When players get paid a lot, the default commentary position switches from pointing out their strengths to emphasizing their failings. Rudy Gay fell victim to this the day he signed a maximum value contract.

It is inevitable — he is being paid the max, but he doesn’t perform like a max player, and nor will he ever. This isn’t just true of fans’ perspectives, but of teams as well. Memphis, unashamedly and understandably on a budget, figured they don’t get enough from Rudy at that cost to make him worth keeping. Conversely, Toronto figure he’s worth the financial commitment. So who’s right?

In light of respective circumstances, possibly both.

Toronto’s small forward rotation has been one of the weakest positional rotations in the league. Landry Fields and Linas Kleiza have been hurt and underwhelming, while Mickael Pietrus has been just plain underwhelming. The position has been manned by out-of-position two guards who can’t defend the spot and shoot too much. Now the Raptors have a two-way fringe star of a player at the spot, for only the cost of two players whose usefulness they couldn’t maximize anyway.

Rudy’s performance this year has been frankly poor, but such is the very nature of apathy — a return to his usual career numbers is certainly plausible. At his best, Gay contributes in every facet of the game. Of course, even at his career apex, Gay’s contract is worryingly close to double the size it should be for a man of his impact. But the amount spent is only of importance if it prohibits future spending. The Raptors’s salary situation is sufficient that this should not be a factor going forward — as such, Gay’s contract, a big issue for Memphis, isn’t the same issue in Toronto. The issue is the impact of the team’s play going forward, and what value was achieved in the deal.

If you concede Jose Calderon couldn’t return to the Raptors next season — and, if you value Kyle Lowry, he couldn’t — he had to be dealt while his value was high. If Jose stays, he and Lowry negate each others value and create a expensive, if talented, logjam that’s destined to end in a ruckus. And, even though Calderon betters any team he is on, there weren’t many suitable suitors. Those who needed him the most didn’t have the pieces. And those who had the pieces didn’t really need him.

Toronto loses this deal if Gay doesn’t return to his best, and if they go forward with a trio of DeRozan, Gay and Bargnani, a highly paid trio that duplicates itself too much and doesn’t defend nearly as well as it should. But considering that Bargnani’s days are increasingly numbered, and in light of the intriguing play of Terrence Ross, there is no reason to believe that is the plan going forward. This trade completes phase one of a multi-part plan for the Raptors to return to the playoffs without tanking. Without pieces two or three in place, it’s hard to judge phase one accurately. In theory, however, Toronto takes forward a core of Lowry, Ross, Gay, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas, with Landry Fields and whatever they get for Bargnani and DeRozan also in the mix. That’s a low-seeded playoff team. For now, that’s a good start.

Detroit, meanwhile, dumps the last remnant of its 2004 championship team, and the final vestige of Daye’s potential, in exchange for cap space. After the spectacular misuse of their cap space in 2009, a couple of trades combined with the passage of time sees the Pistons armed with $36 million in expiring contracts — if they were to also amnesty Charlie Villanueva and save on the guaranteed portion of Rodney Stuckey’s contract, there is theoretically enough cap room there for two max contracts with some change left over, and without losing any of the strong, young, cheap core they have built through the draft.

This direction wouldn’t be very likely, and definitely wouldn’t be advisable, especially in light of the fact that Greg Monroe needs paying soon. However, the flexibility it provides, and the sheer number of possibilities for asset management it offers, is an irresistibly strong lure for a team whose strategy in recent years has been little more than “play badly and draft well.” (Which, to be fair, they’ve done both parts of.)

Some of that cap space could well go towards re-signing Calderon. The question of whether Brandon Knight can be a quality full-time point guard has yet to be definitively answered, but as time goes on, the more likely it is the answer will be no. It certainly looks that way. This is fine, of course. There is nothing wrong with being Detroit’s Jason Terry of the future. But he doesn’t appear to have the court vision to run a half court offense. As a result, he isn’t able to maximize the on-court growth of the Pistons’ young players, most notably Andre Drummond. Calderon can do this. Either by leading the second unit, or by bumping Knight and Kyle Singler over one spot (which will be hideous defensively but tolerable in the short term), Calderon’s highly effective combination of floor game and jumpshot figure to improve the half court offense of both the team and everyone in it. With due deference to his significant value as an $11 million expiring contract, Jose Calderon will help the Pistons as a player for as long as they choose to keep him around.

The same could be said of Memphis and Jose, had they chosen to keep him. Indeed, notwithstanding the obvious question of who would play small forward without Gay or Prince, it is unquestionable that Calderon would bring a lot to the team. Memphis has backup ball handlers in Jerryd Bayless and Tony Wroten, but they can’t consistently make plays in the halfcourt for anyone but themselves, and they can’t consistently shoot. For all the things he takes off the table, Calderon does those two things extremely well. Memphis needs them more than most, but, for whatever reason, they didn’t want him.

