Grading Grizzlies’ trade of Rudy Gay to Raptors in three-team deal with Pistons
By Ben Golliver
The Grizzlies, Raptors and Pistons have put the finishing touches on a three-team, six-player deal that will send Rudy Gay from Memphis to Toronto and Jose Calderon from Toronto to Detroit. Let’s grade the trade and take a look at some of the winners and losers.
Memphis Grizzlies: B+
Incoming: Tayshaun Prince, Ed Davis, Austin Daye, a 2013 second-round pick and cash
Outgoing: Rudy Gay, Hamed Haddadi
The Point Forward’s New Year’s resolution for the Grizzlies was to think long and hard about life without Rudy Gay. As it turns out, they didn’t wind up needing to think all that long about it. The future of the core four of Gay, Mike Conley, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph was just untenable from a financial standpoint. The Grizzlies were set to pay those four players a combined $58 million next season, an amount that would have approached the salary cap by itself. Someone had to go, or else luxury-tax payments — serious luxury-tax payments — were coming down the pipeline. Legitimate championship contention just wasn’t in the cards this season or next with that group, making it difficult to justify all of that potential expense. Wednesday’s trade was set up by a similarly minded move last week, when the Grizzlies dumped Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington, Josh Selby and a first-round pick to the Cavaliers for Jon Leuer to get under the luxury-tax line.
Even if some of the players’ feathers were ruffled by this move, Grizzlies management came to the correct conclusion: Gasol would have been the most difficult to replace, Conley represented the best value and Randolph gives Memphis its identity. That makes Gay the odd man out.
Memphis also found a logical trade package that comes off a bit like a poor man’s version of the James Harden deal. Oklahoma City downgraded from Harden to Kevin Martin, pocketing assets (Jeremy Lamb and a first-round pick), avoiding future tax penalties and increasing its flexibility going forward. Memphis does essentially the same thing here, although in less sexy fashion. The Grizzlies replace Gay’s athleticism and volume-scoring potential with Tayshaun Prince’s experience and solid two-way play. Going from “occasionally spectacular but regularly disappointing” to “almost always solid” isn’t a free fall by any means, and Prince should fit right in on a Memphis team that boasts the No. 2 defense in the league. The Gay-for-Prince portion of this exchange saves Memphis $22.2 million in future salary commitments (Gay was owed $37.1 million combined in 2013-14 and 2014-15; Prince will be owed $14.9 million over that same time period).
The Grizzlies’ accumulated minor assets aren’t quite as eye-popping as the Thunder’s haul, but they aren’t worth writing off entirely. Davis, 23, was a 2010 lottery pick who has emerged since Andrea Bargnani went down with an elbow injury in December, averaging 13.9 points and 8.1 rebounds in 33.5 minutes in January. He is absolutely a rotation player behind Gasol and Randolph and he fits nicely into the hole created by Speights’ departure. It’s possible that a year or two of hindsight will make Davis look like the steal of this deal; even if not, he’s on a rookie-scale contract and capable of producing immediately. Very good grab. He joins a solid, well-balanced bench group that now includes Darrell Arthur, Jerryd Bayless, Quincy Pondexter and rookie Tony Wroten. The Grizzlies will continue to ground-and-pound their way through the regular season as always. This trade isn’t likely to alter their ceiling this season and next.
Daye, a 24-year-old forward in his fourth year out of Gonzaga, is in the final year of his rookie deal that pays him $3 million this season. He holds career averages of 5.8 points and 2.9 rebounds and has had his share of DNP-CDs in recent years. If he was a proven floor-spacing shooter, this trade would have been a solid “A” for Memphis. As is, it’s not clear whether he will be anything more than roster filler until his rookie contract expires this summer and he becomes a free agent.
Haddadi’s inclusion was essentially a non-factor. In five years with the Grizzlies, the 7-foot-2 Iranian has never averaged more than seven minutes per game.
