The Extra Pass: Grading the Rudy Gay Trade

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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 the three-way deal between Memphis, Toronto and Detroit. 

Trades born from necessity are often the most interesting to evaluate. Usually the need to deal is lopsided — think Denver having to trade Carmelo Anthony or Orlando trading Dwight Howard — but the need to make this blockbuster trade was shared by both Memphis and Toronto.

The Grizzlies simply had to get under the cap for the future, and the Raptors had to cash in on Jose Calderon’s expiring deal before it was too late. As for the Pistons? They took the enviable position of third wheel, which is usually the best way to score value in a trade.

So how did they do? Let’s hand out grades for each team in this deal.

Memphis Grizzlies:

Sent: Rudy Gay and Hamed Haddadi to Toronto

Acquired: Ed Davis, Tayshaun Prince, Austin Daye and a 2013 second-round draft pick

Memphis wasn’t supposed to have any leverage, but their haul in this deal certainly doesn’t reflect that. By swapping Gay with Prince, the Grizzlies effectively accomplished everything they wanted to accomplish. Prince isn’t as talented as Gay, but the gap in actual production (especially defensively) isn’t so overwhelming as to make you believe the Grizzlies are significantly less capable of contending than they were before.

Perhaps more importantly, Prince will make roughly $22 million less than Gay in future salary, which saves Memphis from the luxury tax hell they were bound for if they didn’t break up their core.

All that is enough to make the trade sensible, but getting Ed Davis makes it a steal. Promising, productive young big men on rookie contracts are some of the most valuable assets in basketball, and acquiring Davis allows for even more future flexibility as well. If for some reason Memphis wants to rip the band-aid off all at once and trade Zach Randolph, Davis and Arthur would be more than capable substitutes at the 4.

As is, Memphis actually managed to get stronger up front and cut salary in their two deals, as they now sport the league’s best big man rotation with Randolph-Gasol-Arthur-Davis.

The downside may be that it’s not popular in the locker room, but the inevitability of it all might make it easier for the players to understand. Again, it’s not like any white flags are being waved here. Prince might make them even better defensively, and the Grizzlies are 29-15 with Gay shooting 40 percent from the field and having a below average PER (14.4) this season. This isn’t an isolated example — Memphis made their deepest playoff run in 2010-11 without Gay’s services. It’s not unfair to ask how much he was really worth to Memphis on the floor. The answer to that, apparently, was not worth the luxury tax.

Grade: A-

Toronto Raptors

Sent: Jose Calderon to Detroit, Ed Davis and 2013 second rounder to Memphis

Acquired: Rudy Gay and Hamed Haddadi

In a vacuum, Toronto did great here by trading a few months of Calderon for two and a half years of Rudy Gay. Is Gay overpaid in a general sense? Sure, but he’s not overpaid for Toronto. Kooky exchange rates aside, it’s important to remember that Toronto wasn’t slated to have any cap room this offseason or next. Even if they somehow did, would Toronto actually be able to land a better player than Gay at a more reasonable price tag in the always inflated free agent market?

With all that in mind, Gay is a nice acquisition. He has holes in his game, but he can score around the rim and he can use his athleticism to always get you a shot. There’s a value in that. Still, it’s not Gay’s skills that warrant questioning, but rather the fit with his new teammates in Toronto. DeMar DeRozan, who is the other player locked in with Gay long-term for the Raptors, is another wing player who loves to post up just like Gay does. Can an offense survive with two sub-par 3-point shooting wings who prefer to work from the free throw line down? Kyle Lowry is a very good scoring guard, but is he content with consistently feeding DeRozan and Gay post-up opportunities while Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson just try to stay out of the way? And what does this mean for Andrea Bargnani — a player who only has value when he has the ball in his hands? Dwane Casey is a good coach, but he’ll have his hands full trying to craft an offense that will have any spacing or ball movement whatsoever.

