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

Chris Paul says players don’t really talk about money in locker room

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Locker room banter flies all over the conversational map: Clubs/restaurants to first cars to rappers to Fortnite to why Player X never has any lotion and always has to borrow someone else’s.

What doesn’t come up? Money.

That according to Chris Paul, who should know after 14 years in the league and now serving as the players’ union president. He was talking about his campaign to help players become more financially aware and said this to Clevis Murray of The Athletic.

“I think the reason why I’m so passionate about this is because I’m finishing up my 14th year in the NBA, and I’ve been around long enough to realize that guys in our league, we talk about everything in the locker room except for finance, except for money,” he said. “Nobody talks about money, because it’s one of those uncomfortable things.”

It’s a strange dynamic in an NBA locker room because everybody knows what everybody else makes, it’s very public, and that provides a certain measuring stick of worth.

Yet how does one player tell another “man, your entourage is too big, you’re blowing your money.” Players finally making money understandably want to take care of family and close friends, but other people come into their life and things can spiral fast. CP3 says he gets it, and he is working with Joe Smith — who made $60 million in NBA earnings and lost all of it — to help prepare rookies.

The stories of NBA players blowing through their money absolutely happen, but they also are not the majority, and the numbers are shrinking. More and more players are learning to be smarter with their money and set themselves up on some level for life after basketball. Not all, but guys who stick in the league a few years tend to learn. If Paul and the union can come up with ways to reach players at an earlier age and prepare them for what is to come, all the better.

Bobby Portis says watch out for underrated Knicks, they could make playoffs

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You don’t want a player on your team that heads into the season thinking, “we suck, I just hope we can get to 20 wins and not be embarrassed every night.” Even if that might be the reality for that roster.

Enter Bobby Portis of the New York Knicks. The Wizards let him walk to save money and he has ended up on a Knicks team with a lot of guys who see themselves as underrated: Elfrid Payton, Marcus Morris, and Julius Randle. Plus New York has young players with a lot to prove — especially after Summer League — in Kevin Knox, R.J. Barrett, and Mitchell Robinson.

Portis likes this underdog team, he told Alex Kennedy of Hoopshype.

I love being underrated, man. I’m an underdog. I say that every day. We’re the team that’s being counted out right now. People are looking past us. They’re talking about stars going to new teams and this and that, and that’s okay. Everybody on this team has a huge chip on their shoulder. We’re the guys who are always picked second. I think that’s going to make us close. Our practices are going to be top-notch; we’re all going to be competing and that’s going to make us better. We have a lot of dogs on this team, which will help us out as well. Collectively, we all have a chip on our shoulder – a log on our shoulder – so we’re going to go out there and play with an edge. I think that’s great for us.

So… playoffs?

Yeah, for sure, for sure. The naysayers, the haters, the people who are doubting us will say that we’re crazy as hell for saying that. But we have a bunch of guys who are coming in each and every day with that log on their shoulder and that’s going to push us to become a great team. We have a lot of pieces who can play. I think we’re loaded at every position; there are two-to-three players who could start at every position. When you have that much talent, that rises the competitiveness and improves the team as a whole.

That is exactly the attitude you want to see heading into the season.

The Knicks are going to struggle this year, talent wins out in the NBA and the Knicks don’t have enough of it. However, if the goal is to build a culture of gritty players who go play all out and are tough to play against — the cultures the Nets and Clippers developed that drew stars to them — the Knicks are on a decent road. New York didn’t pull a classic Knicks this year and overspend on a couple of second-tier stars when they struck out on the big guns, they went out and got decent players on short contracts. Stay flexible, build a culture.

We’ll see if Portis will be part of that going forward, but he has the right attitude.

Report: Lakers claim Kostas Antetokounmpo off waivers

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Giannis Antetokounmpo is a 24-year-old MVP playing in Milwaukee and heading toward a super-max decision that could have him hit 2021 unrestricted free agency.

Big-market teams are licking their chops.

That probably has something to do with the Lakers adding his brother, Kostas Antetokounmpo.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Kostas Antetokounmpo was the last pick in last year’s draft. He spent the season on a two-way contract with the Mavericks, who just waived him. He’ll remain on a two-way deal with the Lakers. The 21-year-old was alright in the NBA’s minor league, but he’s not a tantalizing prospect.

Except for his connection to Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Giannis Antetokounmpo said he could never see himself playing for Los Angeles. But maybe he’d change his mind if someone close to him has a positive experience there. That must be the Lakers’ hope, at least.

It’s worth a shot, and the Lakers aren’t the only team trying this angle. The Bucks also signed Thanasis Antetokounmpo this summer.

Harden on fit with Westbrook: ‘When you have talent like that, it works itself out’

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It was the question everybody asked about 30 seconds after they heard Russell Westbrook had been traded to the Houston Rockets for Chris Paul (after the initial shock of the deal wore off):

Do Westbrook and Harden, two of the most ball-dominant, isolation heavy players in the NBA, actually fit together?

Harden says yes. Of course, what else is he going to say, but he was earnest about it in comments to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle at the Adidas and James Harden ProCamp event last Friday.

“When you have talent like that, it works itself out. You communicate. You go out there and compete possession by possession. You figure things out. Throughout the course of the season, you figure things out. That’s just what it is. When you have talent, you have guys with IQ, you have guys willing to sacrifice, it always works itself out.”…

“It works,” Harden said. “It’s that trust factor. I trust him; he trusts me. And with the group that we already have and the things we already accomplished, it should be an easy transition for him to be incorporated right in and things are going to go.”

That is essentially is what Mike D’Antoni said, and what Rockets GM Daryl Morey is betting on.

Will Westbrook, and to a lesser degree Harden, be willing to make sacrifices and adjust their games? It is the question that will define the Rockets’ season.

My prediction: The duo works it out on offense and becomes one of the hardest teams to stop in the NBA. They will work it out. However, having to play Harden and Westbrook together on defense for extended stretches will cost Houston in the playoffs earlier than they planned.