Toronto Raptors: C-
Incoming: Rudy Gay, Hamed Haddadi
Outgoing: Jose Calderon, Ed Davis, a 2013 second-round pick and cash
Let’s start with the good news: The Point Forward has advocated since at least December that Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo should trade Calderon in advance of this year’s deadline because there was no good reason for the 31-year-old point guard to re-sign in Toronto this summer. Something was better than nothing, the simple logic went.
OK, now the bad news: This wasn’t exactly what we had in mind. At all. The Raptors are taking a massive plunge in acquiring Gay, who is set to be paid $37.2 million over the next two seasons. There are situations in which that type of financial commitment to Gay could make sense; Toronto just isn’t one of them, not with big commitments already made to Andrea Bargnani, Landry Fields and Amir Johnson, along with a four-year, $38 million deal kicking in for DeMar DeRozan next season. Let’s not forget: Kyle Lowry is due for a raise relatively soon, too.
While Gay certainly addresses a position of need at small forward, his shot-happy ways are likely to create friction alongside the likes of Bargnani and DeRozan, who also require shots and touches. Given that the available small forward options were Fields, Mickael Pietrus and Linas Kleiza, drastically overpaying for average-ish results probably doesn’t sound that bad to Raptors fans. But the duplication of skill sets among key players and the lack of distribution-minded playmakers is going to become an issue quickly.
The quality of this deal, then, hinges on whether Gay can have a transforming, superstar-like impact. Plenty of doubters will say the answer is a flat “no” because his numbers have flat-lined in recent years, his shooting percentages (40.8 overall and 31.0 on threes) leave much to be desired, and his 14.3 Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is mediocre at best. There’s no question Gay will see a significant uptick in his numbers as he shifts from being one of many options in Memphis to becoming the clear No. 1 guy in Toronto, but this boils down to whether you want him to be the guy taking 20 shots a night if the quality of those shots doesn’t improve significantly from the ones he’s taken over the last four or five years.
There are other questions, too. Does he make his teammates better? He’s never averaged more than three assists per game. Can he mesh with Bargnani, another perimeter chucker, once he returns from injury? That seems highly unlikely. Does he possess the personality type to lead a young team to new heights? He’s regarded as a good teammate, but he wasn’t necessarily the emotional leader in Memphis. The biggest question mark: If his commitment to excellence was sometimes doubted in Memphis, a solid playoff team in recent years, how will he respond to a stiffer challenge in Toronto? That answer won’t come in the immediate aftermath of this trade, which will likely spark some big nights, but in the dog days down the stretch.
This move has the overwhelming feel of an often-criticized executive desperate to make a splashy shake-up that relieves some of the heat during another lottery season. Will this buy Colangelo more time? Perhaps. Will this move make Toronto a playoff team next season? Probably not. Will it make for an expensive roster that is unlikely to deliver good value? Almost without a doubt. Does it force the Raptors to ship out Bargnani? Hopefully, for the fans’ sake. But that will likely prove easier said than done, especially in the short term.
Toronto appears to have gotten worked on the minor details of this trade, too. Surely Memphis fought hard for Davis’ inclusion, but why go further than that? Ken Berger of CBSSports.com reports that Haddadi, making $1.3 million this year, is likely to be bought out, adding to the expense. That’s not horrible, and the salaries must match, but that should have been reason enough for Toronto to not include a pick or cash, let alone both. It’s worth noting that second-round picks can be sold for upwards of $2 million these days. The Grizzlies just kept reaching into Colangelo’s wallet when he had his head turned.
Detroit Pistons: A
Incoming: Jose Calderon
Outgoing: Tayshaun Prince, Austin Daye
The Pistons’ perspective is the cleanest of the three sides. This is pure dollars and cents. The math winds ups being very simple: The Pistons take on a little more than $800,000 in salary this season, but they shed $14.9 million owed to Prince over the next two years. Calderon is on a $10.6 million expiring contract, so he converts into pure cap room at the end of the season. The exchange reduces Detroit’s 2013-14 salary commitments to roughly $30 million, creating significant flexibility heading into free agency in July.
Detroit entered Wednesday with three problems that we’ve harped on all season long: too many dead-weight deals for veterans on the books, an overabundance of small forwards and not enough playing time for tantalizing rookie center Andre Drummond. If Calderon can somehow persuade new coach Lawrence Frank to play Drummond 36 minutes a night, this just might be the perfect deal for the Pistons!
