Like the Thunder trading James Harden, Memphis found that the new CBA luxury tax penalties cost prohibitive and they therefore decide to unload Rudy Gay. The calculus is more complex than just luxury tax considerations. I imagine the Grizz had to ask themselves several questions before reaching this conclusion. Let’s run though the analysis and see if we agree with logic train:
(a) What would the outcome be of just leaving the Grizz roster intact?
Memphis had a tougher call than most teams. Usually, the team making such a decision is clearly a contender or an also-ran. Memphis is exactly on the cusp between good team and potential title contender, which makes the call even more difficult (in the case of OKC, the Thunder felt that Harden was a cherry on the contention sundae and not absolutely necessary to go back to the Finals). Memphis probably had an outside shot at making the Conference Finals if everything broke right with Gay on the roster. Of course, it is also quite possible (but not likely) that the Grizz would lose in the first round. Depending on how much financial flexibility the franchise had, it wouldn’t have been crazy to let the season ride and see how far the team could go with the same core as the last few years. The fact that Memphis already was pretty set on giving away Mareese Speights and still traded Gay tells us that the Grizz have little to no wiggle room on finances and someone had to be traded.
(b) If you are going to trade someone, is Gay the guy?
This depends on how good you think Gay is and what the market is for the players who might be traded. Well, let’s look at the Grizz expensive players and look at the options:
-Rudy Gay, age 26, 17.2 ppg, .438 eFG%, 5.9 rpg, 2.6 apg, 14.3 PER (contract: two more years at $37.1 million)
-Zach Randolph, age 31, 15.8 ppg, .483 eFG%, 11.6 rpg, 1.4 apg, 18.7 PER (contract: two more years at $34.3 million)
-Marc Gasol, age 28, 13.7 ppg, ,489 eFG%, 7.5 rpg, 3.6 apg, 19.6 PER (contract: two more years at $30.6 million)
All are talented but have weaknesses. Gay’s are most evident: he is mostly a scorer, his efficiency is way down this year, and is the most expensive of the three. His shooting this year, however, may be an anomaly as he his career eFG% is right in line with Randolph and Gasol of 2012-13. Randolph is the oldest of the three and, while still good, he is down from his pre-2011-12 numbers and it is possible he might never be the dominant force he was before. As for Gasol, he continues to be a mini-Arvydas Sabonis (minus the rebounding) and is going nowhere. As between Gay and Randolph, trading Gay makes sense given his down numbers, bigger money, and the fact that his core skill (scoring in volumes) isn’t that hard to replace.
(c) What about the return for Gay?
Ed Davis is a very nice young prospect at age-23 and a nice potential eventual replacemet for Randolph (per-36 min: 14.5 pts, .549 eFG%, 9.9 rebs, 18.1 PER). For now, Davis will make a nice third big man for the Grizz and is better than the recently departed Speights. Losing Gay’s ability to create shots, though, is a gaping hole that isn’t filled by role players like Tayshaun Prince or Tony Allen. The Grizz already have the second rated defense in the NBA already, so Prince will at least keep the team at the same level but there isn’t much room for improvement in that area. Conversely, offensively, the Grizz are slightly below average with Gay (17th) and swapping Gay out for Prince could really hurt. The Grizz will have to find some sort of scorer cheaply somewhere and/or Mike Conley’s shots are going to have to go way up because there are no other perimeter players on the roster who can create shot. On the plus side, losing Gay won’t hurt the Grizz from three. The Grizz have made (and taken) the fewest threes in the NBA and are not that good percentage wise either (.344%, which ranks 24th). Gay was a big part of the problem (.310% from three so far). The more efficient Prince (.434% this year) will help but he’ll have to step up his frequency (only 53 attempts from three this year versus 129 for Gay). In all, it is fair to say that the Grizz didn’t gut their team but the Davis/Prince probably makes them a bit worse than they were before. This isn’t a bad deal considering it was forced by circumstance. The Grizz are still a playoff team and could still be a four seed after this deal if Prince can step up his scoring.
(d) What is Toronto doing?
I know Bryan Colangelo is under pressure to show improvement but this deal won’t quite get it done. Currently the Raptors are 16-30 and 12th in offense and 26th in defense. So, they traded their best young big man prospect to pair Gay, another a low efficiency scorer, with DeMar Derozan? The problem here is defensive sieves like Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon and not getting a high volume scorer. Gay won’t hurt the defense and he’s much better than Landry Fields/Mickael Pietrus types but it doesn’t fix the core problem and I’m not sure I’d blow cap room for a minor upgrade to a non-playoff team when there are much bigger fish to fry. I probably would have stood pat with Davis and tried to move Bargnani. Not a terrible move but it seems more like trying to make a splash without much thought put into whether it will fix the core issues.