These are legitimate issues, but perhaps the most troubling is the burying of rookie Terrence Ross. He’s displayed insane athleticism and a pretty good outside shot in his time this season, but now he’ll have to fight with Fields and Alan Anderson for scraps instead of getting the time he needs to develop into a franchise building block. With DeRozan and Gay both locked in on the wing, where is he supposed to go?

Gay is a good piece to have, but you know who else is a good piece to have? Ed Davis. Toronto may be trying hard to win now, but it feels like their front office just keeps compounding mistakes. Getting stuck with Fields, trading a high first-round pick for Lowry, acquiring Gay but losing Davis and forfeiting Ross’ minutes in the process — the more moves they make, the more the future gets sacrificed. That wouldn’t be the worst thing if Toronto had a potential championship team in place, but even the most optimistic evaluation of this team leaves them much, much shorter of that goal.

Grade: C+

Detroit Pistons

Sent: Tayshaun Prince, Austin Daye

Acquired: Jose Calderon

Say goodbye Pistons fans — the last member of the 2004 championship squad has been dealt. Prince had a very nice career in Detroit, but the rebuilding process has already started there with Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond and Brandon Knight. In that vein, it’s important to note that Calderon is a pure rental for Detroit, as the chances of him re-signing in Detroit are slim-to-none.

This is a simple cost-cutting move for Detroit, who will get Prince’s $14.9 million over two years off the books. The Pistons will now head into this year’s offseason with right around $32 million in salary, which theoretically makes them a big player in free agency for the first time since the Ben Gordon/Charlie Villanueva contract debacle.

It might make more sense for Detroit to sit out a year for a better free agency class in 2014, and go the Cleveland route next season by being a trading partner for cash-strapped teams looking to dump assets. Teams will be scurrying to avoid the punitive repeater tax that starts getting counted next year, so the timing for Detroit to clear space couldn’t be better, even if they can’t attract a big free agent.

The Pistons will miss Prince on the court, but more minutes for players who figure to be around for a bit like Kyle Singler and Jonas Jerebko isn’t the worst thing, even if they’re not as productive. As for Calderon’s addition this year, it’s probably worth it to move Brandon Knight to the bench for a 6th man role, somewhere he naturally belongs.

Giving Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond a taste of what it’s like to play with a real point guard will likely keep them happy for a few months, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Detroit makes a late push for the 8-seed. Regardless of that though, this trade sets Detroit up nicely going forward.

Grade: A

Rockets’ Patrick Beverley says players “disrespecting game” by resting when healthy

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Former Bulls guard turned agent and podcaster B.J. Armstrong said on our podcast last week that no, players didn’t have DNP-rest days back when he played — but he added that might well have been different if they had the information on injuries that today’s teams and players have. He said they got tired, they got banged up, and they played through it. You can call that tough, but it likely took time, maybe years, off their career.

Houston’s Patrick Beverley is from that old-school mentality and said players are disrespecting the game if they don’t get out there when healthy. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“I think that’s bulls—,” Beverley said after the Rockets’ 137-125 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday. “I think that’s a disgrace to this league. I think that fans deserve better.

“I could care less about coaches asking players to rest or not. It’s up to you to play or not, and if you don’t, you’re disrespecting the game. And I don’t believe in disrespecting the game, because there was a time where I wasn’t playing in the NBA and I was trying to get here. So me resting, I feel like, is disrespecting me, disrespecting the name on the front of the jersey and disrespecting the name on the back of the jersey.”

It’s the coaches and the organizations telling players to rest, it’s rarely the players themselves, and the teams are doing it because they want their guys at their peak come the playoffs. If the goal is winning a title in June (or at least going deep into May) then not wearing guys down matters.

Everyone has their opinions on it, Gregg Popovich did a good job trying to explain the nuances, but the simple fact is player rest games are not going away. They did it back in Armstrong’s day too, they just called a sore ankle or back rather than rest. What helps lessen games stars have off is building more rest and days off into the schedule, which the NBA is trying to do. But that’s a challenge that will continue to be discussed.

