Mike Conley, Jose Calderon

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.

Dave Joerger: Kings will play more small ball

Sacramento Kings head coach Dave Joerger talks to reporters during the Kings basketball media day Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Sacramento, Calif. Joerger, who was fired by the Memphis Grizzlies at the end of last season, was hired by Kings to replace George Karl, who was fired by the Kings.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
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Shortly after the Kings chose center Georgios Papagiannis with the No. 13 pick in the draft, DeMarcus Cousins tweeted, “Lord give me the strength.” Sacramento already had an abundance of centers with Cousins, Willie Cauley-Stein and Kosta Koufos. If Cousins wasn’t talking about yoga, Sacramento adding center Skal Labissiere with the No. 28 pick would’ve driven Cousins batty.

At least Kings coach Dave Joerger is accustomed to using two bigs, as he did with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in Memphis.

Joerger, via Cowbell Kingdom:

I anticipate us playing a lot more small ball this year.

I’m not playing big.

Oh.

This is going to lead to some unhappy campers in Sacramento. It won’t be Cousins (not for getting his role reduced, at least). But this will make it hard for Cauley-Stein and Koufos to get satisfactory playing time. It’ll also make it harder for Papagiannis and Labissiere to get minutes to develop.

Like with most things, winning is the best way to quash griping. The Kings have enough wings – Rudy Gay, Matt Barnes, Arron Afflalo, Omri Casspi, Ben McLemore, Garrett Temple and Malachi Richardson – to theoretically play small effectively. If Joerger goes that route, he better find success with it. Otherwise, he could get plenty of heat – including from general manager Vlade Divac, who spoke incredibly highly of his first-round picks, the players most likely to get squeezed out of a small-ball rotation.

Dwane Casey: Jared Sullinger has Raptors’ starting PF job to lose

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 05: Jared Sullinger #7 of the Boston Celtics drives to the basket against Patrick Patterson #54 of the Toronto Raptors in the first half at TD Garden on November 5, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
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Last year, Patrick Patterson declared the Raptors’ starting power-forward job his to lose.

Well, he lost it.

Luis Scola started most of the regular season before Toronto tinkered in the playoffs. Patterson claimed the job. Then, the Raptors turned to DeMarre Carroll with Norman Powel in a small-ball lineup. Finally, Toronto reverted back to Scola.

A year later, there’s still no clear, great option at the position. Scola went to the Nets. Patterson returns. Pascal Siakam and Jarrod Uthoff are rookies. First man up: Newly signed Jared Sullinger.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey, via Doug Smith of the Toronto Star:

“I would say Sullinger is the guy now that it would be his to lose, but I reserve the right to change my mind,” Casey said, citing the need to see how that group reacts defensively.

If Sullinger’s bar is defensive, he’ll have a tough time clearing it. He neither protects the rim nor moves well on the perimeter – making him similar to Scola. But Scola got the job last year with similar contributions.

Sullinger rebounds well, and he has some shooting range, though he hasn’t been selective enough with it.

Patterson’s ability to defend the pick-and-roll might make him a better fit next to Jonas Valanciunas, especially if Patterson has confidence in his 3-point shot.

There should be a place for Sullinger in the rotation, but if he’s starting at power forward, that speaks to a lack of quality options.

Report: Cavaliers giving championship rings to 1,000+ workers

CLEVELAND, OH -  JUNE 20: The Cleveland Cavaliers mascot Moon Dog cheers on the fans prior to the arrival of the Cavs players return to Cleveland after wining the NBA Championships on June 20, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Cavaliers will reportedly give David Blatt a championship ring, and Anderson Varejao also has one available.

They aren’t the only two unexpected ring recipients.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Majority owner Dan Gilbert and his partners decided to present rings to more than 1,000 full and part-time employees throughout the Cavaliers and Quicken Loans Arena organization, employees who’ve been fitted for rings told cleveland.com.

A conservative cost for distributing rings to employees is more than $1 million.

This is very cool by Gilbert. Obviously, lower-level team employees won’t receive the same blinged-out rings the players get. But this is a nice way to reward their hard work.

Not to go all Jerry Krause, but organizations win championships. Some pieces – LeBron James – matter much more than others, but everyone plays a part. Security guards keep players safe, preventing a dreadful incident that could derail a playoff run. Public-relations staffers ease the burden on players. Ushers improve the fan experience, which increases revenue and helps Gilbert afford a massive luxury-tax bill.

It all adds up, as Gilbert clearly recognizes.

Mike D’Antoni: Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony rejected my system, but new (old) approach with James Harden

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 20:  Head coach Mike D'Antoni of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates with Kkobe Bryant #24 and Pau Gasol #16 after the game against the Brooklyn Nets at Staples Center on November 20, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers won 95-90.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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I can’t understate how revolutionary Mike D’Antoni’s offense looked with the Suns. In his first full season, 2004-05, they scored 110.4 points per game – the most anyone had scored in a decade. And it wasn’t even close. Phoenix played fast and scored efficiently.

That offense eventually got D’Antoni jobs in the NBA’s biggest markets and with two of the league’s best scorers, Carmelo Anthony (Knicks) and Kobe Bryant (Lakers).

Ian Thomsen of NBA.com:

But his coaching relationships with Anthony and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles did not turn out so well. The last two stars essentially rejected his system.

“They did,” acknowledged D’Antoni. “And they were paid 20-something million dollars for it — they were successful. So I don’t blame them. Nothing’s been proven up to that point.”

The Warriors had yet to show that D’Antoni’s offense could thrive in late May and June.

“They’re thinking, like, he’s crazy,” D’Antoni said of Anthony and Bryant. “So I don’t blame them at all. This is a much better situation.”

With the Knicks and Lakers, D’Antoni edged back from his own offensive principles in part because he wasn’t sure, either. He was in a lonely place as the proponent of a style that was rejected by NBA fundamentalists. In New York and L.A., D’Antoni lacked the proof that would be provided years later by the Warriors of Kerr, who when serving as GM of the Suns had himself objected to D’Antoni’s point of view. The inventor didn’t believe fully in his own invention.

“I wasn’t that confident,” D’Antoni insisted. “It was a little bit before analytics. Everybody was telling us that we couldn’t do it, no one was telling us we could. Analytics came in and said, hey, you can do this — this is good, actually. So now you’ve got (GM) Daryl Morey with the Rockets and how they play and different teams trying to do it, and now it’s kind of caught on.

This bucks the narrative that D’Antoni’s offense can’t work with a score-first star. If D’Antoni compromised his scheme for Kobe and Melo, we haven’t yet seen it full bore with a player like that.

We will this season in Houston, where D’Antoni has turned score-first James Harden into the Rockets’ point guard.

As D’Antoni said, it’ll be easier to sell his scheme now that it has been proven to work. But as other teams adopt elements of it, he’ll have less of a strategic advantage.

The best coaches have revolutionary ideas AND get their players to buy into them. D’Antoni’s methods are no longer as cutting-edge, but he’ll have an easier time selling his players. That’s a justifiable knock on D’Antoni’s overall coaching prowess, but he still brings positives.

We’ve seen D’Antoni’s system at full throttle, and we’ve seen him coach generational scorers. To get both simultaneously will be a fun experiment in Houston this year.