NBA Basketball Column: Jump Ball with Matt McCloskey
Is Rudy Gay really close to being sent north of the border? According to reports it’s becoming a definite possibility, and based on the frequent chatter on sports stations across Toronto, the fans are begging for it.
The Memphis Grizzlies have been one of the most interesting teams to me this season. They’re 29-15 in the West, which has them holding the fourth playoff seed in a crowded Western Conference, and yet they want to blow up their team. Most are scratching their heads, but to the Grizzlies front office I say kudos to you. It’s rare to see a team evaluate their roster with such honesty despite the success they’ve had and know it’s time for change.
The Grizzlies are under a new ownership regime and have added members to their front office staff, which then led to a complete talent assessment and have quietly decided that this roster isn’t fit to win a championship, which is correct. The Grizzlies have a fantastic front court, arguably the best in the NBA, but this league is all about guard play, and the Grizzlies stupidly let O.J. Mayo walk for nothing and are left with Mike Conley Jr. as the team’s best guard, and that is a pretty sad thought.
The trio of Gay, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph costs the team a whopping $46.851 million this season, $50.55 million next season, and if Randolph picks up his option, which he most likely will, the trio will cost the Grizzlies $51.647. That’s almost all of their cap space on three players who aren’t versatile enough talent wise or positionally to win this team a championship so why waste the money? Small market teams like Memphis must make smart decisions like this often and make them in a timely fashion before it blows up in their face financially.
The salary dump that the Grizzlies did with the Cavaliers put them under the luxury tax, but despite what management says, this is only the beginning. This was a smart move because not only did it keep the team from paying the tax, it gave them breathing room to get more value for Gay. If the team hadn’t dumped those contracts they would have had to accept less value in return for Gay because teams know how tight money is for the Grizzlies and know that the one of the main reasons it’s Gay getting moved is because he’s the second highest paid player on the team. Opposing GM’s would of used that as part of their pitch and said that one of the assets they were giving Memphis is less salary commitment so why would they offer the Grizzlies more picks and prospects? Before the Cavaliers trade, they would have been right. Based on observation, that is what was happening in trade talks for Gay and so Memphis decided to execute that trade so that interested teams couldn’t use that as leverage.
So what can Gay truly fetch the Grizzlies? Well their keenest suitor is rumored to be the Toronto Raptors and talks have gotten far enough that names are now being leaked out. The proposal that keeps being talked about is soon to be free agent point guard Jose Calderon and promising power forward Ed Davis and a future first round pick for Rudy Gay and the Raptors are seeing if Memphis will also include forward/center Darrell Arthur.
Right now, there seems to be two hitches in this trade. One is that Memphis also wants Terrence Ross, but there’s no way that’s going to happen. Ross is the first true shooting guard this team has had since Vince Carter and had showed enough promise to warrant keeping the guard instead of overpaying for a very good but not franchise player. The Grizzlies also don’t want Calderon’s expiring contract, so the two teams are trying to bring in another team to help make this trade happen. The top team that comes to mind is the Boston Celtics who have showed interest in Gay this season but since Rajon Rondo is done for the year, their greatest need is a starting point guard. Sources have indicated that the Celtics have potentially targeted Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry instead but perhaps could be swayed to take on a player that is having the best season of his career and wouldn’t have to worry about having him there when Rondo is back next season.
From a salary standpoint, this trade makes a ton of sense. If Memphis agrees to part with Gay and Arthur they would be relieving themselves of $19.5 million this season, $21 million next season and $22.7 million in 2014/15. But the players involved don’t make sense on either side. For Toronto, including Davis for a small forward is a mistake because replacing him would either be Amir Johnson who brings hustle but not as much skill on a consistent basis, and Andrea Bargnani who can’t stay healthy and struggles defensively. Davis isn’t a star but he could become one once he realizes just how good he truly is. That light bulb seems to not of come on quite yet that he can be a force in this league, especially being a left handed player like Chris Bosh before him. Also, the combo of Gay and DeMar DeRozan wouldn’t be that great. Neither are prolific shooters so they would clog the lane for each other as both players are athletic slashers, so there's a redundency of having both players play together while having a gaping hole at the power forward position. What the Raptors must decide is whether to go with a combo of DeRozan and Terrence Ross on the wing, or make the deal and commit to Ross and Gay because Ross is the perfect complement for either player on the perimeter.
For Memphis, this trade doesn’t make sense because they're just adding to a position they’re already set in with Zach Randolph. Gay needs to net the team either a better point guard or a wing player to replace Gay as top wing option. And here’s where we have the perfect solution for both teams.
The Raptors would only truly benefit from this trade if Rudy Gay was traded for DeMar DeRozan and whatever else the filler is. As much promise as DeRozan has, Gay is a definite upgrade in all facets of the game. Memphis also benefits because DeRozan recently signed an extension for $38 million over four seasons which averages out to $9.5 per season. They are paying almost the same total of money to Gay over the next two years so now they can spread it over four instead. That cap hit looks a hell of a lot better to a team like Memphis for a player that is three years younger and is averaging the same amount of points (in fact DeRozan is 17.3 ppg while Gay is 17.2) and only 1.6 rebounds less (Gay averages 5.9 while DeRozan grabs 4.3). Toronto has deep pockets that can more than swallow Gay's contract and still have enough flexability to add around the team's core. Gay has a more well-rounded game and can play both forward positions which is a huge need for the Raptors. While Memphis needs someone who can play the shooting guard and/or small forward spot. This trade makes way more sense and could definitely come to fruition in the near future.
Even after dealing Gay, there are rumors that Randolph is on the block too, as well as Conley Jr. Despite being one of the best teams in the NBA, this team may not be together for long it seems, but at least Grizzlies fans can take pride in the fact that their management isn’t just looking to floor a very good team that can win a round in the play-offs, maybe two. But eventually win a title. Unfortunately not enough GM’s think that way and settle for just a playoff team, but Memphis’s GM Chris Wallace is proving he is certainly not a settler.
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