Leading up to the 2008 NBA draft, there were lengthy discussions about the possibility of O.J. Mayo being drafted by the Miami Heat with the No. 2 overall pick. The 6-foot-4 guard ended up going to the Memphis Grizzlies with the No. 3 pick, but he tantalized observers with his scoring ability at USC and continued to impress in his first two professional seasons when he averaged 18 points. With a smooth outside shot and solid athleticism, Mayo seemed primed to become the prototypical high-scoring two-guard capable of being a team’s building block.
Now, Mayo is an unrestricted free agent after the Grizzlies decided not to extend him a qualifying offer and make him a restricted free agent. He has been regulated to a reserve role over the past two seasons, backing up light-scoring guard Tony Allen. Yet, teams across the league have shown interest in the 24-year-old Mayo, banking on his upside and shooting prowess.
According to Yahoo! Sports, the Chicago Bulls, Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers are the four finalists for Mayo, who plans to make a decision within the next 10 days, the report stated. It has been no secret that the Bulls have spent the last two years searching for a shooting guard, and Mayo has been linked to them at various points over that span.
While Mayo has not added much to his repertoire in four seasons in the league – a dangerous sign considering his perceived potential – he could very well be the shot creator the Bulls have lacked. He has proven he can get his shot off and that his three-point stroke should be feared even though the percentages have dropped. Still, he has regressed across the board since his first two campaigns and seems to settle for outside jumpers far too much for a player of his skill set, as evidenced by just 1.8 free throw attempts per game in 2010-11 and 2.6 per game last season.
Yes, Mayo and Derrick Rose are buddies and they’re both part of the same star-studded offseason workout group that trains in Los Angeles. Unless Mayo elects to accept a pay cut while taking the Bulls’ long-term potential into account, however, Chicago doesn’t appear to be his landing spot.
As it stands, the Bulls would likely have a shot to acquire Mayo if they choose not to match the lucrative offer sheet Omer Asik will soon sign with the Houston Rockets, leaving them with the full mid-level exception at their disposal. It would be unfair to expect Mayo to take anything less than that exception – worth around $5 million annually – but even that proposal might not be enough to ink him to a contract.
The Suns had freed up approximately $8-9 million in salary cap space before claiming the recently-amnestied Luis Scola on Sunday. Then, they gave themselves some relief to remain in the hunt for Mayo, Courtney Lee and Shannon Brown by waiving Josh Childress under the amnesty clause. Given the fact that Phoenix will almost assuredly be able to offer Mayo a bigger, better deal than the Bulls – as well as a run-and-gun style that’s conducive to scoring and potentially a larger role – the Suns are seemingly the frontrunners for him.
Nevertheless, the question begs: Could the Bulls work out a sign-and-trade with the Grizzlies? They have reportedly dangled Rip Hamilton and his expiring $5 million deal in trade talks, but it is hard to imagine that a team would want to take on the 34-year-old who looked fragile and had unproductive stretches a season ago. The Grizzlies will continue to start Allen alongside Mike Conley in the backcourt, and they have already signed offensive-minded guard Jerryd Bayless to inherit the reserve scoring role left by Mayo – so the need for Hamilton does not appear to be in Memphis.
Mayo had impressed many with his knack for scoring over the course of his first two seasons in the NBA, but the fact that he hasn’t added much since being a candidate to get selected second in that 2008 draft is alarming. He is still a shooter who tends to spend more time roaming the perimeter than he should. While Mayo has the abilities to fill the Bulls’ need, his price tag seems out of their range, barring miracle work by general manager Gar Forman and his brass.