Instead, they wanted a replacement-level small forward in Prince who gets paid above MLE money for two more years, and a wildly inconsistent backup in Daye whose combination of height, athleticism and three-point percentage would mean a lot more if he was in any way a reliable contributor. This part of the deal requires further examination. As things stand, however, Memphis has downgraded slightly at small forward, while upgrading their big man rotation significantly and simultaneously nullifying their previous trade with Cleveland. Ed Davis is far superior to Marreese Speights, and replacement level D-League players can do the simple spot-up shooting role of Wayne Ellington or Josh Selby. Chris Johnson already is.

A truly successful trade here for Memphis ultimately hinges on what they do with Zach Randolph. What they do with Zach determines what they do with Ed Davis. And Ed Davis is very, very good. Toronto knew this, but, with the similarly sneaky-good Amir Johnson in the fold, plus the obligation to play Andrea Bargnani, Davis could never play the 30+ mpg he needed and deserved. In Memphis, as of today, he still can’t do this. For now, he’ll merely compliment Darrell Arthur, grabbing the rebounds that Arthur misses and occasionally wowing from the bench. But the time will come, presumably consequential to a Randolph deal, that Davis will be able to prove his quality as a starting power forward. And when that day comes, Memphis will have done it again, downgrading slightly from an overpaid fringe star but saving exorbitant amounts of money in the process. As a strategy, it’s hard to argue with.

In theory, all three teams assuaged their needs and helped themselves for the future. But all three teams face big questions going forward. Memphis needs to be sure they haven’t just blown their franchise’s first ever chance to compete for a title. Detroit needs to know what they’re going to try and do with all the flexibility they’ve uncovered, especially knowing their difficulties in free agency. And Toronto needs to be sure that Gay will return to form, that their roster duplicity can be addressed in short order, and that Kyle Lowry is really worth it. All three are confident of the answers. As with all trades in theory, it appears all three teams stand to win.

Who wins the most? Memphis. But it’s not because of Tayshaun.

Comments (33)

  1. “As a strategy, it’s hard to argue with.”

    Really? Downgrading doesn’t win championships, it’s a shame that Memphis is tearing apart its best chance to win a title ever to save money. In what universe is Tayshaun or Ed Davis even close to as good as Rudy or Randolph?

    • Ed’s really good. Seriously.

      • I’d say this is potentially a perfect example of buying low and selling high – Ed Davis is performing well because of injuries and being spoon fed by Calderon and others. Right now he is Hakim Warrick with one post move. I think his potential is somewhat limited by his size (both height and strength) and his polish is several years behind where it should be for a 23 y/o after 2 years of consistent minutes in the NBA (Derozan is younger). He gets up and down quick but otherwise lacks athletic dominance at this level. He’s Amir Johnson, and we already have one of those….

        All that said, it’s still possible Rudy Gay shits the bed bad enough (enigmatic) to make this an even trade.

        Detroit will love Calderon as he will spoon feed their young bigs on piles of buckets while losing little in return.

    • In what universe? The universe of PER, of which Hollinger is the Big Banger.

  2. “Gay’s contract is worryingly close to double the size it should be for a man of his impact. But the amount spent is only of importance if it prohibits future spending. The Raptors’s salary situation is sufficient that this should not be a factor going forward — as such, Gay’s contract, a big issue for Memphis, isn’t the same issue in Toronto. ”

    I’m not seeing how any of that is true. Gay’s contract handcuffs the Raps till summer 2015, even if they’re able to somehow unload Bargnani for an expiring. They’d still be capped out, with an ownership group that probably isn’t (and probably shouldn’t be) willing to pay deep into the luxury tax for a fringe playoff team. You can survive overpaying for a guy like Gay and surrounding him with a well put together team, unfortunately they’re surrounding him with guys like DD, Bargnani and Fields who are already comically overpaid.

    • That depends on your perceived value of cap space. If they were to theoretically have any, could Toronto’s cap space land them anyone better than Rudy Gay?

      • Also, while I completely agree with your last point, that reaffirms what the article states about the need for this trade to be taken in context. The current Raptors team as it stands post-trade isn’t going far, but perhaps for that reason, we shouldn’t assume this is the future. To deal in cliches for a minute, it’s part of a process.

        • I agree there are more moves to come, I’m just having a hard time imagining how they either significantly improve the roster or get out of the cap hell they’ve buried themselves in. Hope Colangelo proves me wrong there, but yeah, I wouldn’t count on that.

      • That doesn’t address what you wrote. You said the contract doesn’t prohibit future spending, which it absolutely does.

