shown a lack of toughness? The Bulls need to get more salary off the books, though there are creative ways to do so and add a good player with an expiring deal as well. But interest in Hinrich has been heating up again.

12.Gay, Grizzlies. I know they have denied heatedly they won’t trade him, and they are in playoff position. But how much is one round and out worth? Someone may throw a huge poison pill deal at Gay that could send the Grizzlies toward the luxury tax to match. So maybe you get someone to take a bad deal and pick up a good player. After all, with Mayo, Randolph and Gasol, the Grizzlies have a lot of firepower now.

Will Rose get All-Star call?

-- It’s a big week for the Bulls and for Derrick Rose as the voting for All-Star reserves is announced on TNT Thursday night. With the Bulls winning two games on this trip and Rose having a big game on national TV Friday, Rose ranks first in scoring among East point guards at 19.4 per game and third in scoring among guards behind Dwyane Wade and Joe Johnson. Gilbert Arenas is out with suspension and Stephen Jackson, just ahead of Rose, was scoring with Golden State and never a favorite of coaches. I’d say Rose’s odds are better than 50-50 now, especially with the Knicks being beaten by 50 Sunday as David Lee seems more a product of Mike D’Antoni’s offensive system.

Rose also has a big backer among one of the all-time great guards, Jerry West. When I was interviewing West about Gay, West volunteered a bunch of comments about Rose.

Talking about the progress of Gay, West brought up Rose and said, “Watching Rose in Chicago, I see the progression of his game. He’s been hurt (earlier). I see a difference in him as a player. He was a streaky shooter. He’s gotten to be a tremendous shooter. He likes to play and compete. So I see him getting better. I think when you look at that team, if they had Ben Gordon he’d have more assists. Not having Ben Gordon probably hurts his assists. He hasn’t found anyone to take (and hit) as many shots. His lateral quickness and ballhandling, penetration and getting inside allows guys to be offensive rebounders, allows (Joakim) Noah to go to the offensive boards. I like his (Noah’s) enthusiasm. I like the way he handles himself.”

Iverson’s point? It’s for the fans

-- You know what, I agree with Allen Iverson. I hate when I do that. Anyway, this is what Iverson said about being voted into the All-Star game: "Every time I've been in the game I've been voted in. A lot's been said about it and some people disagree with it. The way I look at it is, what should I do? Should I worry about what those people say or concentrate on the million-plus people that voted? To me, it's a no-brainer. My fans want to see me play. They have the right to put in who they want to put in the game. They voted me in and it's an honor. I don't want to disrespect them by not participating in the game." There’s been a debate of late of changing the voting because the fans had Iverson starting and McGrady for a time. But generally I find the fans’ voting is better than the coaches’. The coaches generally support players from winning teams in the notion you reward selfless success. That’s fine for a team, but this is a game to see the best stars in an exhibition. So the coaches vote led to Mo Williams making the All-Star team last year, and his claim is standing next to LeBron James in the team picture. Plus, coaches tend to vote politically, often trying to manipulate the ballot to favor someone they like or don’t like. They’ll vote for a guy who has no chance to lessen the chance of someone obvious who they may not like or to favor one of their players in competition with that player. Allowing players to vote makes it worse as they vote for their friends. The All-Star voting isn’t perfect, but I like the fan voting and it’s as good as any alternative that’s come up. Plus, the game is for the fans.

