Grizzlies land Fab Melo in two-player deal with Celtics

It may have been a salary dump for Boston, but Memphis gladly added a third center to its roster Thursday by trading unused small forward Donte Greene to Boston for Fab Melo.

Melo was a risk when Boston took him 22nd overall two drafts ago. The risk for Memphis is minute. The Grizzlies never used Green after signing him in April. He is slated to earn $300,000 more than Melo. It will be well worth the small risk if Fab, a second-year big man out of Syracuse, ever finds his groove — and Memphis won’t ask him to find too much of one, not immediately anyway.

Power forward Zach Randoph and Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol are widely considered the best big-man duo in the NBA. But they desperately needed some backup help. Help came in the form of Kosta Koufos from Denver. Now, here comes more help … maybe.

Boston seemingly threw in the towel on Melo, who played in only six games as a rookie.

The 23-year-old averaged 1.2 points and less than a rebound per game. But there is promising news for the Grizzlies. Melo is only in his fourth season of organized basketball. And for the D-League’s Maine Red Claws, he showed several flashes of why Boston drafted him so early.

For Maine, the 7-footer averaged 9.8 points, six rebounds and a league-high 3.1 blocks in 26 minutes a game. The lack of scoring didn’t surprise Boston and it won’t surprise Memphis. Melo made his name defensively at Syracuse — he was named Big East Defensive Player of the Year his sophomore season.

The trait isn’t new to Memphis. Tony Allen isn’t lighting up the scoreboard either, but he has become a key cog in its plans.

Melo is a project, but a promising project. It’s a win-win for Memphis. Greene was obviously not in the plans and Melo may have found the perfect fit to get his motor going. The Grizzlies don’t have to be in a hurry to rush him into FedExForum. Fort Wayne, Ind., is a good place for Melo to continue to mature with Memphis’ new affiliate, the Mad Ants.

Numbers don’t lie. Melo’s have been spotty, but they’re there. He had a triple double for Maine in December, including a D-League record 14 blocks.

Memphis is making the moves to make a name for itself. The Grizzlies lacked a shooter last season, a threat to spread the floor and take some of the attention off of Randolph and Gasol. But that was addressed when Mike Miller came back home. There is still Ed Davis, a guy who is little farther along in his development, to back up Randolph, but who is also still trying to find his way in the league.

Fresh off a surprising run to the Western Conference Finals, Memphis is making moves for the present and future. And if any of those moves seem lateral, remember: the Grizzlies let go of their franchise’s most successful coach after the conference finals sweep, only to somewhat energize the fanbase with new headman Dave Joerger. They turned a less-than-thrilling draft outlook into a promising late pick in San Diego State’s Jamaal Franklin. Then Miller came back to Memphis to the sound of trumpets — or the basketball-related equivalent, a public press conference. That soothed a lot of the remaining angst of the Hollins departure.

New management has gone from questionable to pretty darn clever. It wasn’t long ago the Grizzlies were a laughing stock. Then they turned into a team that could consistently win with the upper half of their roster. Then management sold away their best player to a parade of boos, only to make the best run in franchise history. The latest move signals a team adding depth to a starting lineup that can beat the best teams in the league.

Melo once broke a folding chair at his rookie photo shoot and got a concussion by running into a doorway. He was a risk when Celtics GM Danny Ainge took him. The risk didn’t pay off, but the risk also hasn’t had much time to. Memphis has nothing to lose, trading a guy who wasn’t going to play a role for a guy with tremendous upside at a position they aren’t in dire need to fill at the moment.

Plus, he comes cheap.

This is a minor trade, but if Melo’s development goes Fab, then it could be a major deal for the Grizzlies.