        As far as Gay, I don’t see how that question is particularly relevant. Cap space isn’t only a commodity on the free agent market. Max room=/=signing a max player, but it does mean a whole lot of potential avenues to acquire assets, assets that don’t lock you into a thoroughly mediocre roster for two and a half seasons the way Gay does.

        • If Toronto can use their MLE in perpetuity and will pay the tax should they fashion a decent competitor, even with Gay in the mix, what future spending is prohibited?

          I do get the value of cap space, which is why I laud Detroit for maximising it. I just think Gay is better than having it.

          • I don’t know the actual details but there are several MLEs now depending on a team’s financial position (below-cap, above but no tax and tax payer) that change how much can be spent on MLE and on other roster moves so yes, his contract does matter.

            In context it also matters because of Colangelo’s love of overpaying mid-tier (and worse) guys.

          • Even if ownership is willing to pay that kind of money, does a full MLE guy next year plus a mini MLE guy the following year turn this into a team that even competes for a first round home series? I really don’t think so, especially considering that anyone who signs for that kind of money has to be passed up on by the legit contenders before they even consider the Raptors.

        • And that’s been one of the most frustrating things about Colangelo, his overpaying of mid-tier (or worse) guys.

          If he hadn’t extended DD then this trade would be much more palatable and without a committment to DD, they could slot in Ross at the 2 which i think is a much better pairing with Gay.

          I also don’t buy some of the defense of this trade of “at the beginning of the year, Raps could never get Gay for Calderon and Ed”. While that’s likely true, Gay’s been not good this year and Ed’s shown a ton of improvement, variable change.

          Gay is a major improvement at SF but his contract does matter, its almost Amar’e-level bad. Couple it with the other overpaid guys on the roster, Colangelo’s got a lot of work to do.

  3. Agree on all accounts, Sham. One thing about Detroit though, I wonder what Dumars will do this time with the cap space. For their fan’s sake, I hope he doesn’t wind up resorting to overpaying Reddick or Martin or players like that.

  4. NIce piece, Mark. Much more even-handed, dare I say sober (not fair of me to assume you are sober while you work, granted) analysis than some of the “Colangelo is an idiot” articles that I’m seeing, even though BC has generally put on a show of mass incompetence during his reign of terror in TO.

    I’m a huge Raps fan and I really like Ed Davis, but Ed is a more replaceable player at his position. I also think people are downplaying his weaknesses. His rebounding has taken a bit of a nosedive since he started playing more minutes, and he hasn’t been able to guard his position at all. His jumper is improved, but it ain’t pretty and probably never will be. Solid player with some potential left, but pretty replaceable, especially with Amir around.

    I’ll be curious to see how they get rid of Bargs. I’m pretty sure DeMar’s contract is more moveable so I’m not as worried on that one.

  5. In the most respectful way possible, the editing of this blog is poor.

  6. I always thought that Rudy was hamstrung in Memphis. He can’t shoot all the time because he has two bigs that need the pill, but he can’t not shoot because they have no other wing scoring and he’s a natural gunner. I was hoping at some point he’d get a chance to be a high volume scorer, with a lane that won’t be clogged up by bigs…he’ll get that in Toronto…he shoots a pretty avg % from the perimeter but when there’s two bigs down low he is somewhat confined to shooting from deep….Which also makes it a little easier on his defender when you know he’ll more than likely be shooting an outside shot…In Toronto he’ll get a clearer lane….I think he’s going to be great for them…and realistically, is there a better player that the Raps actually have a chance at getting???

  7. Gay has fla, but you dont break up the core of a contending team. So, NO, memphisisnt a winner. It was cynical and a disservice to the , Im sure, frustrated griz locker room. Hollins made clear he didnt want him traded. So how is this good? Why now??? Why not wait?? So this is what hollinger brings to the table? well……..toronto was a big winner in this, unless someone thinks Ed Davis is actually starting caliber. (he’s not) Up until this year he was seen as a bust. He has improved, is a nice asset to be sure, but is her clearly better than Speights? no, not clearly. Id rate them close to even, but Davis has perhaps more upside. Slightly. All told its amateur night in memphis.

    • Couldn’t agree more with this statement…I don’t see how Memphis can think they became a better basketball team after this trade. And I just don’t understand all the people crying “No not Ed Davis” as if he was anything other than a fringe role player.

    • @stepxx,

      that is exactly the point Kenny Smith made yesterday about the Griz – why not wait till the summer to trade Gay….use this team and make your run!

      I really believe the Raps bought low and sold high on this one!

