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.

Report: Lakers have no plans to replace Magic Johnson, who’ll still help team recruit FAs

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Magic Johnson’s stunning resignation as Lakers president caused a commotion.

It didn’t create a power vacuum.

Rob Pelinka is clearly in charge. He’s the highest-ranking member of the front office. His title – general manager – is the one many teams give to the leader of their basketball operations. He’s running the Lakers’ coaching search.

Though they’ve been linked to big-name candidates for president, the Lakers could easily keep the status quo with Pelinka running the show. And it sounds as if that’s what Lakers owner Jeanie Buss will do.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times:

Buss has no plans to hire someone to replace Johnson, who is still expected to be part of the Lakers’ free-agent recruiting this summer.

Allowing Pelinka to hire a head coach – which, again, he’s in the process of doing – then supplanting him would be absurd. At least it seems the Lakers aren’t doing that.

But Pelinka was part of the organization while it made a comedy of errors. The former agent also had front-office experience until getting hired with Johnson a couple years ago. It’s hard to believe he’s the right choice to lead the team as it enters this critical stage.

LeBron James is 34. The Lakers will have max cap space this summer. Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart are progressing toward establishing clearer value – one way or the other.

To entrust Pelinka in this situation, Buss ought to have a clear explanation for why Pelinka doesn’t deserve a fair share of blame for all the mistakes that occurred the last couple years. There are plenty of people, inside and outside the Lakers, who question him.

The wildest part about this report: Johnson still helping the Lakers recruit this summer. He’s an all-time great player and charismatic. But he also just said while resigning:

What I didn’t like is the backstabbing, the whispering. I don’t like that. I don’t like a lot of things that went on that didn’t have to go on.

How will he sell that to free agents – especially if Pelinka, suspected to be whom Johnson is referring to, remains in charge?

Russell Westbrook goes from ‘Next question’ to ‘That’s a good question. Not sure’ (video)

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Russell Westbrook can be a pain.

Pain to his opponents. Pain to his teammates. Pain to the media.

Sometimes, it seems Westbrook even takes pride in being a jerk. Which is fine. His cutthroat attitude is part of who he is, and it has gotten him a long way.

Lately, Westbrook has clashed with Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman. For months, Westbrook has answered all Tramel’s questions with, “Next question.” Yet, Tramel keeps asking them – as he should. Westbrook has earned control over a lot of things. Tramel shouldn’t cede control of his job to Westbrook.

The back-and-forth has gotten increased prominence during the playoffs, when postgame press conferences are nationally televised. Both sides have found plenty of support. Westbrook’s fans love that his intensity never relents. Many also respect Tramel’s professionalism.

Four years ago, Westbrook infamously told Tramel, “I just don’t like you.” Westbrook got into it with Tramel again two years ago. But Tramel continues to cover the Thunder the best he can.

Likewise, Westbrook is trying to lead Oklahoma City the best he can. That means picking battles, even small ones like this, and pushing himself to win them all.

But after the Thunder’s Game 4 loss to the Trail Blazers last night, Westbrook finally gave an inch. But just an inch.

Tramel asked how the Thunder’s defense of Damian Lillard changed from the first half to the second half.

“That’s a good question,” Westbrook said. “Not sure.”

Tramel asked about the lessons learned about overcoming a 3-1 deficit to the Grizzlies in the 2014 playoffs. (Oklahoma City trailed 2-1 and 3-2 in that series, but never 3-1).

“Really don’t know,” Westbrook said.

For Westbrook, those answers were a huge breakthrough. They surprised everyone, even Tramel. Just a few days ago, the columnist predicted Westbrook wouldn’t change his two-word answers anytime soon: “He’s not going to give in this playoff series.”

Maybe this means the series is over.

Raptors coach Nick Nurse leaves mouth agape a loooong time after odd call (video)

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The Raptors got called for an extremely quick three-second violation during their Game 4 win over the Magic yesterday.

Toronto coach Nick Nurse couldn’t believe it.

Really couldn’t believe it.

Just couldn’t believe it one bit.

Bucks on brink of first playoff series win in 18 years

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — The Milwaukee Bucks can wipe away 18 years of frustration on Monday night.

They haven’t won a playoff series since the 2000-01 season, when they reached the Eastern Conference finals. That drought can end in Detroit if they complete a sweep of the Pistons.

The top-seeded Milwaukee cruised through the first three games, winning by an average of 24 points. If they lose in Game 4, the Bucks would have three more chances in the best-of-seven series to end their streak of eight straight first-round exits. The earlier the Bucks eliminate eighth-seeded Detroit, the more time they’ll have to prepare for the conference semifinals.

“It’s going to be nice if we can finish it here and get six days of rest,” superstar forward Giannis Antetokounmpo said.

In Game 3 on Saturday, Antetokounmpo had a quiet night and the Bucks still led by double digits most of the way. Antetokounmpo finished with 14 points, three assists and four turnovers and only played 27 minutes due to foul trouble. The Pistons couldn’t take advantage of his off night, though, as Milwaukee had six other players in double figures in its 119-103 victory.

“It’s good to see my team doing really well out there without me,” he said. “It means a lot to me. There’s going to be nights like this. My teammates did a great job of picking me up.”

The Bucks were up 13 points when Antetokounmpo sat early in the third quarter after getting whistled for his fourth foul. When he re-entered late in the quarter, they were leading by 22 points.

“It’s something we’ve been trying to build all year,” coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We’re a team that plays together, tries to take what the defense gives us. Guys have a lot of confidence to make plays. It’s not just all about Giannis, as amazing and great as he is. If and when we need more from other people, it’s a credit to Giannis to let his teammates carry him some nights, carry him some stretches.”

The Bucks will try match their regular-season feat against the Pistons. Their four-game sweep was the first by either team in the all-time series. They have met in the postseason four other times, with Detroit winning each time.

“We might be the number one seed and best team in the NBA (record-wise) but at the end of the day, we haven’t won a playoff series in a while,” Antetokounmpo said. “We’re hungry, everybody’s hungry.”

The Pistons’ best player, power forward Blake Griffin, made his debut in the series after sitting out the first two games with a sore left knee. Griffin toughed it out for 31 minutes and posted 27 points, seven rebounds and six assists. His teammates let him down, as Detroit shot below 40 percent for the third straight game.

“That young man is giving us everything he has,” coach Dwane Casey said. “He said he was feeling good. I was concerned about his conditioning with as much time as he’s missed. You can’t really simulate 5-on-5 basketball when you’re rehabbing. But he came in and gave us what he could. He just has a presence that we can’t replicate.”

The Pistons haven’t shown enough of a defensive presence against a team that averaged a league-high 118.1 points.

“We had some situations where we make a mistake or miss a shot, now we go down to the defensive end and don’t carry out our assignments,” Casey said. “That’s part of growth. That’s a team that makes you pay for mistakes that you make.”