New Blues on the Mississippi

As you already know, the Memphis Grizzlies, 2011 postseason oddities and 2012 preseason darlings, lost franchise cornerstone Zach Randolph for 6-8 weeks due to a torn MCL.  As wrong as it feels to call Randolph a “cornerstone,” his uncharacteristically inspired play last year earned him a contract worthy of one.  Added to the Grizzlies’ slow start this season, and the more crowded Western Conference, Randolph’s injury could hurt Memphis’ hopes of building off of a strong 2011.

The Grizzlies need a change.  Their roster is full of above-average players, but Randolph was the star (not counting Rudy Gay) and they are now rudderless.  A lot of teams would like to add a point guard as good as Mike Conley who is an effective, but not stellar, floor general.  And, unless they make a change, the Grizzlies will be treading water at the bottom of the Western Conference until Z-Bo returns.

Luckily for Memphis, there is a point guard out there who can push them over the top and make them legitimate championship contenders once Randolph returns.  The only thing is, he won’t tell them he wants a trade.

Steve "Signed a Contract" Nash

Steve Nash will never say that he wants to leave Phoenix.  He’s called himself an “old school guy” who “signed a contract … made a commitment” and doesn’t believe in forcing his hand to get what he wants.  “I don’t feel it’s like choosing a restaurant,” Nash has said.  But no other team needs a star, and can offer such an attractive package to get one, as much as Memphis does.

Imagine this lineup:

Steve Nash
Tony Allen
Rudy Gay
Zach Randolph
Marc Gasol

Is there any doubt that, barring injury, they could make a run to the Finals?  Nash has proven that he can turn unremarkable players into efficient, productive rotation guys (Boris Diaw, Raja Bell, Channing Frye, Jared Dudley, etc.) and makes his team better.  He even won two MVP awards doing this in 2005 and 2006.  Most importantly, he’s a veteran who wants to win and that isn’t going to happen in Phoenix.

This modified Grizzlies roster is, admittedly, thin.  But they proved last year that their style can be kryptonite to teams like San Antonio and, not counting one of the best playoff games ever, Oklahoma City.  Rudy Gay, their most dynamic scorer, was injured last year and the Grizzlies were still within one game of the Western Conference Finals.  Something tells me that Dallas was much happier to face the young Thunder, who rely on athleticism and wing-play, than the Grizzlies.  Their old-school, down-low game can destroy the inside-out style that most NBA teams play now.

Gasol, Randolph, Gay

Memphis' Core

Memphis would need to give up considerable talent to pry the two-time MVP from Phoenix.  Mike Conley, Darrell Arthur and OJ Mayo’s Corpse would likely be going to the desert, along with some draft picks.  Memphis would probably have to take back a bad contract (Josh Childress, Channing Frye or former Grizzly Hakim Warrick) to appease Phoenix’s management.  Yet, there is no way Memphis doesn’t take this deal.  Nash gives them a second scoring option, behind Rudy Gay, and will improve the play of his teammates.  More importantly, they get a hungry veteran who can match up with Chris Paul, Jason Kidd, Kyle Lowry and other Western Conference point guards.

No other contender needs to make this move.  Sure, a lot of teams would like to have Steve Nash as their point guard, but they can’t offer a package as attractive as Memphis’ and still maintain championship expectations.  This would be a high-risk, high-reward gamble for the Grizzlies; Nash is in the last year of his contract and can sign with a more seasoned, veteran-laden team to try and win a championship next year.

But why not take the risk?  Memphis is a franchise known for leaving a trail of destruction in Vancouver, trading Pau Gasol for Kwame Brown and going 0-8 in the playoffs before last year.  If Nash leaves next year for Miami, Los Angeles or New York, you can at least say that you tried.  Championship windows in the NBA are notoriously narrow and Memphis is in one more injury (and one more Z-Bo weight gain) away from retreating into the Lottery.

Bryant Reeves, Big Country

The Original Grizzlies' Standard Bearer, Bryant "Big Country" Reeves

In an era where star players force their way into major markets, often at the expense of their new team’s roster depth, it would be refreshing to see Steve Nash get the opportunity to push the Memphis Grizzlies into Finals contention.  He’s one of the few beloved players left in the NBA and watching him waste the last few years of his career in Phoenix has been painful for any NBA fan.  Playing in Memphis would give him another chance to captain a team before signing a last-ditch contract with the Knicks, Heat or Lakers.  And, because he’s so popular, nobody would fault Nash for this.

This trade would give the Grizzlies a new identity as a serious NBA franchise, allow them improve their playoff positioning and make them more than a “dark horse” when Randolph returns.  The Suns would shed awful contracts and receive legitimate ballers for Nash.  While most trade rumors involving superstars would destroy teams in the process (Dwight Howard and Deron Williams would likely gut the depth of Orlando and New Jersey in the process), this is the best chance for a win-win trade in the NBA this season.