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Grizzlies to make O.J. Mayo an unrestricted free agent

06.29.12 at 2:32 pm ET
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Memphis guard O.J. Mayo will be an unrestricted free agent. (AP)

The Grizzlies seem to be undergoing a little bit of a transition as the reality for the contracts due to Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay are beginning to come into focus. Between them, that’s about $48 million tied up in three players for each of the next two years.

Add in Mike Conley‘s more modest but still long-term deal, and the Grizzlies are bumping up against the salary cap before they even get started, and that’s also getting into luxury tax territory.

In that context, their decision to not extend a $7.3 million qualifying offer to O.J. Mayo makes sense. The decision means that on July 1, Mayo will be an unrestricted free agent and able to sign with any team without the Grizzlies being able to match.

Mayo immediately becomes a target for the Celtics, who are looking to add some scoring punch to a bench that was one of the worst offensive units in the league. The C’s expressed their interest in Mayo at the trade deadline in a deal involving Ray Allen, but they weren’t able to complete the trade.

He will be among a group of five unrestricted free agent scoring guards that includes Ray Allen Jason Terry, Lou Williams and Jamal Crawford.

Mayo will turn 25 in November and is the youngest player in the group. Terry, Allen and Crawford are all defined players, but even after four years in the league, Mayo still appears to have untapped potential.

A starter his first two years in Memphis, Mayo averaged 18 points a game and shot 45 percent from the floor and 38 percent from 3-point range. He moved to a reserve role in his third year and his numbers dropped to 40 percent from the floor and 36 percent from 3-point range. He’s settled into a perimeter-oriented role that may have been a function of Memphis’ offensive design as much as anything.

Mayo also is intriguing to the Celtics because he offers a dimension they’ve lacked over the years: the ability to create his own shot. He ranked seventh among shooting guards who played more than 25 minutes in Usage Rate, per Hoop Data, while remaining a decent playmaker. He’s also a good defensive rebounder for his position.

As it stands, Mayo is a solid NBA player who can help a team. But what if there’s more?

Here’s the tough part for the Celtics. If Kevin Garnett comes back, they will be looking to re-sign their other free agents using their Bird rights. That will take them over the cap and into interesting territory.

One of the main provisions of the new collective bargaining agreement is a stiffer penalty for teams that go over the luxury tax, estimated to be around $70 million. Not only will teams be charged more money (See Larry Coon’s invaluable Salary Cap FAQ for a chart), they also are subject to lesser exceptions than teams that are over the cap but under the tax line.

In plainer language, teams that are under the tax line can offer the full mid-level exception: a four-year deal worth starting at $5 million annually. Teams that are over the tax line can only offer a three-year deal starting at $3 million. The difference in total is around $11 million.

There’s no guarantee that the mid-level would even be enough for Mayo or that he’d want to come to Boston, where he’d likely come off the bench behind Avery Bradley. (It would, however, be an interesting combination, and the starter designation may not ultimately matter if it ever happened.)

Regardless, if the C’s are going to get into the running for players like Mayo they’ll have to be creative. First, by making sure the price tag on their free agents keeps them under the tax, and second, with the possibility of a sign-and-trade. Unless, of course, Garnett doesn’t come back, and that’s a whole other story.

Either way, the free agent class just got a little more interesting.

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