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

Celtics’ Gordon Hayward says he’s open to returning this season

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BOSTON (AP) — Celtics guard Gordon Hayward says he is open to playing this season, but says it will depend on how fast he is able to heal and show progress as he works his way back from a broken left ankle.

Hayward was at TD Garden on Friday for Boston’s matchup with the Utah Jazz, the team he left this past summer in free agency after seven seasons to sign a four-year, $128 million contract with the Celtics. He was injured in Boston’s season opener at Cleveland.

Wednesday marked a milestone in Hayward’s recovery process, when he was able to shed the walking boot he’s been using since his surgery in October. He will continue to wear a protective brace during the rehab process.

He said he doesn’t know how long he will have to wear the brace. But he said he is now allowed to do some shooting and begin working more on mobility.

 

Russell Westbrook triple-double keys OKC in 3OT thriller vs 76ers

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Russell Westbrook had 27 points, 17 rebounds and 15 assists, and Oklahoma City and the Philadelphia 76ers went basket-for-basket in a three-overtime thriller before the Thunder pulled out a 119-117 victory on Friday night.

Andre Roberson scored the winner with 10 seconds left for the Thunder. But one of the early contenders for NBA game of the year belonged to Joel Embiid and Westbrook as they drove, blocked and rebounded their way toward one big play after another.

Embiid scored 34 points in 48 minutes with an achy back and rallied the Sixers from a 17-point hole.

Embiid, Philly’s franchise center and social media star, grabbed his lower back when he took a hard foul on a drive to the basket in the fourth quarter. Embiid grimaced during timeouts on the bench and trudged into position a few times.

Embiid sucked it up and carried the Sixers in the fourth and the first overtime. His feed to a charging Ben Simmons on the baseline for a two-handed dunk tied the score at 94-all with 53 seconds left in the quarter. The Sixers closed the fourth on an 11-0 run.

Embiid scored the first bucket of OT and the Sixers led for the first time in the game. The Sixers’ five-point lead with 1:20 left in overtime was wiped out on Paul George‘s 3-pointer and a Westbrook bucket that made it 102-all. The Sixers blew their final possession on an ill-conceived 3 for Dario Saric.

Round 2 was just as fun.

Westbrook and Robert Covington exchanged 3s and George tied it at 109 on a driving layup. Westbrook and Embiid swapped buckets that kept it even and the Sixers had one more chance to win it with 1.2 seconds to go in the second OT.

Embiid and Westbrook combined to score eight straight points in the third overtime, and Embiid even waved goodbye as the crowd went wild when Steve Adams fouled out of the game.

But Embiid seemed gassed at the end and there’s no telling how the heavy workload may affect his availability the rest of the week.

The Sixers were featured on ESPN on Friday as part of Philadelphia All Access, and Sixers’ related content was aired throughout the day on all platforms.

“I’m not a fan,” coach Brett Brown said. “I like living behind closed doors.”

But Brown understood the exposure would help build the brand and serve as a recruiting pitch of sorts to any free agents intrigued about becoming part of The Process. The Sixers put on a show in the fourth until Embiid gave them a scare.

Embiid’s health woes have dogged him since his college career at Kansas and every slip, ache or bump throws Sixers fans into a panic. Embiid has been banged-up lately but he calmly went to the line and made both free throws. He fell again when he tripped over Adams, who earned a foul, and sank two more free throws to make it 78-72.

 

After Thunder win, Russell Westbrook trolls Joel Embiid, waves goodbye, tells him to “go home”

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Joel Embiid was making friends all over the court on Friday night.

First, he got into a jawing match with Carmelo Anthony. Also during the first overtime, Embiid blocked Russell Westbrook‘s driving attempt at a game winner.

After the Thunder won in triple overtime, Westbrook trolled Embiid by waving goodbye to the Sixers’ center, who was yelling back at him.

When asked about it, Westbrook said Embiid was talking a lot so he told the Sixers center to go home.

That can have some serious connotations — Embiid was born in Cameroon. Westbrook may have meant “go to the locker room” or “go to where you live,” but considering Embiid is an immigrant it comes off very poorly for Westbrook.

Embiid threw a little fire back at Westbrook.

The league office is going to be looking into this one.

DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t expect Pelicans to trade him at the deadline

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The New Orleans Pelicans have a decision to make as they approach the trade deadline: Do they think they can re-sign DeMarcus Cousins next summer to stay in the Big Easy with Anthony Davis?

If the answer is no, then they have to consider trading Cousins at the deadline to at least get something back. There is a lot of context, however, that makes this seeming binary trade/keep decision far more complicated.

Cousins himself doesn’t think he is going anywhere, as he told Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated.

While the Pelicans have a lot to consider with the unrestricted free agent, Cousins says he is confident that he will still be playing for New Orleans after the Feb. 8 trade deadline.

“I am confident in my team,” Cousins said. “I am starting to understand this business a lot more than I did before. You can kind of tell when things are about to come about. We’re a very competitive team. A talented team. I don’t think that will be the case at all….

“A.D. hits me with little jabs about free agency all the time, but he also understands,” Cousins said. “It was Jrue in that situation last [offseason], and we understood his situation. Of course, they throw their little jabs. They throw their little jokes. But they are serious at the same time. They are respectful about it at the same time.

The Pelicans are 15-14 and the seven seed in the West entering Friday night’s games, and if New Orleans has a shot at the playoffs come the deadline there is no way he gets moved. Ownership and management want a playoff appearance. They have greenlit adding one of the game’s top centers (Cousins) to go next to Davis, and last summer they paid big to keep Jrue Holiday at the point in New Orleans. If the Pelicans don’t make the playoffs (and possibly even if they do squeak in and get swept out in an ugly fashion), everyone in the organization expects a housecleaning. They have been on edge all season. With jobs on the line, they are not trading Cousins and getting worse short term even if you could argue it was the right basketball move long term.

Will Cousins re-sign with the Pelicans next summer? That will be about the money — what the Pelicans offer, and what other teams will offer in what is expected to be a tight free agent market, especially for centers.  DeAndre Jordan will be on the market as well, not to mention second-tier guys who will be more affordable for teams such as Brook Lopez. In that market, Cousins may want to stay where he likes his teammates and seems happy.

But first he has to get past the trade deadline.