  8. I think that only win is not important but your alertness is very important as well as your position.

  9. I really feel bad for all you Raptors fans out there. You traded your best (Calderon) and second best (Davis) players for an average player (Gay) who is extremely overpaid.
    Not only are you going to lose more games than had you done nothing but you are also losing salary flexibility. Just horrible.
    I think Detroit is a short term winner, Memphis a long term winner, and Toronto an all around loser. If they would have gotten Randolph it would be a different story!

    • Best and second best? That is debateable

      • Debatable, I’d call it laughable

        • guys,
          i based this on the wagesofwins. they use wins produced, while not a perfect metric, it is the best measurement of a player’s production i’ve seen. you can research their methodology at their website. year after year their wins produced stat replicates player performance as it relates to wins at a higher than 90% accuracy. let me just say again, it is not a perfect tool but i believe it’s better than the others out there (i.e. PER which over-values points scored)…
          maybe rudy gay will play better with the raptors, i certainly hope so, but hope is not a strategy as the saying goes.
          and yes, i agree it’s debatable who their top two players are. kyle lowry if healthy can be an excellent point guard and mitigate calderon’s loss…

    • @carlherrera

      …..and we should believe in and except your evaluation based on…..?????

      • guys,
        i based this on basketballreference and the wagesofwins. they use wins produced, while not a perfect metric, it is by far the best measurement of a player’s production. you can research their methodology at their website. year after year their wins produced stat replicates player performance as it relates to wins at a higher than 90% accuracy. let me just say again, it is not a perfect tool but i believe it’s better than the others i’ve seen…
        maybe rudy gay will play better with the raptors, i certainly hope so, but hope is not a strategy as the saying goes.
        and yes, i agree it’s debatable who their top two players are. kyle lowry if healthy can be an excellent point guard and mitigate calderon’s loss…

  10. try third and fourth best. This sudden love for ed davis is weird. At best he is a promising project. And calderon is awful on defense. He has value, but limititations, too. The thing is, why do it now? You hurt memphis no matter your opinion on Gay. I think many undervalue him, but either way, its bush league to do it now.

  11. Did anybody see the TNT half time show on the GS Warriors vs Mavs game!?

    They spoke briefly about the trade – they all agreed that Memphis is worse off now, they talked about them being out of the top 6-7 best teams now that Rudy is gone – Gay allowed others to score by his presence alone and Barkey thinks the Raps will now grab that 8th play-off spot!….Encouraging, yes!??!

    • I mean, it’s encouraging if you think the TNT half-time show knows anything about basketball. Honestly, with those guys it’s amateur hour.

      Grizz were going to have to trade 1 of randolph, gay, conley or gasol. Together they were taking up such a huge percentage of the cap that it was going to become impossible to have a team around them. And if you have to pick one of those 4, you pick rudy gay in a heartbeat. It sucks if you’re a grizz fan, but they HAD to do this, and they got a good haul. Trade rumours were circling long before Hollinger arrived on the scene. Everyone and their mom knows how badly Rudy is overpaid.

  12. Memphis: I think people underestimate how good Conley-Allen-Prince will look on D… Still, I hope for them they’re not totally done dealing (although I don’t see what they can send out), because yes, they do need some perimeter scoring, except if they believe Bayless in gonna go for 15 a night. Ed Davis? Yeah, sure, he’s pretty good.

    Toronto: Yes, Gay is overpaid, but I’m pretty sure Randolph wouldn’t have signed with the Grizz if they didn’t already have a “fringe all-star” player, and Gasol wasn’t that at the time. The only way for less prized markets to lure free-agents (be it via signing or trading and re-signing) is to have marketable names, and Perk proved with his tweet Gay still has loads of respect around the league. They HAVE to trade Bargs and DD, but it’s doable. You may not get a lot for Bargs, but if you ship DD in the same trade, it sweetens the deal (there’s probably still plenty of GMs who think he has potential). Multi-team necessary, ‘tho

    Detroit: they win. Not much to add to what was said, although people who envision Calderon throwing tons of alley-oops to Drummond shouldn’t get their hopes up, because I don’t think Mr. Unspectacular has that in him.

  13. Grizzlies are 13-1 since the All-Star break after winning 14 out of 15. Barkley said the Raps had no chance of the playoffs and blind Kenny Smith was convinced the Raptors landed a star. For a diehard who told othes we shouldn’t trade him in 2010, I soon joined fans who had enough of Rudy’s poor body language, shot selection, ball handlig, and selfishness we do mot miss him. Rudy was not a fan favorite for most fans and he had worn out his welcome. We are much better with Conley, Allen, Prince, Randolph, Gasol with a dangerous bench featuring Tony Wroten, Jerryd Bayless, Quincy Poindexter, and Ed Davis. The Grizzlies are clearly the short and log term winners in this deal. I am not bashing Raptors fans, but if you put your hopes in Rudy Gay you will be terribly disappointed in the end.

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