This week, the Memphis Grizzlies were involved in a trade that will send one of their franchise players, and arguably the face of their franchise, Rudy Gay, to the Toronto Raptors. The Grizz had a recent change of scenery in their front office as well, with the hiring of Jason Levien as CEO and John Hollinger as VP of Basketball Operations. Could these guys be up to something, or is it just me?
To the casual NBA fan, this trade seems perplexing. Many of these fans see Gay as a near-superstar who provides much-needed scoring, rebounding, and bolsters the Grizzlies’ already solid perimeter defense. They see Gay as a rich man’s Andre Iguodala, a player with an exceptional work rate who is willing to do whatever possible to help his team win. There is nothing wrong with this mindset, because Gay does play the same position as Iguodala, has similar freakish athleticism, and both players put up somewhat similar statistics. However, Gay is a much different player when analyzed critically. Gay is a player who can offer much more versatility than Iguodala, posting similarity scores on par with hybrid wing-power forward types such as Iguodala’s former teammate, Thaddeus Young. Another interesting comparison can be drawn between Gay and Reggie Williams, who played for multiple teams, mostly the Denver Nuggets, throughout his 10 year career from ’87-’97. What is especially interesting about Reggie Williams is that his statistics, like many other NBA players, began to take a sharp decline when he turned 29. Rudy Gay is currently 26 and turns 27 in August. This means that he has about three more solid, typical Rudy Gay-like seasons before his eventual decline begins.
The Grizzlies front office is no joke, clearly, so their choice to take action by trading away Gay in the middle of the season was definitely a calculated risk for them. They had to decide between letting the team play out the season with what they had (which is what coach Lionel Hollins wanted), or slashing their payroll in order to get way below the luxury tax line and free up some serious cap room to toy around with during free agency. The Rudy Gay trade not only created great flexibility for the Grizzlies financially, but it also sustained the Grizz’ ability to win now. They received an above-average wing who is fading but still capable of contributing on both ends of the floor in Tayshaun Prince. According to 82games.com, Prince holds opposing small forwards to a paltry 10.9 PER when guarding them, but he does struggle against quicker shooting guards and post-up power forwards. He is also averaging a sneaky 11.7 points per game (only 6 less than Gay this season) with an 18.1% usage rate while playing about 32 minutes per game. Prince provides leadership and experience as well, as he has been to the Eastern Conference Finals 6 times, and he won a championship in 2004 with one of the most perfectly crafted starting fives in the past decade, remember that grit-and-grind Pistons team? Well, Prince won’t be playing at the level he was then, and he might have lost a step or two with age, but I believe he meshes with the Grizzlies’ starting 5 well enough to provide somewhat similar results to that ’04 team of stalwarts. Tayshaun will most likely serve as a defensive perimeter presence (he has the wingspan of a pterodactyl) as well as a solid third or fourth option on offense. The Grizzlies already have the league’s stingiest defense this year due to the tenacity and defensive intellect of players like Tony Allen, Marc Gasol, and Z-Bo. Mind you, the Grizzlies would not have had the financial flexibility to re-sign Tony Allen this summer if they chose not to trade Gay. The Grizz will also be paying Tayshaun Prince close to $10 million less than they would be paying Gay, and Gay’s contract dollars increase in the coming years, while Prince’s do not. If the Grizzlies had traded Gay for Prince straight up, I would be concerned. However, Prince was only one of the multiple acquisitions the Grizz garnered in this trade, and the real (Hollinger: “shhh! it’s a secret!”) value comes in the form of Ed Davis and a draft pick.
The Grizzlies offense at the beginning of this season was nothing short of unbelievable. They were shooting high percentage shots and making them at high percentages. They were hitting plenty of three pointers due to Wayne Ellington’s presence. Their offense was literally unbelievable, and that’s exactly why since December, their production on O has sputtered to a grinding halt. They are 27th in the league in scoring, and this glaringly ugly feature of the Grizzlies is the only thing stopping them from becoming a championship quality team. With the addition of Ed Davis, a 23 year old power forward who plays smart, effective basketball (his PER is 18 this season), the Grizzlies gain yet another solid two-way option. He will have to split minutes with Zach Randolph, of course, but the fact that Davis is brimming with potential and plays the same position as Z-Bo might mean that the Grizzlies will look to get even younger by shopping Randolph in the offseason, most likely to try to fill their greatest need: a high scoring shooting guard.
The addition of a high scoring shooting guard would bode extremely well for the Grizzlies and extremely badly for the rest of the league, especially if the player is young. I know that’s a hard thing to find, but if it is possible to acquire a high scoring shooting guard such as Monta Ellis in the offseason, the Grizzlies should do it, and trust me, I think their front office might already know that. The most efficient pairing of two superstars in the NBA, historically, has been between a high scoring shooting guard and a high scoring and high rebounding center. Of course, the Grizzlies already have one of the league’s best centers in Marc Gasol, who scores, passes, and rebounds extremely well already. If the Grizz are able to find Gasol a James Harden type of player in the coming years, the Grizzlies have the potential to become a team with both a top 10 offensive and defensive rating, which is the secret recipe of success for almost every championship team in the past decade.
Just remember this Rudy Gay trade in a few years is all I’m asking you to do. You will probably think back and realize that your initial gut reaction (“What? They traded Rudy Gay for Tayshaun Prince and some kid from the Raptors?”) might’ve been a little off. Like I said before: to the casual NBA fan, on the surface this trade might seem confusing and stupid. To me, the Grizzlies just pulled off an unbelievable move that will lead to sustained greatness in the coming years: win now, and win later.