Posted January 31, 2013

Court Vision: Reaction to Rudy Gay deal

Detroit Pistons, Jose Calderon, Memphis Grizzlies, Rob Mahoney, Rudy Gay, Tayshaun Prince, Toronto Raptors
Rudy Gay pulls up for a jumper

Rudy Gay has more than $37 million remaining on his contract after this season. (Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

By Rob Mahoney

Reaction around the league to Wednesday’s trade that sent Rudy Gay to Toronto, Jose Calderon to Detroit and Tayshaun Prince and Ed Davis to Memphis:

• Be sure to check out The Point Forward’s grades of the trade, as well as our deconstruction of Toronto’s continued mismanagement.

• Gay may not be the cause of the Grizzlies’ offensive problems, but TrueHoop’s Beckley Mason wonders if removing Gay from Memphis’ stagnant offense might offer the potential for more movement:

Many Memphis possessions don’t really start until the shot clock is close to single digits. The defense has less work to do and less time to make mistakes before a shot goes up.

And even when Memphis does get into a set, the team struggles to generate snappy ball movement. The departed Gay and the remaining Zach Randolph, in particular, both have sticky hands, and tendencies to seek one-on-one scoring opportunities.

This was particularly ineffective for Gay, a slasher who’d like to find his way to the rim. He was fed the ball often enough to lead the team in shot attempts, but so often his drives ended in a less efficient mid-range jumper, because Marc Gasol, Randolph and their defenders were hogging the paint. Like all slashers Gay would come off a screen looking for daylight, and instead he’d see a clogged lane with muddled driving angles.

Randolph is fairly productive as a postup or isolation threat, as are the Grizzlies as a team. They rank above average in both categories according to Synergy. But here’s the thing — those two ways of scoring make up the least efficient ways to get buckets in the NBA. Having a great isolation player is most useful when they can distract multiple defenders and create open looks for teammates. In Memphis, that just has not been the case.

• Julien Rodger, writing for the blog A Substitute for War, does a good job of peeling back the layers of this deal from the Grizzlies’ perspective. His analysis of Memphis’ losses and gains is impressively thorough, and I’d recommend you process his thoughts about the trade before coming to any solid conclusions about where the Grizzlies stand.

SI.com’s Chris Mannix sees an opportunity lost in Memphis’ willingness to trade Gay, and conveys a thought shared by some around the league that new Grizzlies owner Robert Pera may be prioritizing the financial bottom line:

Today [former Grizzlies owner Michael] Heisley is gone, replaced by a new owner, Robert Pera, who through new CEO Jason Levien is in the process of tearing it all apart. Last week the Grizzlies dumped Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington and Josh Selby, along with a protected No. 1 pick, to Cleveland for D-Leaguer Jon Leuer. And on Wednesday, Memphis completed a three-team trade with Toronto and Detroit that sent Gay to the Raptors in exchange for Tayshaun Prince, Ed Davis, Austin Daye and a second-round pick.

Heisley is gone, and Pera now wears the black hat of an owner who prioritized profits over winning, a scarlet letter players won’t soon forget. It’s his money and Memphis, which lost $12.5 million last year, according to Forbes, and was over the tax line headed into this summer, wasn’t in position to make him any. It’s difficult for any market to support three players making a combined $50 million, let alone one of the NBA’s smallest. But stock prices for Pera’s Ubiquiti Networks plummeted last spring, leaving some front-office executives to wonder if the Grizzlies are paying the price for Pera’s private-sector failures.

• Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports used the Grizzlies’ recent moves to infer supposed mismanagement and to discuss the future distribution of the NBA’s best players:

Before trading Gay, Memphis had already moved under the tax threshold with a trade last week. It could’ve waited until the summer to move its star and made one more run in the Western Conference. But winning isn’t a priority for Pera. Owners are virtually guaranteed profit in this changing economic setup, and small-market owners can play the NBA’s corporate welfare game off the profits that the LeBron Jameses, Kobe Bryants and Chris Pauls produce for the sport.

These Grizzlies aren’t the Lakers, and they don’t get a lot of chances at making a deep playoff run. They could’ve hung in there for this season, but instead bailed on it. Across the NBA, front offices were incredulous with the way that Memphis unloaded Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington and Josh Selby, along with a future first-round pick, in a salary dump to Cleveland last week.

Several league executives insisted Memphis could’ve waited until closer to the deadline, traded the parts individually and, minimally, received returns on Speights and Ellington.

“Beyond a panic move,” one Eastern Conference GM said. “Cleveland would always be there with that deal.”

• For what it’s worth, Memphis’ Tony Allen didn’t seem to be a fan of the deal:

• Henry Abbott of TrueHoop says a move back to a winning team might help revive what many believe Prince has lost:

The first six seasons of Tayshaun Prince’s decade-plus in Detroit were incredibly exciting: Scoring monster buckets as a rookie in the playoffs, making key plays at both ends in one exciting playoff series after another and even winning a title. The past four-and-a-half seasons, though, have been dismal. Michael Curry replaced Flip Saunders, and there were grumbles. John Kuester replaced Curry, and there was open mutiny. A contender was rebuilt around Rodney Stuckey & Co., with one title teammate of Prince’s after another shipped off or let go. Meanwhile, Detroit posted zero playoff wins in a half-decade. And through it all, Prince is a gamer. He has played long minutes and he has not mailed them in. He’s not the player he once was, but one coach after another has discovered he’s impossible to keep on the bench, even at 32. Like Gay in Toronto, perhaps Prince will be rejuvenated by a change of scenery.