Three Things We Learned Sunday: Westbrook, Harden showdown leaves MVP race same as it ever was

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How many teams did you get right in your Final Four bracket? For the record, I have one (North Carolina). Which is why I was watching a lot more NBA on Sunday than NCAA (that and it’s my job). Here are the big takeaways from Sunday.

1) Russell Westbrook gets 36th triple-double. James Harden lifts Rockets victory. The MVP race is the same as it ever was. If you wanted to make a case for Russell Westbrook as MVP, he gave you reason on Sunday in a showdown with James Harden and the Rockets. Westbrook dropped his 36th triple-double of the season with 39 points, 11 rebounds, and 13 assists, and the Rockets could not stop him.

Harden put up numbers — 22 points on 15 shots, plus 12 assists — but his team got the win because he got help: 31 from Lou Williams, 24 from Trevor Ariza, and 24 from Eric Gordon. Williams had 18 points in the first half. As a team, the Rockets shot 63.3 percent overall and 51.3 percent from beyond the arc.

Harden has better teammates around him, but he is orchestrating them beautifully, he’s more efficient, and he’s lifting his team to higher heights. Westbrook is almost single-handedly carrying the Thunder offense by putting up historic numbers.

This game offered no clarity in the MVP race. In one of the closest, most interesting award races in years, your pick for MVP depends on how you want to define the award and its criteria. (And we’re not even getting into the legitimate case that can be made for Kawhi Leonard here. LeBron James is in the mix, too, although the recent stumbles of the Cavaliers may hurt his case.) We know where the Rockets organization stands.

Sunday’s Thunder/Rockets just an MVP showdown, it was a potential first round playoff matchup. On that front, the Rockets led by as many 25, and while the Rockets made a late push to get the lead down to single digits in the final couple minutes, but the Thunder couldn’t get stops, and the result was never really in doubt. It’s hard to see a playoff series going much differently, the Thunder just don’t defend well enough to slow Houston.

2) Celtics beat Heat, move into tie with Cavaliers for top record in the East. Boston just keeps on grinding, keeps on making enough plays, and keeps on winning. So much so that with a hard-fought win over the Heat on Sunday Boston finds itself tied with Cleveland for the top seed in the East (Boston has one more win, Cleveland has one fewer loss).

Boston may well finish on top, it has an easier schedule to close out the season. However, the big game — and what will determine who has the tiebreaker between the two — comes when the Celtics and Cavaliers play on April 5.

The Celtics got the win because they made crucial shots down the stretch, like this driving floater by Isaiah Thomas (who finished the night with 30 points).

Then Al Horford‘s block sealed the 112-108 victory.

For Miami, even with the loss they sit as the eight seed in the East, the final playoff spot, but Chicago is just half a game back, and the Pistons one game back. While the race could go any direction, the Bulls have the softest schedule the rest of the way of any of those three teams.

3) Blazers win, Nuggets lose, teams now tied for the eighth seed in the West. The race to be the team destroyed by the Golden State Warriors in the first round out West is heating up — Denver and Portland are now tied for the eight seed.

On Sunday, Denver had a sloppy loss at home as New Orleans came to town without DeMarcus Cousins, and yet Anthony Davis dropped 31 and the Pelicans won.

Portland got 22 from Damian Lillard and pulled away in the third quarter to beat the hapless Lakers, 97-81.

Denver and Portland play Tuesday night in what will be a huge game in that race.

Blazers beat Lakers 97-81, tie Denver for final spot in West

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Damian Lillard scored 22 points and the Portland Trail Blazers beat the Los Angeles Lakers 97-81 on Sunday night to pull even with Denver in the race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Both the Blazers and Nuggets are 35-38 with nine games left in the regular season. They play each other Tuesday in Portland.

Denver lost at home to the New Orleans Pelicans earlier Sunday night.

Portland took control by outscoring the Lakers 37-24 in the third quarter and led by as many as 26 points. Los Angeles shot 39 percent from the field and was outrebounded 61-42.