NBA news and notes

-- Larry Hughes couldn’t even get into that Knicks’ 50-point blowout loss to the Mavs short two starters Sunday. No surprise after Hughes once again complained about his playing time, or lack of it. Doesn’t that guy ever figure it out? … Hurt after fighting with an alleged friend, fined last week for cursing out fans, slow and way out of shape, you figure the Celtics are wondering about that extension for Glen Davis, maybe working on being the next Mel Turpin. … I know Hedo Turkoglu made the game winning free throws over the Lakers Sunday, but how bad has he been? His shooting has worsened every month and he’s 31.7 percent in January, and Bosh must be thinking, “Four more years for that guy (going up to $12 million annually)?” Vince Carter hasn’t been very good, shooting 39 percent and 31 percent on threes, but he has two years left to Turkoglu’s four. That’s why the Magic did that. … I saw mention of Brandon Roy telling the Oregonian how badly he’d been scratched sometimes playing the likes of Kobe Bryant and O.J. Mayo. Some players grow and sharpen their finger nails to further get an edge, and I know Kirk Hinrich always complains about Richard Hamilton. “I get scratches all over my body every time against him. Ask Lindsey (Hunter),” Hinrich said pointing to Hamilton’s former teammate. Hunter smiled. It’s generally known that Hamilton is the most dangerous, though no one thought he painted his nails. … I’ve been surprised no one took a chance on Jerry Stackhouse. But he’s quickly been a good pickup for the Bucks, who are 2-1 since as Stackhouse scored 14 in his last game. Said Scott Skiles: “One thing that Stack has always had is a level of toughness. He's not out there in the game to make friends. He's not one of those guys, you're not going to see him laughing a whole lot with guys on the other team and things like that. He's out there to compete.” Skiles always says he likes guys not afraid to shoot. There are now 18 players at least 35 in the league with the Bulls Lindsey Hunter the oldest. … Veteran Joe Smith is also a rap artist who recently released a CD and goes under the music name Joe Beast. … The Heat’s Michael Beasley, still not knowing when to say what, mentioned casually how the Heat should easily beat the Bobcats if they try at all. Charlotte won the game by 39.

-- Anyone who saw Andris Biedrins trying to make free throws against the Bulls knows it hurt to even watch. Biedrins was never great, but never Chris Dudley horrible, and said he got messed up letting coaches in his native Latvia change his form last summer. Rick Barry, one of the greatest free throw shooters ever, offered help but Biedrins declined. After all, if you can get the best from Latvia, why bother? … It wasn’t the greatest of play, but the Lakers-Cavs game last week was a joy to watch and what’s become sad about the NBA. There are so few rivalries anymore and so few true stars that it’s riveting to see Kobe Bryant and LeBron James go at it like that did with James’s Cavs sweeping the season series 2-0. The way the Lakers’ games against teams like the Cavs have gone you’d think they need to add a player to have a chance to repeat. The word is they’re trying to dump players because they are so deep into the luxury tax. So will they pay, in effect, double to add a player? What’s a title worth, even in L.A.? We’ll find out. … There are plenty of great what ifs? But what if the talented Grizzlies had taken Memphis point guard Tyreke Evans over Hasheem Thabeet in the draft? … Houston’s Aaron Brooks told the Houston Chronicle he attributes his ability to spin the ball in so well on layups and in using his left hand to bowling as he also bowls lefty. Said Brooks, who averages about 195: “I bowl a ton, all the time. My mom and dad met in a bowling alley. I do spin the ball. I like to think that has something to do with it.”

-- One free agent not often mentioned is the Spurs’ Manu Ginobili, who last week was explaining away comments in an Argentinean newspaper that suggested he’d leave the Spurs after this season. Ginobili said there was a loss in translation, but given his history of injury and hard falls, the Spurs may let him go if they go out of the playoffs early. Then what would the market be for a 33-year-old exciting player clearly on the downside. … Corey Maggette continues to put up huge numbers with so many teammates out, becoming the first Warrior since Wilt Chamberlain in 1964 to shoot at least 10 free throws in 11 consecutive games. … Shane Battier to the Chronicle about the Rockets overachieving season without Yao and McGrady: “If you're a Martian and you're visiting Earth for the first time, and you look at the Western Conference standings and saw where we were and looked at our schedule and the our circumstances, in a Martian voice you might say, ‘Not bad.' But as humans, we're in the middle of it, so our perspective is a little different.” Just what is a Martian voice? Who says guys don’t think out of the box? … The Rockets’ Brooks on a sudden explosion of noise during the Houston win in San Antonio last week: “It was like, ‘Dang, why's everybody yelling?' Did Eva (Longoria Parker) come in or something?'” Tim Duncan scored his 20,000th point. Hey, I’m just glad he didn’t say, “Tim who?”

Follow Sam Smith on Twitter at SamSmithHoops


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