wedding trade season is upon us. Last week Memphis kicked things off when they shipped Wayne Ellington, Mo Speights, Josh Selby and a 1st round pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Jon Leuer, who in four games has played just two minutes for the Grizzlies. The cap-clearing move was seemingly done so that Memphis could get under the luxury tax and hold on to Rudy Gay, a player whose name has come up in trade discussions for years. As we found out yesterday, this wasn’t the case.
The Grizzlies, who recently hired ESPN’s John Hollinger to a front office position, struck their second deal of the season when they shipped Gay and Hamed Haddadi to the Toronto Raptors, who sent Jose Calderon to the Detroit Pistons while Ed Davis, Tayshaun Prince, Austin Daye and a second round pick are heading to Memphis.
Remainder of 2012-13: Gay will immediately start at small forward, sliding Landry Fields to a now-crowded bench that includes 2012 lottery pick Terrence Ross and Alan Anderson, who is averaging 12.8 ppg in his first full NBA season. Kyle Lowry becomes the full-time starter at point guard with Calderon’s departure, which seems like an upgrade until you break it down and see that the Raptors were a respectable 14-15 with Calderon starting this season and an abysmal 2-14 with Lowry as the starting floor general. Amir Johnson’s role increases to the point where Dwayne Casey may try and play him 40 minutes a night, a flawed plan considering Johnson is one of the most foul-prone players in the entire league. I also question whether Gay and shooting guard DeMar DeRozan will work well with one another. Both players have similar skill sets offensively, neither makes their teammates better and I worry that the tandem will take shots away from Ross. I don’t think the Raptors are in a better spot than they were in two days ago and I expect them to finish as one of the worst teams in the league.
Future: Gay is just 26 years old and clearly the most talented player involved in the deal, so on paper the Raptors came out okay. But there are other factors, such as Gay earning around $35 million over the next two seasons, a huge amount for a non-superstar. Considering Toronto is already committed to Andrea Bargnani, Johnson and Fields through 2015 for between $21 and $27.5 million combined and DeRozan recently inked a four-year, $40 million extension through 2017, the Raptors now lack the financial flexibility to add any more significant pieces. That means they believe Gay, the 3rd or 4th best player on the Grizzlies, can come in and be their best guy for the foreseeable future. They also got rid of a promising young forward who has two years, after this one, left on his rookie contract.
Final Word: Toronto has two talented rookies in Ross and Jonas Valanciunas. DeRozan is also very good but he plays the same position as Ross and if they could get 80 or 90 cents on the dollar in a trade for him, I believe they should. That’s it, the rest of the roster is expendable. When your team isn’t ready to win right now and your two best assets are both rookies, the plan should be to rebuild around them, not trade for an overpriced veteran who only makes you slightly better in the interim, and worse off long-term.
Remainder of 2012-13: As of today, Memphis ranks 27th in the league in scoring, averaging more points per game than just the 76ers, Pacers and Wizards. By trading their leading scorer, do the Grizzlies get even worse on the offensive end? Or will this prove to be addition by subtraction where Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley collectively step up and fill the void left by Gay’s departure? My gut tells me it will be the latter. I never loved Gay for this Grizzlies team and felt that despite the teams success, at times he disrupted things on the offensive end. That being said, can Randolph and Gasol go out and get you 40 points a night without sacrificing other parts of their games? Or will that not be necessary considering the league’s best defense just added another solid perimeter defender in Prince? Memphis has given up just 89.5 points per game this season, and that number could drop if the Grizzlies play at the slow, deliberate pace I expect them to play at now that Gay is out of the equation. Finally, Austin Daye has been somewhat of an enigma for the Pistons, dominating summer leagues year after year while failing to crack the rotation on a bad Pistons team. He has some talent but he has to become a more consistent offensive player if he’s going to steal bench minutes from recent D-League addition, Chris Johnson. The Grizzlies took a calculated risk by trading Gay, and if management believes the deal puts them in a better position to win, who am I to tell them otherwise?
Future: The core of Gay, Gasol, Randolph and Conley was one of the best in basketball, but the Grizzlies felt it wasn’t strong enough to compete for a championship. Gay was the right guy to move although I feel like the Grizzlies could have gotten more if they had waited until the offseason to deal him. Davis is a good young player who has shown vast improvements since leaving UNC in 2010, but he won’t play more than 20 minutes a night as long as Randolph and Gasol are in town. Frontcourt depth is a rarity in the NBA though, and Memphis now has a solid four-man rotation. Prince isn’t the same athlete he once was and his outside shooting has been exaggerated, but he can still defend and he is a big reason the mid-2000’s Pistons teams were as great as they were. Like Gay, Prince is locked up through 2015 but at a significantly lower price tag which will allow the Grizzlies to go out and re-sign Tony Allen or look elsewhere in free agency this offseason. Expect Memphis, who is one or two pieces away from contention, to be a player this offseason.
Final Word: The Grizzlies have eclipsed the century mark just 14 times in 44 games this season. They’ve also been one of the best teams in the league thanks to their shutdown defense and are currently alone in 4th place in a loaded western conference. Was now the time to trade one of their best players, or should Memphis have given it one more shot and moved Gay in the offseason? Only time will tell.
Remainder of 2012-13: While it hasn’t been announced yet, I believe Calderon will start at point guard for the rest of the season with Brandon Knight shifting to the off-guard. Young big men Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe will benefit from playing with a true point guard, something Knight is not, and Kyle Singler can slide into his more natural small forward spot. Calderon is also an intelligent veteran who can only really help a young Pistons roster. The Pistons are 5.5 games out of the last playoff spot and with Rajon Rondo going down in Boston and the uncertainty surrounding Andrew Bynum in Philadelphia, Detroit may be able to steal a playoff bid.
Future: Calderon is a free agent after this season, so if the Pistons believe Knight is their point guard of the future, they’ll let Jose walk and all this trade did was clear Prince’s $7 million cap hit for the next two seasons. If think Knight is better suited to play shooting guard, and they’ll have a leg up on signing Calderon long-term to run the team. Corey Maggette, Jason Maxiell and Will Bynum also come off the books after 2013, giving the Pistons a ton of flexibility to make moves in free agency or trade the expiring contracts for better, younger players.
Final Word: The player who benefits most in this entire deal is Andre Drummond, the second youngest player in the NBA. Drummond was not expected to play much early on after getting drafted as an athletic big man with tremendous upside, but has played well enough to earn regular minutes backing up Monroe. Drummond’s quick development has fans and management in Detroit excited for the future. Calderon is a guy who routinely makes his teammates better, and Drummond is not skilled enough yet to consistently create for himself. I can’t wait to see how Lawrence Frank decides to use the two together.
Toronto Raptors ( C )
Memphis Grizzlies ( B+ )
Detroit Pistons ( A- )