Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Instant Trade Analysis: Rudy Gay to the Toronto Raptors

Toronto Raptors get: F Rudy Gay, C Hamed Hadaddi

Detroit Pistons get: PG Jose Calderon

Memphis Grizzlies get: PF Ed Davis, SF Tayshaun Prince, F Austin Daye, Toronto's 2nd Round pick

The Grizz finally jettisoned Rudy Gay out their hallway this afternoon, shunting off the extremely talented but often disappointing forward off to Toronto in a three-way deal that also involved the Detroit Pistons.

Today's trade was the culmination of years of speculation. Gay had been on the block for years, ever since he was notoriously absent for the Grizzlies' greatest run of success in their Western Conference semifinals loss two seasons ago with a shoulder injury. The summer before, Gay had signed a near-max contract extension with Memphis, paying him $82 million. Usually, money like that isn't an issue with a team--after all, do you think Houston is blinking at the $80 million dollar price tag attached to James Harden's beard?

The biggest problem with Gay's contract wasn't how well the team played without him, but that Gay simply hasn't improved and shown himself worthy of his massive payday. Since his second season, Gay has remained nearly the same player--an athletic specimen who could use his size, strength and speed to get anywhere he wanted on the court, but simply lacked the outside shooting touch or post game to dominate on all angles. His statistics are extremely telling--season after season, he essentially looks like the same guy. Defensively, he remains an above average player, but offensively there hasn't been much progress to his game. Just watching against other small forwards like Andre Iguodala and Luol Deng, it's clear that Gay has more physical gifts than either--and yet, both have the All-Star credits to there name that Gay does not. There's something to be said about fulfilling potential in this league, even if that player is still providing better than average production. Deng and Iguodala play extremely hard every night, and seem to hit whatever ceiling is in front of them. Gay as still left us wanting year after year.

Shipping out Gay seemed to be an easy decision for the Grizzlies. Yes, his 16 points and 6 rebounds will be missed, but there's nothing else he did that Memphis' other personnel can't replicate. Gay wasn't a floor spacer in the least, helping contribute to the Grizzlies' basement level production in three-point shooting. He does have a decent mid-range game, but Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph can easily take those shots in his stead. Mike Conley will have to penetrate much more in Gay's stead--his best skill--which won't be as much of a problem seeing as how he'll have another shooter to help him on the perimeter.

In return, the Grizzlies got three players perhaps more suited for Memphis' needs. Ed Davis has emerged this year after a disappointing two seasons in the league, averaging 10 points and 7 rebounds over the season, but upticked to 14 and 8 in January in 33 minutes a game with injuries to Andrea Bargnani and Jonas Valanciunas. Teamed Darrell Arthur, Z-Bo and Gasol, Davis will complete one of the most fearsome and tough frontcourts at the top of any playoff bracket. Tayshaun Prince is much better shooter than any forward on the Memphis roster, though he's mostly taken it out of his game for the past four seasons, except in last resort circumstances. However, when he does shoot from long, he does so at a solid 37% clip, which would tie Mike Conley for team-best honors. He'll start for the Grizzlies and be asked to spot up on the three point line at all times, either as a rifleman, a pick and roll slasher or a pick and pop shooter. Knowing coach Lionel Hollins' focus on defense, I doubt Austin Daye will get much burn in his rotation. With a bench including Jerryd Bayless, Tony Wroten, Tony Allen and a returning Quincy Pondexter, it doesn't look like there's much room for him.

As far as Toronto and Detroit, at first glance it would seem that Toronto GM Bryan Colangelo and Detroit GM Joe Dumars are competing for the "World's Worst NBA Front Office Official" trophy.

According to Adrian Wojnarowski, Detroit has "long-coveted" Calderon, but for reasons I can't quite divine. True, the Pistons are just 4 1/2 games out of the playoffs, following the both hobbled Celtics and Sixers. True, the Pistons have second year point guard Brandon Knight who is sorely in need of some first-hand tutoring from a pass-first distributor. True, the team signed a 32 year-old Tayshaun Prince to a four year deal that they needed to unload.

But why would the Pistons keep on trying to take themselves out of the lottery this year when they seemingly only have three players that fit into their long-term plans, including Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and potentially Knight? Why would they be trying to bring in a heady veteran who could help get the team into the playoffs when Charlotte Bobcats owns their first round pick that will only be conveyed if it's OUT OF THE LOTTERY? Why would they sign Tayshaun Prince to a massive deal 13 months ago when they knew they weren't going to compete anytime soon AND he was only worth a deal half the size and length?

However, two caveats to Detroit's side of the trade; Calderon's $10 million dollar expiring contract can be pedaled again before the trade deadline, so perhaps Joe D has another move up his sleeve. Also, Detroit will now be almost $25 million under the cap this summer, which could be a potential boon for the Pistons. However, the last time that happened, Joe D signed Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva to five year deals, which murdered Detroit's salary cap situation and hopes of Motor City hoop fans nationwide. This is a perplexing move; it's a rebuilding tool in that the franchise will have significant cap room going forward, but at the same time, could lose a draft pick in the mid-teens by bringing in a player that could help them to the playoffs.

For Toronto, this is a bit of a head scratcher as well. First and foremost, this ties up DeMar DeRozan, Landry Fields, Rudy Gay, Amir Johnson and Andrea Bargnani into an excess of $48 million a season over this and the next two years. Like Joe D, Colangelo could have another trade up his sleeve, but I doubt it. This is the team that the Raps could be working with for 2 1/2 years, and even with a near-All Star in Kyle Lowry, this is a borderline low-seeded playoff team, possibly a 5-seed if everything went swimmingly. However, that hardly seems like a good reason to give yourself zero financial flexibility for over two years.

On the court, I'm not sure the pieces fit either. DeRozan, Fields and Gay all can't hit a shot outside of 15 feet, and with Amir Johnson, Alan Anderson, Terence Ross, Bargnani, Lowry and Valanciunas, there might be one or two too many players here. It seems to me that Toronto's three small forwards are all extremely redundant towards one another, and there might not be a way out--if coach Dwane Casey plays Gay at the power forward spot next to Bargnani to get another shooter, there's not enough rebounders. On the flipside, pairing Gay with Valanciunas gives the team no shooting. It's going to be very hard for Casey to juggle the minutes for this line-up, especially with how inflexible a lot of his players are. They'll miss Davis' toughness and rebounding a lot, especially when waiting for Valanciunas to develop and playing Johnson such heavy minutes.

However, in Gay the Raptors are getting another with high upside--like Lowry--but little fulfilled promise. Perhaps if both underachievers can become an All-Stars, this trade will have been worth it. But history isn't on their side. 

Overall, I like this deal for Memphis quite a bit, but Mike Conley, Z-Bo and Gasol are going to have to step in and replicate most of the things that Gay was providing. For Detroit and Toronto, these trades have some upside, but with how dismal each of these club's GMs have been the past four years, there's really no reason to suspect that they'll be able to use these advantages to the benefit of their teams.


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