Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The Memphis Grizzlies may not be getting
great value back on their trades recently, but the moves are saying something
about this organization.
When the Grizz sent Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington, Josh Shelby and a
protected first-round draft pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Jon Leuer,
everyone agreed it was a salary dump.
Memphis is a small market and new owner Robert Pera didn't want to pay the
luxury tax. The salaries he and CEO Jason Levien rid themselves of allowed
the core Grizzlies (Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Rudy Gay and Mike Conley) to
stay intact and allowed ownership to keep several million dollars.
Except, that wasn't exactly the motivation.
The motivation was to trim any salary deemed non-vital. And, if the Grizzlies
could avoid crippling their true core, go ahead.
That meant Gay would be giving up barbecue for hockey. He was shipped to the
Toronto Raptors in exchange for promising forward Ed Davis and point guard
Jose Calderon, who was then moved to the Detroit Pistons for Tayshaun Prince
and Austin Daye.
To sum up, for the productive parts of their bench and their leading scorer,
the Grizzlies got back an aging Prince, a nice piece in Davis, two future DNP-
CDs in Leuer and Daye, and a second-round pick.
Oh, and a ton more flexibility financially.
Like some of you, I scoffed at this trade. I still don't believe the Grizzlies
made themselves better with these deals. Softening a bit now, I don't think
they crippled themselves as badly as I thought.
Let's talk strictly basketball before business and with all due respect,
disqualify Daye and Leuer from the discussion. They will be fill-in guys for
injured rotation members.
Gay is a great scorer and an athlete. His average this season of 17.5 points
per game is a low since his rookie season of 2006-07. Gay is shooting 31
percent from the 3-point line and 41 percent from the field. Those aren't great
Gay also is not an elite defender like Grizzlies studs Tony Allen or Gasol.
Prince is only scoring 11.8 ppg, but shoots 45 percent from the field and 43
percent from long range. Prince is still above-average defensively.
What's behind these numbers illustrates a huge point - this was not, nor would
it ever be Gay's team with Randolph and Gasol still in uniform.
The Grizzlies' two best players are Randolph and Gasol. They represent the most
formidable big-guy combo in the league as long as the Dwight Howard/Pau
Gasol/Mike D'Antoni fiasco still exists for the Los Angeles Lakers.
They are both highly skilled with their back to the basket, can step outside,
rebound the ball unmercifully, pass like point guards and defend at a high
Highlighting these two more in the Grizzlies offense should be an easy
transition. Dump it to these two and they'll score, or set up more players for
higher-percentage shots than Gay's 41 percent based on pull-up jumpers.
Wouldn't you want a better 3-point shooter like Prince to kick it out to when
double-teams come to Zbo and Gasol? Of course, you would.
Gay averages 16.5 field-goal attempts a game. Prince is at 10.8. If Prince
continues to shoot at his current level and the Grizzlies give Randolph (47
percent from the field) and Gasol (48 percent) Gay's remaining five attempts,
simple mathematics tells me two guys who shoot close to 50 percent will
basically make up that difference.
And Davis isn't a bum, either. In the month of January, with Raptors' starting
power forward Andrea Bargnani injured, Davis filled in and averaged 13.9 ppg.
Granted, he won't see any type of huge minutes with Randolph around, but Davis
was not filler in this deal.
Defense is really where the Grizzlies shine and Prince is a huge upgrade. He
is still long and smart.
Gasol's defensive acumen is scary as evidenced last week when I saw him
defend an inbounds play in the closing seconds against the Philadelphia
76ers, then come over and swat Nick Young's game-tying 3-point attempt. Young
admitted he never saw Gasol and didn't think he could get back in the play in
If defense and low-post offense are what the Grizzlies excel at, what's the
The problem is, and it hasn't been discussed much, Memphis was not a
legitimate title contender with Gay. Many have said, including head coach
Lionel Hollins, not to break up this core until we saw what it could do.
Two seasons ago in the playoffs, when the Grizzlies stunned the No. 1-seeded
San Antonio Spurs, there was no Gay. He had a bum shoulder and Memphis reached
the semifinals and took the Oklahoma City Thunder to seven games.
Last season, Randolph basically played on one leg with a knee injury during
a game-seven, first-round loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. So, yes, it is
true, that we never got to see Memphis contend with its core group healthy.
If everything stayed pat, the Grizz would host the Golden State Warriors in the
first round, which would have been no sure bet. Then, they would've had to beat
two of the three - Spurs, Thunder and Clippers - as road teams.
Were the Grizzlies capable of that? Sure, but would it be truly reasonable?
(Worth noting, I've never encountered anyone who liked this Grizzlies team, the
Rudy Gay version, more than me. But my love had/has a lot to do with Randolph,
Gasol and Hollins.)
So if the Grizzlies weren't a legitimate contender, why not shake up the
roster? Here's where the money becomes a factor.
Once Pera and Levien got under the tax with the bench bleeding, the Gay trade
really did become a move revolving around the future. Gay has two more years
on his contract (technically a player option for 2014-15) at about $37.2
million. Price is owed about $15 million for the same time frame.
Memphis also got a $7.5 million trade exception out of its wheeling and
dealing. The organization probably doesn't have to worry about the luxury tax
for a while and still has some freedom to execute deals.
Of course, money played a hand in these trades. According to Forbes, the
Grizzlies lost $12.5 million last year. Pera is running a business on top of
trying to contend for an NBA championship.
He did an online chat for Grizzlies season-ticket holders. Pera was asked,
"The first trade seemed to address the cap issues. Why did you make the second
trade? And how does this impact our future?"
Pera's response: "We made the second trade because we feel it allows us to put
a more competitive product on the floor this season and in future seasons. We
got better. We also picked up a valuable draft pick as well as trade
exceptions that will allow us to be opportunistic in going on the offensive
Turns out, he was right.
Sometimes, it's easy to scoff at transactions as strictly money-based. That
can be true, and at its guts, the Gay trade may have been, too. Just don't
blindly assume there was some basketball merit to it.
- Funny how when Lakers star Dwight Howard misses games against the Minnesota
Timberwolves and Detroit Pistons, and Pau Gasol fills in, back at his natural
starting center spot, he goes off for 45 points, 22 rebounds and three blocks.
Weird, isn't it, to maximize an All-NBA players skills and see production?
- The labor situation is a mess. Billy Hunter gets put on leave as executive
director of the Players Association. I have no clue who should, or will be his
permanent replacement, but I know Derek Fisher as president of the NBPA should
think about stepping down. Players may respect Fisher, but there are gripes
with him as well. Plus, it just doesn't strike me as fair to have a president
who is not active in the league. It'll never happen, but as important a job as
it is, a star player should step up for the job. Respect can be transferred
from the court to the boardroom.
- Here is footage (http://tinyurl.com/aoudp5x) of Caron Butler of the Clippers
giving a high-five to Raptors rookie Jonas Valanciunas in the waning seconds
of a 25-point Raptors' victory on Friday. This is beyond bush league.
- Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs will coach the West All-Stars and
Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat will have the East team. Is there any chance
Spurs great Tim Duncan, who may skip the game after a nasty-looking, but not
structurally damaging leg injury, plays more than five minutes if he goes? Pop
wouldn't play him against the Heat in the regular season; do you think he'll
play him in an All-Star game?
- Movie Moment - Caught "The Five-Year Engagement" on HBO Saturday night.
Really liked it. It's long-ish and it's rom-com, but it's genuinely funny as
all heck. Jason Segel gets comedy. He's smart and funny. You can't watch that
- TV Moment - The Super Bowl commercials stunk something fierce.
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