NBA AM: Kosta Koufos On Free Agency And Trade Rumors

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Grizzlies center Kosta Koufos talks about free agency and hearing his name in trade rumors

Serviceable and consistent big men come at a premium in today’s NBA. Teams routinely pay handsomely to land interior players who can defend the rim, block shots and rebound effectively.

With that being the case, one could argue Memphis Grizzlies reserve center Kosta Koufos is extremely underpaid given his skillset on the inside. Koufos is in the final year of his current deal worth $3 million this season, but is expected to get a nice bump in salary this summer once he hits free agency.

Koufos’ nightly stat line – 4.7 points and 4.5 rebounds in 15 minutes of action – isn’t gaudy in the least, but the 25-year-old center undoubtedly is a key contributor for a Memphis team with legit title aspirations.

In Memphis, playing behind elite center Marc Gasol, gaudy box scores will never be Koufos’ calling card. However, it’s important to note that the former Ohio State University standout has started 137 career games, mostly with the Denver Nuggets, with solid averages of eight points, seven rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game.

With free agency around the corner, Koufos has a decision to make. Stay in Memphis in a reserve role or pursue a new opportunity with more playing time. Koufos admits that he will factor playing time into his free agency decision this summer.

“I do want to play a lot more,” Koufos told Basketball Insiders regarding a potential strategy for his pending free agency. “You know, who doesn’t [want to play more]? But right now I’m not thinking about the summer. I’m thinking about the now, and right now I’m with the Memphis Grizzlies trying to help them win as many games as possible. That’s my goal. You have to feel confident. This [is] my role right now so I have to go with it.”

With still over a month remaining before this season’s trade deadline (February 19) there has already been a flurry of activity around the league. While free agency is a certainty for Koufos this summer it isn’t necessarily a guarantee he will finish the campaign in Memphis.

Multiple sources linked Koufos to being one of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ targets to shore up their injury-ravaged frontcourt. The Grizzlies weren’t willing to part ways with Gasol’s primary backup at the time and the Cavaliers moved on by dealing two first-round picks to Denver for center Timofey Mozgov.

If teams are calling with real assets approaching the deadline it’s hard to envision a scenario where Memphis’ front office doesn’t at least listen to those overtures for a player who could bolt in free agency and net nothing in return.

For his part, Koufos has paid close attention to the trade rumors involving his name this season. While most of the chatter has involved outside teams interested in his talents, and not Memphis actively shopping him, the center has been mostly flattered by the reports but steady in his understanding that the NBA is a business.

“This is a business,” Koufos said of trade rumors. “You can get traded any day and anytime. Anybody is tradable – mostly anybody. Like I said, I just have to maximize whatever opportunity that I have here and just take it day by day. You can’t think of the future, you just have to think of the now in the present.”

The center also knows playing behind Gasol and Zach Randolph is both a gift and a curse for his game and role on the team.

“They’re two of the best post players in the NBA,” Koufos said paying respect. “You know coming from Denver  where I was starting and playing a lot of minutes consistently it’s just one of those things where now I have to be professional whenever coach puts me in and then help the team win games. Whether it’s setting screens, blocking shots or rebounding the ball or on the occasion the ball gets handed to you [offensively], you have to score. I’m trying to be as efficient as possible in the limited minutes given.”

The Grizzlies (25-10) currently sit third in the ultra-competitive Western Conference standings. While the team’s start has been solid, the squad is just 4.5 games ahead of the eighth place Phoenix Suns in terms of playoff positioning. Every night is a must win with playoff implications.

“Basically we’re very confident amongst ourselves,” Koufos said. “We’re just taking it day by day but we know the ultimate goal is to obviously win a championship. But at the same time we have to take it slow. We’re playing well so far, had a really good start so now we just have to get guys healthy and 100 percent. But overall, we’re competing, guys are still learning and that’s it.

You can’t take any days off, especially in the Western Conference. We have to treat every game like it’s our last. You lose one game you’ll slide from the first spot to the sixth spot. So that’s why you have to stay on top of your game, build as many games lead as possible and get the highest seed possible for the playoffs.”

The Grizzlies have just $41 million in guaranteed salaries for next season. The team’s biggest priority is re-signing Gasol who is also set to become a free agent this summer. Veteran forward Tayshaun Prince is also hitting the open market, along with Koufos.