By Steve Ginsburg
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Memphis Grizzlies have embraced the team concept after shedding Rudy Gay in a cost-cutting move and suddenly find themselves trading elbows with the big boys in the Western Conference.
With their top scorer and go-to guy now wearing a Toronto Raptors uniform, the surging Grizzlies (47-23) have moved to within six games of front-running San Antonio in the West.
"Let me give credit to our management for seeing the vision before we did," Grizzlies guard Tony Allen told Reuters with a chuckle.
When Gay was jettisoned to the Raptors in a three-team trade on January 31 it was widely believed the Grizzlies were throwing in the towel on the once-promising season.
But Memphis has gone 18-8 since acquiring Tayshaun Prince and 6-foot-11 (2.1m) forward Austin Daye from Detroit, along with Raptors forward Ed Davis, a developing third-year NBA forward, in the trade for Gay.
Allen said Prince, who won the 2004 NBA title with Detroit, and Daye, a four-year pro out of Gonzaga University, have blended beautifully with the Grizzlies.
"We traded for a champion and an upcoming big," said Allen. "We pretty much had a core group already. When you have guys like that come in with high basketball IQs, you ain't going to miss no beat.
"Rudy is a volume shooter, a volume scorer. He needs a lot of attempts, a lot of possessions. With this group, it's more continuity, ball movement, a lot of pick and roll action.
"We switch up our weapons more with this team."
Gay has a career 18.0-point scoring average but zero All-Star appearances during his six years in the league, and Memphis was reluctant to spend $54 million to keep him for three more seasons.
Memphis coach Lionel Hollins was initially upset over the trade but understood the economics of the game.
"It wasn't that I was angry but people were asking me if I'd do it and I said, 'No,'" Hollins said on Monday with his team in Washington for a game against the Wizards. "But if I were in management's position, I don't know that I wouldn't have.
"As a front-office person, running the show and writing the checks, I may have done it as well."
Hollins said the 33-year-old Prince, a small forward who is averaging just over nine points for the Grizzlies, has fit in well.
"Tayshaun Prince has been a very valuable addition," he said. "He's a very efficient player. He doesn't score like Rudy but he does a lot of other things that Rudy did.
"Ed Davis has come in and given us a little bit of a lift backing up the power forward spot, Austin Daye has had his moments."
Without Gay, Memphis is built around All-Star forward Zach Randolph and center Marc Gasol, currently sidelined with an abdominal tear.
Hollins said "the key to winning is being a good team that plays together and relies on a lot of people."
"People forget that in sports," he said. "You look at San Francisco and the Ravens in the NFL. You look at them individually, people thought the Ravens were too old, too slow.
"Oh, this (San Francisco) quarterback (Colin Kaepernick) is going to run all over them and throw for 800 yards. Ravens win the Super Bowl. It's about being a good team."
The Grizzlies have already clinched a playoff spot with the fifth-best record in the West.
"We're doing it together, collectively," said Allen. "The one thing that stands out on each individual is that everyone wants to win. I'm definitely all in."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)