• Grantland’s Zach Lowe offers an important note on Davis, a valuable prospect who has largely been overlooked in discussions of this deal:

Also: Don’t forget Ed Davis here. He’s played by far the best ball of his career, as Dwane Casey has let him stretch himself a bit. He’s facilitating a ton from the elbow, working a nice tic-tac-toe passing game with Amir Johnson and flashing an ultra-quick lefty hook from the post. He’s a long, active defender, and though bigger guys can bully him, he’s a fantastic third big man for Memphis. He works as short-term insurance in case of a Darrell Arthur injury, and depending how he progresses, he could work as long-term insurance for Randolph in case of decline and/or future financial concerns.

• Kelly Dwyer of Yahoo! Sports’ Ball Don’t Lie measures up the deal, and he, too, can’t seem to figure out the Raptors’ goals in adding Gay:

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!

• There’s a temptation to evaluate trades in a vacuum, but Eric Koreen of the National Post encourages all to view the Raptors’ acquisition of Gay as a step in an incomplete process:

Is Colangelo trying desperately to save his job? Is he merely trying to improve the team’s overall talent level, particularly the forever-barren small forward spot? Is he trying to sell high on burgeoning power forward Ed Davis? Is he trying to set the franchise up for a series of moves to come?

The wisest answer: yes, to all of the above. About the only thing that can be definitively said about the deal, that will send Rudy Gay to the Raptors for Davis and Jose Calderon is that Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment has no problem with spending money well into the future. Everything else is a bit of a blur.

• Tom Ziller of SB Nation takes Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo to task for his short-sighted management:

Instead of using cap space or potential cap space to help account for the fact that your team is not a typical free agent destination despite being located in a gorgeous city with huge market potential, you should always try to blow that cap space on a player no one in the league thinks is remotely worth his cap hit. Preferably, use it on a player who was not likely worth the cap hit before a major shoulder injury and whose shooting efficiency has plummeted since coming back from that injury 18 months ago. Let other teams leverage cap space for draft picks, who can become high-value-per-dollar contributors for between four and eight years if you pick wisely. Let the Cleveland Cavaliers do that. Blech. So boring. You go after that real Moneyball market inefficiency: big-name sub-elite scorers making upwards of $16 million per year.

• Zach Harper of CBSSports.com’s Eye on Basketball is more bullish on this deal for Toronto than most. While many view Gay as a colossal salary commitment and a flawed player, Harper sees a talent worth building around for a team that has lacked direction:

What Colangelo has put together in Toronto makes very little sense, but the team finally has a jumping-off point. [DeMar] DeRozan will be entering a four-year deal that looks like a crazy amount of money for the production that he puts out there. But as we’ve learned in the league time and time again, no contract is untradeable. He has been virtually the same player for three seasons now, but you can convince other GMs that a scoring wing in his mid-20s is worth a flier.

Many people assume the Raptors will amnesty [Linas] Kleiza this summer. But he only has one year left on his deal, assuming he doesn’t decline his player option and head back to Europe. If you get rid of Colangelo, then you no longer have a front-office attachment to Bargnani. If you amnesty him, the flirtation with the Raptors and the luxury tax no longer becomes a concern.

• At PistonPowered, Dan Feldman rejoices in a rare Joe Dumars trade that actually helps the Pistons:

After years of failed experiments — Allen Iverson as game-changing scorer on a balanced team, Rodney Stuckey as point guard, John Kuester as head coach, Charlie Villanueva and Daye as revolutionary stretch fours, Prince as team leader — Joe Dumars restored faith in his ability as general manager with a forceful reminder that he can make the cold decisions necessary to build a successful team.

In one fell swoop, Dumars upgraded the current roster and improved the salary structureAll it took was trading a player he’s clearly fond of, a move many thought Dumars was incapable of making. Now, who knows Dumars’ limits? After this great trade, he has the momentum — and mandate — to make more changes.

The Pistons have a new rotation to set and more cap room to use this summer. This trade is not an end, but it provides the means for greater solutions.

Feldman goes on at length to describe those solutions, and his post functions as a blueprint of sorts for Detroit’s rebuild.

• In his breakdown of the deal for ProBasketballTalk, D.J. Foster thinks it might be prudent for the Pistons to wait a year before looking to make use of their newfound flexibility:

This is a simple cost-cutting move for Detroit, who will get Prince’s $14.9 million over two years off the books. The Pistons will now head into this year’s offseason with right around $32 million in salary, which theoretically makes them a big player in free agency for the first time since the Ben Gordon/Charlie Villanueva contract debacle.

It might make more sense for Detroit to sit out a year for a better free agency class in 2014, and go the Cleveland route next season by being a trading partner for cash-strapped teams looking to dump assets. Teams will be scurrying to avoid the punitive repeater tax that starts getting counted next year, so the timing for Detroit to clear space couldn’t be better, even if they can’t attract a big free agent.

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