When the Memphis Grizzlies dealt three solid players and a draft pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers for little-used Jon Leuer last week, the general consensus around the league was that the Grizzlies had effectively nickel-and-dimed their way out of having to deal forward Rudy Gay. After all, the team was no longer set to pay the luxury tax, and the Grizz needed all the scoring they could get. And Rudy’s a scorer, right?
In Memphis’ eyes? No. The team’s new front office has never been smitten with Gay’s work, taking plenty of shots to score a middling amount of points, while offering precious little else in terms of defense, rebounding, passing or putting opponents into the penalty. Even without the luxury-tax restrictions influencing movement, the two years and more than $37 million remaining on Rudy Gay’s contract after this season is far too steep a price to pay for his production. If you’re going to make $17.88 million, as Rudy will next year, you should at least be averaging 17.88 points per game while shooting an acceptable percentage.
Instead, Memphis is dealing Gay’s 17.2 points per contest and 40.8 shooting percentage to the Toronto Raptors. The team will also give up fan favorite Hamed Haddadi (who will be waived by Toronto), and receive promising forward/center Ed Davis from Toronto. The Raptors will send guard Jose Calderon to Memphis, and the Grizzlies will re-route the pass-first distributor to Detroit in exchange for Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye. In all, nobody seems happy.
This is how the NBA’s various interests work. Detroit badly needs a distributor, and despite his many misgivings, Calderon is one of the NBA’s best and he owns an expiring contract that will help the Pistons get far under the salary cap this summer. Memphis saves a huge amount of cash while being able to distribute Gay’s 16.4 shot attempts per game amongst more efficient players, and Toronto … well, we have no idea what the hell Toronto is doing.
We know why the Raptors want Rudy Gay. He looked like a real comer back in 2006, but he’s done absolutely nothing besides look the part of an All-Star while offering the production of an average player. When you factor in the history that suggests he’ll be taking shots away from players who do more productive things with the ball offensively, this average turn might trend down into the realm of the negative. Toss in his maximum contract and … another winner, Bryan Colangelo!
While giving up that rarest of commodities — a versatile big man with scoring touch working off a tiny rookie contract. Davis has significantly improved in 2012-13, averaging 14.5 points and 6.8 rebounds for every 36 minutes he plays while shooting 55 percent. Because he takes five more shots over the 36-minute term, a function of play-calling differences between Memphis and Toronto, Rudy Gay averages 16.9 points per 36 minutes, with 5.8 boards. While making more than $14 million more than Davis will this season.
Memphis will also take in Prince, whose iffy contract we detailed two weeks ago here at Ball Don’t Lie. Prince has improved markedly on his post-up work this season, though he was always a stalwart in that area, so his skills can work for the right team. On the Grizzlies, though? His loping post work won’t find much room with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol manning the paint.
Unless Prince is asked to focus solely on that most coveted of shots — the corner 3-pointer. Prince is shooting 43 percent from long range on the season, but he’s below average from the top of the arc. In the corner, though, Tay has hit well over half of his attempts on the year. Daye, also acquired from Detroit, actually shoots below average from the corner, but is over 61 percent from behind the stripe from the longer side of the arc. If the Memphis coaching staff emphasizes production from these areas, the team’s offense will improve in spite of the loss of Gay’s scoring average and 40 percent shooting.
Not only did Gay eschew the easier 3-pointer by over a 5-to-1 margin in terms of attempts, but he’s made just 3 of 19 from that spot all season. It’s like this guy was made to act as a John Hollinger talking point. You can almost see Brad Pitt spitting chaw into a cup while the newest Grizzlies personnel adviser talks up usage rate.
Detroit gets another chance to get it all right. The team seemed on the verge of blowing up its 2004 championship core in '08 when it traded for Allen Iverson’s expiring contract. But soon after, GM Joe Dumars signed Richard Hamilton to a contract extension, and it became apparent that the team was dealing for Allen Iverson, and not “Allen Iverson’s expiring contract.” The franchise did have cap space the next summer, but blew it on the acquisitions of Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, while several seasons of ownership roadblocks followed.
As it stands, the team alternates between one of the least and most watchable squads in the NBA, depending on coach Lawrence Frank’s rotations. Jose Calderon, even if he is “Jose Calderon’s expiring contract,” will help the Pistons not only become more watchable, but aid in a last-ditch playoff push. The Pistons are 4 1/2 games out of the last spot in the East, with both Boston and Philadelphia reeling. Prince and Daye made no impact on the team’s future plans, so this is an immediate step up, even if the Pistons have to watch as Kyle Singler and Calderon are routinely burned on the defensive end.
And Toronto? Again, we have no idea.
Once Aaron Gray and Linas Kleiza pick up their player options for next season, the Raptors will be over the luxury tax featuring a core of Gay, DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani. Three players that nobody seems to covet outside of the offices of Raptors GM Colangelo. Of course, the team could decline to keep Kyle Lowry’s non-guaranteed contract around, but that would leave the Raps with absolutely no point guards outside of John Lucas III — so named because he’s (and this isn’t a shot) always the best third-string point guard in the NBA.
Think of this deal for Toronto in terms that exclude specifics. The franchise had a competent point guard with a massive expiring contract and a very talented 23-year-old center who is working on a rookie deal paying him less than half of the NBA’s average salary. They turned those assets into Gay, who they’ll pay more than $37 million to over the next two years. Missteps don’t come much more obvious than this.
The deal doesn’t answer all the questions for Memphis. The team is still terrible offensively, and it needs shooting desperately, even if Prince and Daye are used appropriately. There are three weeks left until the NBA’s trade deadline, and the Grizzlies’ new front office still has quite a bit of work to do in order to remedy the team's faults.
Until then, the fault shifts to the Toronto Raptors' front office. Again.
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