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Basketball philosophy

Predicting a trade: Rudy Gay to the Raptors

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Rudy Gay watches the Drew League vs Goodman Le...

Rudy Gay watches the Drew League vs Goodman League game. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you’ve cheered for a sports team who’s had the same general manager for a long time, you can usually sniff out exactly what types of moves fit his style or not. I’ve cheered for Toronto for some time and have followed the Bryan Colangelo era since his hiring in 2006 and I feel I understand the way this man operates, for better or worse. It is for that reason that I am expecting Rudy Gay to be on the team by the end of June. While I am a speculative person in general about NBA team’s future moves, this trade crosses a threshold to me where the more I look at it, the more I become assured that it will in fact happen. There are two trades for Toronto in the Colangelo era I sniffed out and prepared myself for months before they happened – one was a minor trade of Jason Kapono for Reggie Evans, at a time when Toronto had many shooters but no rebounders and Philadelphia had many rebounders but no shooters and both players had the same contract, making it a swap so logical that it had to happen. The other deal that seemed inherently obvious was  Jermaine O’Neal being traded for Shawn Marion’s expiring contract, allowing the team to attempt a final hail mary in the Chris Bosh era (that ended up being Hedo Turkoglu’s dreadful contract). I feel nearly as strongly about a predction that Rudy Gay will be a member of the team by the end of this month.

My proposed trade is that Memphis will deal Rudy Gay and Toronto will trade back the 8th overall pick, Linas Kleiza, and depending on the negotation, possibly Ed Davis. Toronto can make this trade on draft day because after dealing Leandro Barbosa’s contract to Indiana, they now have just enough capspace to legally exchange the difference between Gay and Kleiza. Colangelo literally stated after the deal that giving himself this flexibility to deal before July 1st in uneven financial terms  made him “giddy”.

First, this is an exceedingly good trade for the Memphis Grizzlies. Rudy Gay does not fit any more on the team for a number of reasons. For one stylistically his propensity to play on the ball and the mediocre spacing his shooting provides at SF, does not compliment Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. They actually played better in their 2011 playoff run than 2012 because having a SG/SF rotation of Tony Allen, OJ Mayo and Shane Battier beside their star bigs and Mike Conley, Jr. created a more balanced offensive lineup, the wing players spreading the floor and playing off the ball, opening up space for the PG and big men shot creators. With Gay to me there is too many cooks in the kitchen, with Conley, Gay, Randolph and Gasol all being scorers who need a degree of offense run through them. Secondly, the Grizzlies simply have too much tied up financially in their frontcourt, with Randolph and Gay making over 16 million a year on max contracts, and Gasol over 13 million a year, in escalating deals. Having 2 instead of 3 massive contracts makes the Grizzlies job of building a roster easier, allowing them to put more money into their backcourt and depth and giving them cap flexibility going forward to improve the roster. This is also why the #8 pick would be such a great asset for them because he would be making 2-3 million a year for the next 4 seasons – if a player drafted such a Jeremy Lamb or Harrison Barnes could have a scoring impact for them, this is a fantastic bang for their buck on a team where all of their core players will be on expensive post rookie deals if Mayo is resigned this summer. This trade is the best the Grizzlies can expect from a Gay deal, they can plausibly replace his talent with a young rookie picked top 8 in a deep draft, while giving the team’s offense a more fitting look and clearing up their cap long term to add badly needed depth. I believe Memphis does this deal.

Now my real job in speculation is saying why Toronto is in this trade. On the surface Rudy Gay’s max contract is a lot for a player who’s never cracked 18 in PER, especially at the cost of a top 10 pick. But the roots of it is in the Raptors history under Colangelo. The team has never been shy to spend money and the team’s cap situation is healthy, with only 22.1 million in salary committed in 2013-2014 between Andrea Bargnani, Amir Johnson and Linas Kleiza’s contract, plus Jonas Valanciunas’ contract that year will be about 3.8 million. Secondly, Colangelo has always been the type to make a “big splash” in the summer, such as trading for Jermaine O’Neal or signing Hedo Turkoglu the summer after to roll the dice on a roster that breaks out, which is what he did the year he signed Steve Nash in Phoenix. These moves often fill the biggest “hole” the team had ending the previous season – O’Neal was acquired when the team needed interior defense and Turkoglu when they needed perimeter scoring. Gay’s perimeter scoring is exactly what the team lacked last season, thus it fits the mold.  Thirdly, the team has missed the playoffs 4 years in a row and the heat is on Colangelo from ownership to end the drought. The team played close to .500 basketball last year when healthy so that’s enough for the optimistic followers to believe they are close to playoff caliber. Fourth, because the team still has its amnesty clause, even after taking on heavy salary in the proposed Rudy Gay deal, they could still amnesty Jose Calderon enough to go after a free agent PG like Steve Nash, Goran Dragic, Jeremy Lin, or Jameer Nelson. Thus the pieces would be lined up for Colangelo to make his Rudy Gay move and then throw a lot of money at a PG to compliment it. If he gets a Dragic or Nelson in the same summer as Gay, now he can legitimately sell this a long term playoff team. Filling those two positions specifically also fits what he’s been developing as his long term starting SG, PF and C in Demar Derozan, Andrea Bargnani and Jonas Valanciunas. He is banking on Valanciunas having the talent to be a top 10-15 C (Since GMs rarely make moves without the assumption their draft picks will pan out), Bargnani continues the breakout all-star caliber season he had last year before a calf injury derailed him, and Derozan will finally break out as another impact player for his position. That is what the success of his rebuilding plan since 2010 is based on, thus adding Gay and PG builds around that plan.

With Indiana’s success lately a lot of teams are looking to mimic the idea of a squad with multiple productive players but no star. Colangelo’s frontcourt of Gay, Bargnani and Valanciunas can be compared to in talent wise to Indiana’s Granger, West and Hibbert.  If he adds a free agent PG like Dragic/Nelson and Derozan plays well, together with talented depth off the bench like Jerryd Bayless, James Johnson, Amir Johnson, he can sell that this team is ready to be the Indiana as soon as next year. The proposition would be that the team would be on its way to an Indiana like 50 Ws+ core without a superstar with 3 high end starters in the frontcourt and plenty of supporting depth. The point isn’t whether this is right, just that it’s enough for Bryan Colangelo to sell that it is, just like he sold the rosters in the seasons after the Jermaine O’Neal trade and Hedo Turkoglu signing. 

There is plenty of reason to believe it’d actually be a bad trade. Gay’s contract outweighs his production enough to make him an arguable undesirable asset, while an 8th overall pick in a great draft combined with the freed up capspace is a terrific asset. The plan relies on Jonas Valanciunas becoming an impact player like Roy Hibbert when making assumptions in the draft is dangerous. It’s banking on Demar Derozan being good, when players who put up a 12.8 PER in their 3rd season are almost always not good. But at this point Bryan Colangelo will make moves on the basis of “If I’m right” instead of “If I’m wrong”, he always has, and if anything the short leash he has for keeping his job makes it more likely that he pushes all in on his plan this time around. If he fails he won’t be the GM forced to clean up the pieces in Toronto, he’ll be on a new team happy to sign a two time Executive of the Year. With the “If I’m right” attitude, this is the quickest way for Colangelo to turn the roster into one consistently breaking 45 wins a year which is what ownership wants from the franchise. Ultimately this trade fits Bryan Colangelo’s style to a tee and unless the Memphis Grizzlies find an even better offer for Gay or for whatever reason are sold on keeping him and his contract, I am expecting it to happen.

Written by jr.

June 3, 2012 at 4:06 pm

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