Allen Crabbe added 18 points off the bench for the Blazers, and Noah Vonleh grabbed 14 rebounds.

D'Angelo Russell led the Lakers with 22 points, and reserve Tyler Ennis scored 14.

Portland led 40-32 at the break after an unsightly half in which the teams took turns struggling from the field. At halftime, both were shooting exactly 32.6 percent.

The Lakers won their previous game against the Timberwolves but have won consecutive games only once since mid-November.

TIP-INS

Trail Blazers: Shot 62.4 percent against Minnesota on Saturday, their best mark since hitting 64.1 percent on March 12, 2003. Coming into Sunday, they had shot 50.6 percent over their last five games.

Lakers: Rookie forward Brandon Ingram, who started the previous 19 games and averaged 12.1 points on 48.4 percent shooting, did not play because of right patellar tendinitis. Said coach Luke Walton: “He was out there warming up and it’s not right.” Corey Brewer got his first start for the Lakers.

 

Watch Russell Westbrook drop a triple-double in epic battle with James Harden (VIDEO)

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HOUSTON (AP) Lou Williams scored 31 points off the bench, James Harden finished with 22 points and 12 assists, and the Houston Rockets never trailed while cruising to a 137-125 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday.

Russell Westbrook had 39 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists for his second straight triple-double and his 36th this season, but Harden led the Rockets to a 25-point lead through three quarters in the matchup between top MVP candidates.

Trevor Ariza and Eric Gordon added 24 points apiece for the Rockets, whose lead was trimmed to eight on a 3-pointer by Westbrook with about 90 seconds left. The Rockets scored four quick points after that to secure the victory.

Harden left late in the game after crashing into the court and appearing to injure his left wrist but said in a TV interview he expected to be OK.

Houston jumped out to a 9-0 lead and was up by at least 20 for most of the game. It was a stark change from the first three games between these teams this season, which were decided by a combined seven points.

Williams made 11 of 15 shots, going 7 of 8 on 3-pointers. He didn’t miss a shot until his layup was blocked by Jerami Grant early in the fourth quarter.

Houston won its fourth straight overall and has won nine of their past 12 games against the Thunder.

The Rockets shot 71 percent in the first half, and Harden made a layup before grabbing a rebound and hitting a 3-pointer at the buzzer to extend Houston’s lead to 113-88 entering the fourth quarter.

The Thunder chipped away with a 12-4 run midway through the fourth quarter to get within 126-114 with 4 minutes left. Williams hit a 3-pointer after that to slow down the Thunder the team’s late run.

The Rockets had a 16-point lead in the third quarter before they used a 13-4 run to make it 108-83 with about 90 seconds left in the quarter. Williams had two 3-pointers in that stretch and a highlight came when Houston stripped the ball from Westbrook and Harden dished to Ariza, who finished with another 3. The run wrapped up with an alley-oop dunk from Harden to Clint Capela, but Capela received a technical on the play for hanging on the rim.

Mike D’Antoni received a technical seconds later for arguing that call.

Houston had built a 79-59 lead by halftime thanks in part to nearly perfect 3-point shooting by Trevor Ariza and Williams. Ariza made four of five attempts and had 16 points at the break, and Williams was a perfect 6 for 6 overall, with four 3-pointers to pile up 18 points in the first two quarters.

TIP-INS

Thunder: Victor Oladipo finished with 15 points. … Steven Adams and Alex Abrines scored 11 points apiece.

Rockets: Houston’s 79 points were the most the team has scored in a half this season. … Sunday was the 12th time this season where the Rockets had 100 points before the fourth quarter. … Williams had at least 20 points off the bench for the 29th time this season.

ANDERSON’S HEALTH

Houston’s Ryan Anderson will miss about two weeks after spraining his right ankle on Friday night against the Pelicans. D’Antoni hopes Anderson will recover in time to play the last couple of regular-season games and be at full strength for the start of the playoffs.

UP NEXT

Thunder: Visit Dallas on Monday.

Rockets: Host Golden State on Tuesday.