Scorer OJ Mayo has impressed in the Playoffs, but his future in Memphis remains uncertain heading into the off-season.

The Memphis Grizzlies failed to repeat their first-round heroics of last year, coming up short in the elimination game against the Clippers at the FedEx Forum Sunday.

In the end it was the Clippers’ bench which powered the visitors through to their second-round matchup with the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs. Swingmang Nick Young, sophomore Eric Bledsoe, point guard Mo Williams and forward Kenyon Martin combined to score 41 of the Clippers’ 92 points, outscoring the Memphis bench by 30. Martin and reserve big man Reggie Evans collected a combined 19 rebounds, helping Los Angeles to a narrow 46-44 edge in that category.

For Memphis, their season over early after that unforgettable Game 1 collapse and numerous missed opportunities in close games like 3 and 4, the discussions start now.

This is a team which has very recently, and very confidently, invested a lot of money in the futures of Rudy Gay, Mike Conley, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. There’s little money left even for re-signing scorer OJ Mayo, who has been one of the team’s most consistent producers in the latter part of this season and has finally embraced the role of a supporting player. Can the Grizzlies, who tried to secure a trade for Mayo a couple times last season, afford to let him walk?

And if Mayo does get a better offer from elsewhere, where will the Grizz get their replacement from? It’s an uncomfortable truth that the NBA is a little short of star-calibre wings at the moment.

Beyond Mayo, the team also has to deal with the issues surrounding Marreese Speights and Darrell Arthur. Both are also out of contract this summer and while Arthur missed the entire 2011-12 season, he was a key part of Memphis’ run in the post-season last year. Speights, meanwhile, has handled manfully the task of stepping in first for Arthur, then for the injured Randolph, this year and has endeared himself to coach Lionel Hollins.

This team has now positioned itself in a difficult spot. Memphis has no cap room worth speaking of; it is too good a team to be anywhere near the Lottery in the near future as getting to 4th in the West proves; and it has a roster which, though talented, may ultimately not be good enough to get deep into the Playoffs.

Here’s Memphis’ projected rotation next season, assuming they find a way to convice Mayo to stay and re-sign their big men:

Position Starter Bench
C Marc Gasol Darrell Arthur
PF Zach Randolph Marreese Speights
SF Rudy Gay Dante Cunningham
SG Tony Allen OJ Mayo
PG Mike Conley Jeremy Pargo

Factor in the likes of Quincy Pondexter and a first-round pick in a deep, deep 2012 NBA Draft and you have a strong team right there. And if the Grizzlies can find a way to convince Gilbert Arenas to stick around, too, they might be in business. But that requires a season where everyone stays healthy, Rudy Gay finds a way to continue his determined play of the first round, and the Grizz’ coaching staff finally figure out a plan for keeping Randolph, Speights, Gasol, Gay and Mayo happy with their touches without Mike Conley’s head exploding.

(Seriously, how that poor dude has managed his first five years with some of the ball-hogs he’s played with, and some of the media criticism he took his first couple years, is a long, long way beyond my comprehension. But Conley has rode it all out, used the negativity as fuel and is now a very mature and capable PG.)

Memphis has an intriguing summer ahead of it. Mayo’s future is key; getting at least one of Speights and Arthur to come back will also be a primary concern. Here’s the kicker though: Memphis is already a whopping $12m over the salary cap with each of their four other stars signed up for four years or more. And while Gay and Randolph clamoured for Gasol to be extended last summer, I haven’t noticed much similar talk in reference to Mayo’s expiring deal.

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