“What are the Grizzlies doing?! Rudy Gay is their best player and they got a broken-down vet and a fourth big man!!”- Grizzlies fans that don’t pay a ton of attention to the team.
“Awesome deal. Prince will fit in with the culture of the team, Ed Davis will contribute and Austin Daye was a first-rounder quite recently. We won’t miss Rudy at all.”- Grizzlies fans that didn’t care for Rudy’s contributions to the team.
So what’s the question? I’ve been tough on Rudy over the years, but he has something going for him that still fascinates a lot of executives. So here’s my official statement on the Gay trade:
The Grizzlies had to make a move to get under the luxury tax. We know that much by now. The new ownership group happens to keep a lot of cash on hand, but may not have as much as former owner Michael Heisley. Also, despite the team’s recent success, that still doesn’t translate to a ton of revenue flowing to the team and it’s owners.
Other teams like the Bulls, Knicks and Lakers pretty much have a license to print money when they play at home, but even when the FedEx Forum has butts in the seats they still aren’t in the same league as those teams. That has a lot to do with market size, but also related to tradition. Those teams have sustained excellence for a long period where the Grizzlies are relatively new to the main stage of the NBA. That could change in five years, but at the moment, they’re still closer to being on the Hornets’ level than that of the Celtics.
Also, (and this can’t be understated) Rudy just wasn’t worth the investment that the Grizzlies gave him.
He’s a fine player and has already hit some big shots in Toronto, but his contract is dreadful. In fact, he makes more money than LeBron James this year and next year. Obviously, LeBron took a pay cut to join up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami and Rudy got every last cent he could, but man, does that make you feel like this entire league is out of whack or what? At least the financial structure, right?
That said, you wouldn’t mind paying LeBron even $20 million a year, I’m sure. After all, if you have LeBron on your team then you’re a lock for 55+ wins, a high seed in the playoffs, a realistic shot at a title every year and the chance to treat your fans to 41 games a year of first-class basketball by the best player of his generation. I’d go so far as to say that you couldn’t put a price on something like that. Obviously I’m not the one writing the checks but it seems like that would be a smart business strategy.
As for Rudy, he was paid on the basis of what he could do over what he had done. Anytime you approach a situation like that, it’s a 50/50 proposition that it will work out (at best).
To be fair, the Grizzlies had far more to lose that summer than Rudy did. The Grizzlies knew they weren’t in the hunt for a marquee free agent like Miami and Chicago were, so they were going to have to overpay to keep the guy that they had. That’s not a bad proposition, by the way. Gay had posted the best season of his career in 2009-2010 and looked poised to make the leap. Which he was on his way to doing until he hurt his shoulder and his career has never been the same.
Compounding matters, Gay’s absence coincided with the Grizzlies winning their first playoff game and series in 2011, and as an 8 seed over a 1 seed to boot. As my main man John Hugar pointed out the other day, if the Grizzlies were capable of going that far without him, why did they even need him in the first place?Losing in the first round to the Clippers in 2012 sealed Gay’s fate, even if the hammer didn’t fall until early 2013.
I didn’t want to write this piece the day of the trade or even a week after the trade. I wanted to wait and see how the pieces jelled together to be fair to each side.
In my opinion, the Grizzlies got exactly what they needed as part of a Gay deal. They got another small forward to step in that was ready to play (Tayshaun Prince, an underrated veteran), another big man to come off the bench (Ed Davis), and a bench shooter to replace Wayne Ellington (Austin Daye). It seems like the Grizzlies really just moved a bunch of pieces around, but I truly believe that this new-look team is better than the one Memphis had before the Cleveland trade and certainly the time between the Cleveland and Toronto deal.
Daye has been the most interesting development of either trade, however. The Pistons decided to give up on him and ship him out and he’s flourished off the bench in Memphis as he’s been rewarded with consistent playing time and arguably become the Grizzlies’ most consistent three-point shooter already.
Most importantly, the Grizzlies are no longer paying the luxury tax for a team that had a ceiling that ends in the second round. They could still easily make the second round of the playoffs (and maybe the Conference Finals if things broke really right) and now they’re doing so, and doing that on a budget that they can sustain.
I also liked the deal for the Raptors, as well. They traded an expiring contract and a young big that was part of a crowded frontcourt for a guy that has played extremely well since coming over, even hitting a few game-winning shots for them. His shooting percentage hasn’t been that great, but on a lot of nights, he’s the guy that has to get going if the Raptors want to win. In Memphis, he was really the Grizzlies’ third option but he still thought he was their first. That’s where the disconnect began.
In a way, the Raptors and Grizzlies both won the trade. The Raptors turned two guys that were probably not part of their long-term plan into a guy that probably does. The Grizzlies turned an expendable piece into three key contributors (even if Davis hasn’t found his way into the rotation at the moment) and saved some money in the process.
More importantly, they didn’t hurt the ceiling of their team. The Grizzlies had the “core four” together last year and didn’t escape the first round of the playoffs. While they ran the offense through Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, they reached the second round and almost made the Conference Finals. No matter how you shake it, the Grizzlies have just been better without Rudy Gay on the floor. It is possible that two teams can win a trade, and so far it seems like this was one of those cases.