The Knicks' salary cap situation has received plenty of attention lately, and rightly so. With Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, and Tyson Chandler taking up a good chunk of the team's payroll for the next three years, there's little flexibility to bring in more talent or even bring back the team's own free agents. While the Grizzlies may not be quite as hamstrung, Memphis' situation isn't unlike New York's.
Zach Randolph, Rudy Gay, and Marc Gasol are set to earn about $47MM next year, and that number will only increase over the next couple seasons. With Mike Conley and a number of other players on guaranteed contracts for 2012/13, Memphis heads into the summer with about $62.5MM already committed to team salary.
Owner Michael Heisley has said he doesn't want the Grizzlies to be a taxpaying team, so unless the club finds a blockbuster deal in which it moves one of its expensive stars and regains some cap flexbility, one player is clearly on his way out of town: O.J. Mayo.
Mayo is frequently referred to as a restricted free agent, but the chances he becomes restricted are slim. The Grizzlies would have to extend him a one-year qualifying offer worth about $7.39MM in order to make him a restricted free agent. If Heisley is serious about avoiding the luxury tax, the Grizzlies probably can't risk making such an offer, since the team would be forced past the tax threshold if Mayo were to accept it.
So the former third overall pick appears poised to join a group of unrestricted free agent two guards that already includes Ray Allen, Jason Terry, Jamal Crawford, Nick Young, C.J. Miles, and others. While it's a stacked group, it won't necessarily lead to a buyer's market. The Celtics, Cavaliers, Mavericks, Pacers, Clippers, Timberwolves, Magic, and Trail Blazers are among the clubs that could be interesting in signing a free agent two guard this summer.
Of course, Mayo's suitors may not be limited to teams in need of a shooting guard. The 24-year-old has expressed a desire to play the point, and while it would take an adventurous or desperate team to sign him as its starting point guard, perhaps he could draw interest as a combo guard that can earn minutes at both backcourt spots.
Coming off a $5.63MM salary in 2011/12, Mayo likely won't be eager to take a pay cut, but it's hard to imagine him getting an offer much larger than the $5MM mid-level. That means teams with cap space, such as the Cavs or Pacers, won't necessarily have the advantage over over-the-cap clubs like the Clippers and Timberwolves.
Mayo, who was considered the top prep star in the country in 2007, has yet to become the NBA difference-maker that many were expecting. But at the very least, he's turned into a solid scorer, and a player who figures to earn a multiyear deal worth at least in the neighborhood of $5MM annually this offseason.