The Extra Pass: Analyzing a potential Memphis-Toronto deal

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The Extra Pass is a new daily column that’s designed to give you a better look at a theme, team, player or scheme. Today, we analyze a potential deal between the Grizzlies and Raptors. 

The recent reports linking Rudy Gay to Toronto aren’t all that surprising. It’s no big secret around the league that Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo is in the market for a “star” player, and we can safely assume that Memphis wants to move Gay at some point to avoid the luxury tax going forward.

It’s a good match on the surface, but let’s dig a little deeper:

The motivation to deal

Toronto: Why is a young 16-29 team so anxious to acquire a B-level star on a huge contract? The answer has an awful lot to do with Jose Calderon.

Calderon is a really good player, but more importantly, his $10.5 million dollar expiring contract may be the best asset the Raptors have to lure a big name to Toronto. After having cap space last free agency and failing to land Steve Nash, the Raps were stuck footing the bill for Landry Fields ($6.25 million/3 years remaining). That sort of thing can’t happen again, but the good news is that it almost definitely can’t. DeMar DeRozan’s contract extension all but guarantees the Raptors won’t have the chance to strike out this offseason, as even without Calderon, they’ll have about $59 million dollars on the books next season.

With the avenue to improve in free agency pretty much closed, the only real way for the Raptors to acquire a “star” is via trade — especially since they no longer have their first round pick thanks to the Kyle Lowry trade. Colangelo has to know he screwed this up, and a trade involving Calderon or Lowry to bring back an asset may be his last chance at fixing the problem.

Memphis: 

The absolute most important thing to remember when considering a potential Rudy Gay trade ($16.4 million/3 years remaining) is that the Grizzlies aren’t looking to take on substantial future salary. They need to get under the luxury tax for the future, and with the Conley/Gay/Randolph/Gasol core, that’s going to be incredibly difficult to do.

Because they don’t want to add future salary, you can safely rule out Andrea Bargnani ($10 million/3 years remaining) and DeRozan ($9.5 million/4 years remaining) coming to Memphis in any two-team deal involving Gay. That robs us of the hilarity of “Grit and Grind” having to deal with Bargnani, but such is life.

From a salary matching perspective, that means Jose Calderon ($10.5 million/expiring) would almost have to be involved in any deal for Gay. The Raptors may be more interested in moving Kyle Lowry ($5.75 million/2 years remaining), but the Grizzlies would have to take on an undesirable mid-level contract or two to make that happen, which again, seems counter-intuitive to the whole point of trading Gay in the first place.

The pieces

That doesn’t leave Lowry completely out of the question, though.  He’d likely be a good fit as a scoring 6th man for the Grizzlies, but more importantly, his contract isn’t guaranteed next season. That means Memphis could shave about $5.2 million in salary if they waive him before July 15th. That’s likely pretty appealing, but a third team would almost certainly have to get involved if the Raptors decided to hang on to Calderon and deal Lowry instead.

Of course, it’s worth mentioning that the Grizzlies don’t really need a point guard with Mike Conley holding down the starting spot, so a question of positional depth comes into play. If Gay gets shipped out, who plays the 3 for the Grizzlies? Quincy Pondexter should be back from his knee injury soon, and D-League call-up Chris Johnson has been impressive thus far, but is that enough to head into the playoffs with? Would a guy like Raptors swingman Alan Anderson be enough to calm those concerns?

That’s just one of the many questions surrounding a potential deal that’s also rumored to include a swap of Grizzlies’ super-sub Darrell Arthur and promising young big man Ed Davis. Simply gathering cheap, productive assets like Davis while gaining tax relief may be enough for the Grizzlies to part with Gay, but it makes a potential trade more curious for Toronto, unless future draft picks are involved.

All that said, the motivation to make a deal is there with both teams — especially since Toronto doesn’t have the leverage most teams would hold over the Grizzlies. Calderon is an unrestricted free agent this offseason and is heading into the twilight of his career, so you have to figure he’ll want a chance at a ring elsewhere.  Toronto can’t afford to let him walk away for nothing, just like Memphis can’t afford to keep paying Gay. It’s a classic buyer-seller fit, even if a third team might be required to make the pieces match up.

Celtics’ Brad Stevens said early September tests will show if Thomas ready for camp

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Isaiah Thomas said he expects to be ready for the Celtics’ training camp next month. The guard’s All-NBA season came to an early end in the playoffs when he aggravated a labral tear in his right hip initially suffered back in March. At least the injury did not require surgery.

Players are also about the worst judges of when they will recover from an injury. They pretty much all think they are invincible and will be healthy faster than doctors predict.

Coaches tend to be more pragmatic. Take Boston’s Brad Stevens, who told Chris Mannix on The Vertical Podcast that tests in a couple of weeks will show if Thomas is ready for camp.

“He has another follow-up and another scan in the early part of September. Obviously, it’s been a lot of appropriate rest, a lot of rehab. There have been some good strides here certainly in the last month or few weeks, but we’re not going to know that until after that early September timeframe.”

The Celtics are understandably going to be cautious with Thomas, while Thomas wants to prove he is healthy and has no ill effects from the injury as he enters a contract year (one where he expects to get PAID). Also, the Celtics could use him in camp as they start to figure out how he and Gordon Hayward can share playmaking duties.

Still, from the outset, the timelines have suggested he should be ready for camp in late September. Coaches are just cautious on these things by nature.

Allen Iverson predicts LeBron James will win MVP

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LeBron James has four NBA MVP trophies in his case. (Does he keep that case in his home in Akron or the one in Los Angeles… that’s a question for another day.) Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six) and Michael Jordan (five) have more.

Could LeBron James add a fifth to his case this season?

Allen Iverson said yes at last weekend’s Big3 playoffs in Seattle.

LeBron was fourth in preseason odds to win the MVP at 15/2, behind Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard.

To me, LeBron could be a good bet. If/when Kyrie Irving is traded, the chances of LeBron getting the MVP go up. If LeBron puts up impressive numbers (again) and leads a depleted Cavaliers team to a top two seed in the East, he is certainly going to be in consideration. And should be.

It’s a long season, and personally, I think you need to get midway through the season before seriously considering the year-end awards. But history says LeBron will be in the mix, and Allen Iverson could be proven prophetic.

Phoenix Suns with quality solar eclipse joke on Twitter

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With the cooler-than-I-expected solar eclipse on Monday came a lot of bad solar eclipse jokes on Twitter. Because that’s what Twitter does. Especially the NBA Twitterverse. We knew a lot of “where on the flat earth will Kyrie Irving watch the eclipse?” jokes were coming.

There were a couple of good ones, however.

Appropriately, the Phoenix Suns won the day.

One personal favorite here, an old meme that never goes out of style.

Report: Other small-market teams championing Pacers’ tampering allegation against Lakers

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The NBA, at the Pacers’ request, is investigating whether the Lakers tampered by making impressible contact with Paul George.

Bob Kravitz of WTHR

In fact, there’s word that other small- and mid-market team officials have reached out to the Pacers and told them, “Good for you. Fight the good fight.”

Small-market teams whine too much about the disadvantages they face, but tampering isn’t really a market-size issue. Remember, under Mitch Kupchak, the Lakers were known as the only team that didn’t tamper.

The Lakers have advantages because George is from the area, and Los Angeles offers immense marketability. That’d be true whether or not they contacted George or his agent before he officially became a free agent.

I understand the desire to take down the big, bad Lakers – especially now that they appear poised to become truly big and bad again. But it’s hard to find a team that can cast a stone at them from anywhere other than a glass house.