In what is the first league landscape changing trade of the season, the Memphis Grizzlies parted with one of their best players, Rudy Gay, in order to get their team’s payroll under the luxury tax threshold before the tax collectors come calling.
The Grizzlies have been ranked fourth in the Western Conference for most of the season and were considered by many to still be a threat to represent them in the NBA Finals before the trade was made.
Their chance of making it that far seems to have diminished as soon as Gay left the building. They have an overall record of 30-16, sitting second in the Southwest Division behind the San Antonio Spurs, with the Golden State Warriors and Denver Nuggets nipping at their heels.
Memphis, according to some around the league, had their own version of the “Core Four” comprising of Gay, Mike Conley, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. These four all complimented each other as Randolph and Gasol offered the inside dominance, Gay was the perimeter threat and Conley the orchestrator. As the “Core Four” dissolves, so do the chances of immediate success in Memphis.
Rudy Gay is not one of the top 10 players in the NBA, and he may not even be in the top-20. Still, he is a very talented and skilled wing player who knows how to score, defend along with having the intangibles to take an already-contending team to the next level.
Gay and Hamed Haddadi were traded to the Toronto Raptors for Jose Calderon and Ed Davis. Memphis did not want to take on Calderon’s pricey contract so without delay, they dealt him to the Pistons for wingmen Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye, along with Detroit’s 2013 second-round draft pick. The six-player trade serves a purpose for all three teams involved.
For Memphis, they shed the money necessary to get them under the luxury tax line while still keeping three-fourths of their core intact. They bring in Prince, who has had a successful professional career, including a championship ring and dozens of playoff games, as well as Daye, who is a young, lengthy wing who may have more to show than what he was producing in Detroit.
For Toronto, they bring in a coveted star player in his prime. Gay has career-averages of about 18 points, six rebounds and two assists per game. He was off to a great start this season in Memphis, but was shooting only 41-percent from the field. With former stat-guru John Hollinger now in the Grizzlies front-office, one had to expect that if anyone was being shipped out, it was going to be Gay.
Hollinger, formerly an analyst for ESPN, is an efficiency freak and is also the father of advanced basketball statistics. He created the NBA Trade Machine on ESPN’s website and will not settle for many shots taken and low output scoring.
Gay would be the first player of the Core Four to go because of his low shooting-percentage and shot-selection. Gasol and Randolph both have high percentages because they do the majority of their damage near the basket.
Conley isn’t going anywhere because a decent shooting point guard is a hot commodity in this league. It makes perfect sense in Hollinger’s design for a team that Gay would ultimately be sent away for assets.
As we have seen time and again in the NBA, one team’s hindrance can become another team’s focal point. Gay slots into the Raptors starting-lineup and will be running with DeMar DeRozan on the wing with him along with one of his closest friends, Kyle Lowry, at the point.
This makes for one of the more exciting starting-lineups in the Eastern Conference. They may even be a threat to make the playoffs now that they have some real scorers on the perimeter.
For Detroit, the trade also makes sense because after years of poor signings and so-so draft picks, the Pistons had little cap flexibility and an abundance of players at the beginning of their decline phase. In the past year, they have now managed to unload Richard Hamilton, Ben Gordon and now Prince and Daye while still bringing in an above average point guard in Calderon.
The Pistons have some serious young talent and now have the cap space to go shopping this off-season for a star wing player or shooting guard. Calderon may just be a season-long place-holder or they may choose to pay him and keep him around. I think they should see what he brings to the lineup and how he fits in in order to make that decision at the end of the season.
After breaking the trade down and viewing it from each team’s perspective, I feel that the Raptors came out with the best package overall.
Before agreeing to this trade, the Raptors made it clear they did not want to give up their draft choice this past year, which was shooting guard Terrence Ross. He is a high-flying, super-fast guard who has a relatively high ceiling. He has progressively gained more playing time off the bench and is definitely a part of Toronto’s future plans.
Toronto is now starting to stockpile talent and it looks like the franchise finally has some direction after a decade of treading water.
While Ed Davis was no small price to pay for Gay, when you have the opportunity to bring in top-level talent and you are Toronto, you don’t pass that up. They have tried for years, to no avail, to bring in star players, and it really comes down to players not wanting to play to the north of the border for their home games.
Toronto was smart to pull the trigger on this move and it may just be the break Gay has been looking for. There were rumblings and rumors following the trade stating that Gay was not happy in Memphis, especially with having to play alongside Randolph.
The rumors floating around were that the two only put up with each other and never created a real bond on or off the court. If this is true, and only his play will tell us if it is, Gay will prosper in a new system with new teammates and in a new conference.
Gay is in the third year of his five-year contract and is still due $37 million. This is the main reason Memphis had to trade him before season’s end. The luxury tax scares front offices league-wide. If a team is not a legitimate title-threat, the front-office would be wise to dissolve its team and rebuild around a new group of players.
A lot of basketball minds are arguing that Memphis should have held onto Gay for the remainder of the season and seen what this group could do in one last run.
I disagree with this notion because if he was injured or saw his production fall off drastically, his value would be compromised and the Grizzlies would then be stuck with Gay on their roster.
I think too many organizations are hesitant to make moves because they are afraid of either forfeiting a chance to win now or a chance to build for the future.
Having a central piece to build around is one of the most essential components of a successful playoff-team in the NBA today. Take a look at any of the top-16 teams in the league right now and you will surely find a top player on each of them.
Star-power is everything and Rudy Gay brings that to a team on the cusp of becoming a playoff-squad.