In all seriousness, this trade solves two key issues facing Pistons president Joe Dumars. First, his rebuilding plan around a core that includes Drummond, Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight was/is being hampered by the presence of veterans such as Prince, Charlie Villanueva and Rodney Stuckey. Prince’s deal represented the biggest future salary commitment, as it runs through 2014-15 and will pay him $7.2 million next season and $7.7 million in its final year. That deal isn’t enough to drown you, but it’s enough to create some serious drag. Getting rid of it is addition by subtraction.
Second, Prince was averaging 32.4 minutes at a crowded spot. Those minutes were being filled ably but with no long-term benefit. So what if Prince is better than the younger alternatives? Where does that put you next year or two years down the road? Moving Prince makes way for Kyle Singler to play the bulk of his minutes at small forward and allows Jonas Jerebko, who has barely played this season after signing a four-year, $18 million deal in 2011, to get a fighting chance. That’s as it should be.
Renting Calderon, a talented distributor and shooter whose 19.4 PER ranks No. 8 among point guards, is fine, but not particularly meaningful. Whatever he provides down the stretch is gravy. The Pistons are 5½ games out of the No. 8 seed in the East, and they will likely conclude that maintaining a large role for Knight is the top priority heading into the future. Who knows how well Calderon will adjust to his new digs, but his departure for a playoff team come summertime makes all the sense in the world, given his age and the fact that he hasn’t sniffed the postseason since 2008. Calderon’s bouncing after the season is no skin off Dumars’ back. The Spanish point guard, by virtue of being an expiring deal, will have already served his primary purpose.
Parting with Daye amounts to an admission that his selection in the 2009 draft was a mistake; his lack of playing time over the last two seasons indicated that the Pistons had internally copped to that assessment long ago. His most important role in this trade is to help make the math work.
It must be said: Don’t go too far overboard congratulating Dumars for undoing his own mistake with the Prince signing. Big-picture, he’s still treading water, at best, until we see how he exploits his newfound flexibility this summer.
Winners and Losers
Rudy Gay: Loser. Expectations are bound to be sky-high in basketball-mad Toronto and he won’t have much proven help in the short term.
Rudy Gay’s fantasy owners: Winners. It will be a shock if he doesn’t wind up averaging at least 20 points for the rest of his stay in Toronto.
Rudy Gay’s All-Star prospects: Winner. He just might crack the 2014 All-Star Game if he gets his shooting numbers back on track and puts up a monster scoring figure in the weaker Eastern Conference. The frontcourt competition is significantly less in the East compared to the West.
Rudy Gay’s No. 1 fan: Big Winner. The profane and hilarious Raptors fan who freaked out when Gay made a buzzer-beater in Toronto in 2011 can now welcome Gay to Canada with open arms.
Memphis’ ownership: Winners. The new group is proving to be intelligent, proactive and proficient. This is how sustainable success is created in a small market.
Pistons fans: Winners. Shed a tear for 2004 with the departure of Prince, but praise the heavens that Dumars finally seems ready to try a different path.
Brandon Knight, Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe: Winners. It’s your turn, officially.
Raptors coach Dwane Casey: Loser. He’s going to need to petition the league to allow his team to play with two basketballs at the same time on offense.
Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins: Loser (?). He sounded serious about his recent Moneyball critique and he can’t be happy with a major in-season move. Is everybody on the same page in Memphis?
Andrea Bargnani: Loser. No particular reason this time, just generally speaking. Just kidding. The writing on the wall for his future in Toronto just gets bigger and bigger.
Kyle Lowry: Winner. He doesn’t need to answer questions about whose job it is and he is on track to have all the leverage once he’s a free agent in 2014.
Kyle Singler and Jonas Jerebko: Winners. No more roadblocks, as mentioned above.
Terrence Ross: Loser (?). The promising Raptors rookie is averaging 17.9 minutes. Can the Raptors still squeeze out meaningful minutes for him with Gay and DeRozan getting paid big dollars?