Grizzlies still trying to contend without Rudy Gay
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - The Memphis Grizzlies have shown once before they can be contenders without Rudy Gay.
It's time to prove it again.
The Grizzlies started the process of moving on Thursday after trading their leading scorer to Toronto in a three-team deal that brought Tayshaun Prince, Austin Daye and Ed Davis to Memphis.
The franchise's best postseason run came with Gay injured two seasons ago, with an upset of top-seeded San Antonio and then a thrilling seven-game Western Conference semifinal series against Oklahoma City. Before that, Memphis had never even won a playoff game.
"I don't think we're too scared. I think we've been here before without him,'' point guard Mike Conley said Thursday at the team's shootaround before a game at Oklahoma City.
"We've been without Zach (Randolph). We've had guys go down and we've had to deal with it. This team is great at playing with adversity,'' he added. "Hopefully, we can kind of mock what we did when Rudy was out that year and we made the playoff run and play that style of basketball.''
Gay was out with a shoulder injury when Memphis was a win away from the 2011 West finals - in a series that included a triple-overtime loss. That created hope that Gay's return would push the Grizzlies over the top. Instead, they exited in the first round of last year's playoffs against the Los Angeles Clippers and have settled into fourth place in the West this season - albeit with the best first half of a season in team history.
"We're still one of the best teams in the league,'' general manager Chris Wallace said at a news conference at the FedExForum. "I don't believe we have taken a back seat in that regard. There's a tremendous amount of basketball still to be played here this season in Memphis, and hopefully a nice run in the playoffs as well.''
The pressure of luxury tax penalties mounting led to the Gay deal, which also included backup center Hamed Haddadi going to Toronto. The Grizzlies also got a second-round pick in the trade, and point guard Jose Calderon went from the Raptors to Detroit.
It was Memphis' second budget-minded deal in just over a week, after reserves Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington and Josh Selby were sent to Cleveland - along with a future first-round draft pick - for Jon Leuer and a trade exception.
Before the season, the Grizzlies opted not to re-sign O.J. Mayo and let him leave as a free agent.
"You knew that eventually money becomes an issue, especially on teams that are over the tax. So, we knew it was coming,'' Conley said. "But it doesn't hit you until it actually does (happen).''
The Grizzlies still have a solid core to build around, with the All-Star tandem of Randolph and Marc Gasol in the frontcourt. Randolph was picked to the All-Star team for the second time in three years this season, and Gasol was picked last season while Randolph was hurt.
Despite leading Memphis in scoring, Gay was never an All-Star.
"I feel like we've still got our All-Star bigs. Tayshaun is a champion, an All-Star as well,'' guard Tony Allen said. "His resume speaks for itself. He's been proven to this league.
"I think our ambition stays the same. Our motives are still to get as far as we can into the playoffs,'' Allen said. "Each game that we have coming up, we intend to win.''
The newcomers weren't expected to join the Grizzlies in time for their game Thursday night at Oklahoma City, and it wasn't clear if they'd arrive and pass physicals before a Friday night home game against Washington.
"We have to play through it, play through the changes and don't let down,'' Gasol said. "I don't see a reason why we should let down.''
Gasol said he expected the offense to become more pick-and-roll oriented for Conley and backup point guard Jerryd Bayless, while Conley suggested there should be even more focus on an inside-out game featuring Gasol and Randolph.
On the other side, the NBA's stingiest defense added another respected defender in Prince.
"We've been a contender. I believe we still are a contender,'' Randolph said. "A lot of people counted us out, but I think we're still right where we was at. We got good players back, good up-and-coming players. We got a solidified player who has won championships and knows how to play and play defense and shoot pretty good from the field and from the 3-point line in Tayshaun.''
One lingering issue is whether the Grizzlies, under new ownership that has committed to keeping the team in Memphis, are done with their cost-cutting or if more big moves could be ahead.
"We're hopeful that this is the end of the trade scene for us but it's a business and you never know. One day we're here and one day we're not,'' Conley said. "We've just got to make do with what we've got and go forward.''
Wallace said the new owners are "in it to win'' and the trade is not an indication that they are selling out because they can't afford to run the franchise.
"That's not my call or anything like that,'' Gasol added. "We have to play. We have to play and we have to win. It doesn't matter who's on the court and who's not.''
AP freelance writer Clay Bailey contributed to this report from Memphis, Tenn.
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