With the trade of Rudy Gay, the Memphis Grizzlies show the whole basketball world why the collective bargaining agreement was nonsense–a small-market team that is on the cusp of contention suddenly finds itself losing its identity piece-by-piece.
It was not long ago when Gay was considered a rising star–he was practically an untradeable asset who was too young and brimming with potential to be traded for anything less than a superstar.
Yes, he had that much value. And why not? He’s 6-8, strong, quick, he has adequate perimeter skills and the necessary body frame to support a post game. He was supposed to be part of that elite class of small forwards along with LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Danny Granger.
Look at how people see him now. Oh, How fast the tables turn.
Today, we grade each franchise’s trade and predict what type of impact each player will have for their new teams.
Gain: Rudy Gay
This is an exchange of franchise mainstays–while Gay has been with the Grizzlies organization for seven years, Jose Calderon has been with the Raptors organization for the same amount of time. Yes, by the numbers, this looks like a sure loss for Toronto–Calderon was the top win-shares producer for Toronto with 4.1 and Davis was not far behind with 3.1. On the other hand, Gay was having an abysmal season, registering just 2.7 win shares despite logging almost 37 minutes per game. But stats don’t always tell the whole story.
With this trade, Toronto has a clutter of wings now–DeMar DeRozan, Landry Fields, Alan Anderson, Terrence Ross and now Gay. Three of those players deserve regular minutes–Gay, DeRozan and Fields–while the other two, Anderson and Ross, only deserve spot minutes.
Of course this does nothing to address their woeful 3-point shooting (currently sitting at 22nd place in the NBA). Gay isn’t a long-range bomber–his career high in 3-point shooting came in 2010-11 when he made 39.6 percent of his 2.7 3-point attempts per game. That’s it.
But offense was never really the Raptors problem–they were ranked 10th in the league in offensive rating. And Calderon’s absence won’t hit them as hard because they still have Kyle Lowry–an equally good, if not better, offensive contributor than Calderon–to man the point. And Davis’ departure will be mitigated by Jonas Valanciunas’ impending return. At least, that’s what I think Toronto management is depending on.
Gay’s biggest effect will be felt on the defensive end–where, when he’s engaged, he becomes one of the better defenders in the league both inside and out. He’s one of a few players in the league that has the potential to both be a lock-down defender on the perimeter and in the post. This is where Gay’s contributions will be felt the most. Here are Gay’s isolation numbers (per Synergy Sports):
See that 2010-11 season? That was the last time we saw Gay engaged defensively. That was also the season when he averaged 1.5 steals and one block per game before a shoulder injury robbed him of what was looking like an excellent season for him.
Offensively, there is evidence he can become a good scorer. In the season and a half prior to the shoulder injury, he registered an ORTG of 108 which is pretty good. He can be a threat to score from multiple spots on the floor–from the post, on cuts, on picks-and-rolls (either as the ballhandler or the roll man) or occasionally from deep.
Combine that with his defensive contribution and age (he won’t turn 27 until August) and you can see that there is still hope for him to become a difference maker. Of course, the key word with Gay–as it is with most underachieving physical freaks–is “can.” Which brings me to the most important question–can coach Dwayne Casey motivate Gay to play hard on both sides of the floor all the time?
In all honesty, this trade for Toronto opened up as many questions as it answered. And with more than $37 million hanging over Toronto’s front office, they can’t afford to have those questions unanswered for too long.
Gain: Jose Calderon
A simple salary dump for Detroit–but one that was aimed at still being competitive this season. Prince is signed through the 2014-15 season. With their future hanging on the shoulders of three youngsters (Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight and Andre Drummond), flexibility for the future was a much needed asset until that trio can learn how to co-exist within each other. Until then, Calderon can man (or join Knight) the back court with relative ease. Calderon has always been a productive offensive player and he will be a positive influence on Knight’s career who’s trying to become a better player.
Lose: Rudy Gay
Gain: Ed Davis, Tayshaun Prince
Ah, it’s only been a couple of months since John Hollinger–the creator of the metric Player Efficiency Rating or PER–was hired by the Grizzlies owner to be their vice president of basketball operations and it’s clear that he has a loud voice within the organization. Out are two replacement-level players and one inefficient player, in are two productive (or in the case of Prince, average) players and a sophomore who was very productive in college.
Prince will fit in well within their big three of Mike Conley, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph (a very weird yet effective big three) and their mantra of “grit and grind.” Prince lived through the golden era of Detroit basketball–a team that earned six straight Eastern Conference Finals appearances. He was their primary perimeter defender who moonlighted as an inside presence. And also:
That was nine years ago. Fast forward to today and he’s still a good defender despite age catching up to him. He’s still long, somewhat agile and smart. Although he doesn’t have the same physical “gifts” (he was really scrawny before) as he once had, he still has that same “grit-and-grind” nature to his approach that he acquired in Detroit. He’ll fit in nicely with the “grit and grind” nature of Memphis.
Also, Davis has long been productive in limited minutes(career win shares per 48 minute of .125, career ORTG of 114). There is no reason to assume that he won’t continue that trend in Memphis. With Davis and Darrell Arthur, Memphis now has two solid, albeit undersized, big man that can mop up some of the minutes from Gasol/Randolph.
Of course, not everything works in a vacuum. If it were, then basketball would be a meaningless sport. As such, this trade isn’t really a home run for Memphis–they did get a player than can replicate most of Gay’s contributions for the past two years at one-third the price and they got a perennially productive big man.
But what separates Memphis from the other contenders–asides from the grind house nature of their play–is their chemistry. Memphis’ starting five prided itself on being in sync with other despite their games not actually fitting really well. This is especially true on the defensive end–where the presence of three great defenders in Conley, Allen and Gay suffocated opponents into misses despite the turtle pace that their big men (Gasol and Randolph) play with. Can Prince be inserted seamlessly into that lineup? Can he co-exist as well on defense?
The quick answer is yes; Prince is smart and he’ll be a professional.
But the long answer is–who knows?? There was a certain swag and demeanor to that starting five. Those five players were able to elevate this franchise to new heights. They went from perennial laughing stocks to potential contenders.
Now, everybody’s not so sure.
There’s no easy way to grade this trade. On a purely statistical and financial standpoint, this was a home run for Memphis. They get the space to re-sign Tony Allen and address other issues using the space left behind by Gay’s contract. But basketball isn’t just about stats. And whether or not Prince fits in–despite evidence that he might–is an open question that cannot be answered.
Memphis was teetering on the brink of contention–holding the top record in the league at one point–and looking like a legitimate contender. It looked like this starting five could make it.
When they started sliding down and the embarrassing losses started piling up (three consecutive 20-point losses), things slowly headed south–Randolph and Gay were dangled like meat for sale. Players–especially veterans–understand that it’s a business. But trade rumors will affect a player no matter how businesslike he acts.
So again, we ask–can their chemistry keep this team together? Or will this specific trade be the beginning of the end of the grind house?
Grade: Can go anywhere from a D (if Memphis can’t get the chemistry back) to an A (if they can do something with the additional space they created)
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