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

Cavaliers were clutch all season, then again in it’s biggest moment

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The Cleveland Cavaliers had the point differential of a 43-39 team this season, just a couple of games above .500. Yet they finished the season 50-32, seven games better than their differential suggested — the highest variance in the NBA.

Why? Because LeBron James and the Cavaliers were clutch. In games that were within five points in the final five minutes this season, Cleveland was 30-15 with a +18.2 points per 100 net rating (second best in the NBA, behind Houston).

That has carried over to the playoffs, where the Cavaliers came into Game 7 Sunday night 6-1 in clutch games with an insane +36.2 per 100.

Game 7 was another clutch one — it was 76-72 Cleveland with five minutes to go — and once again the Cavaliers won, advancing to the NBA Finals. This is the fourth straight year for this team, and the eighth year in a row for LeBron to make it to the NBA’s biggest stage.

In the final five minutes of Game 7, LeBron had six points, while the Boston Celtics team had 7. When we say the Cavaliers are clutch, it all starts with LeBron (as do all things Cavaliers at this point).

“He craves those moments. He loves those moments,” Kyle Korver said after LeBron was clutch in the Cavaliers’ Game 6 win that set up Sunday’s showdown, but what he said applies now, too. “When the game’s on the line, when the season’s on the line, he’s been rising up. That’s what the great players do.”

LeBron accepts that challenge, and through the postseason he has had an impressive 58 true shooting percentage, with a ridiculous 44.3 percent usage rate. Bottom line, he has had to carry the Cavaliers in the clutch, and he has done so efficiently.

“I’m the leader of this team, and I’m going to give what I’ve got,” LeBron said. “My teammates, they respect that.”

It’s going to take more than clutch LeBron and friends to win in the Finals — both of the teams in the West are much tougher than anything the Cavaliers have seen so far. However, we know that LeBron is going to give everything he has left.

And if the game is close late, don’t bet against the Cavaliers.

 

 

 

Jayson Tatum throws down epic dunk on LeBron James (VIDEO)

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The Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers held a barnburner of a Game 7 on Sunday, with Boston’s Jayson Tatum going head-to-head with LeBron James.

For his part, LeBron was everything we expected in a Game 7. The King played spectacularly, willing his Cavaliers squad to yet another NBA Finals appearance as Cleveland edged Boston.

But before things were sealed, and the game decided, Tatum got off a raucous dunk right in James’ eye that made many wonder if the torch was on the cusp of being passed.

The play came with 6:45 left in the fourth quarter with Tatum driving down the lane and LeBron moving over to help recover on defense. It would have been easy to anticipate another big LeBron playoff block, but Tatum continued his surprising season by dunking all over The King.

Via Twitter:

Cleveland won the game, 87-79, but Tatum’s dunk on the big stage is just one of many reasons why the Celtics are going to be a complete hassle next year when they’re back to being fully healthy.

LeBron James is the greatest player of all-time

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He’s done it again. LeBron James, the King in the East, played 48 minutes en route to his eighth straight NBA Finals appearance after beating the Boston Celtics in Game 7 at TD Garden on Sunday, 87-79.

Bow down to the greatest player of all-time.

Much has been made of LeBron’s place in history as his legacy has began to galvanize toward the end of his career. The conversation has raged on about LeBron vs. Michael Jordan, or Wilt Chamberlain, or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Preference varies greatly between fans, while some still pick the centrist route and say there’s no simple way to compare across eras. There’s been mathematical attempts to rank the two, and even MJ’s old teammates have said LeBron is a more complete player.

On Sunday, James bounced yet another Eastern Conference Finals opponent, carrying his teammates on his shoulders and playing without All-Star Kevin Love. There was never a doubt for many watching Sunday’s matchup in Massachusetts. Before the final buzzer, LeBron had won 23 straight Eastern Conference playoff series. His determination was absolute, and the cards were always stacked against Boston even given their postseason record at home.

You could sort of just see it coming.

James was the motivating force in the first half for Cleveland, scoring 17 points while no other teammates tallied in double digits. The Cavaliers shot an abysmal 12 percent from beyond the arc, and the Celtics looked like they would be able to control the rest of the game as the crowd at home motivated them forward.

But Cleveland came roaring back in the second half, continuing to put on a defensive show, the kind we would not have expected of them during the regular season. Without Love, the Cavs had to make do with Jeff Green, who turned in a surprising performance. Green scored 19 points, shot 50 percent from the field, and grabbed eight rebounds.

In the face of a strengthening Cavaliers attack, the Celtics seems to retreat. Boston’s final offensive possessions in the fourth quarter were hectic, slow, and unsuccessful. While the Cavaliers tried their hardest during the final eight minutes to get Al Horford switched on to LeBron in isolation sets, the Celtics surprisingly mirrored the same offensive tactics. Instead of playing their regular offense, or running plays to get shooters free, or trying to attack the paint against James (who was in foul trouble) Boston resorted to trying to exploit any mismatches found through Cleveland’s switches.

The result was four field goals inside the 3-point line for LeBron in the fourth quarter, as much as the entire Celtics roster combined.

The play of the game came with 1:04 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Cavaliers leading by nine. LeBron was out on the break, with Marcus Morris trailing behind him. Morris went to foul LeBron, making no obvious attempts on the ball as he grabbed onto the Cavaliers star’s shoulders. Even with all of his might, Morris couldn’t stop James from scoring while drawing the foul. It was indicative of the entire fourth quarter for the Celtics, who scraped, clutched and grabbed as much as they could but did not have an answer for LeBron.

So here we are, with LeBron having won another Game 7 out in the Eastern Conference as he heads to another Finals. He probably won’t match Jordan’s championship mark. But Jordan didn’t match Russell’s. Or Horry’s. Or Havlichek’s, either.

Instead, we have to rely on what we see in front of our eyes combined with their dominance, weighted for context. Sunday night’s performance should help push LeBron over Jordan, if he wasn’t there already. James is a more complete player, which has always been apparent, and now he’s survived every challenge that’s been thrown at him. Declaring James the best player of all-time did not come because of Sunday’s game. It’s been years in the making, throughout the entirety of his 15-year career. The win over Boston was just an indication of his place in history.

LeBron has gone nuclear with 40+ point performances. He was part of the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history against the Golden State Warriors. He beat the Indiana Pacers all by himself, in the playoffs, just this very season. James has had a career season at age 33, playing 48 minutes in the 100th game of the 2017-18 season. LeBron has willed his way to yet another NBA Finals, with perhaps his worst team since the 2006-07 squad that was swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the season’s final series. To add to the accomplishment, LeBron pushed this Cavaliers squad past a stunningly good team in the Celtics, on the road, and without Love.

James is the greatest American sports story of our generation, and he’s the best player the NBA has ever seen. If you disagree, that’s OK. But after Sunday night, you’d be hard pressed to convince me otherwise.

Watch Victor Oladipo drive the pace car at the Indianapolis 500 (VIDEO)

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Victor Oladipo is Indiana’s favorite son after the Indiana Pacers guard blasted through the competition during the 2017-18 NBA season.

Oladipo averaged 23.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and led the league with 2.4 steals per game. Oladipo’s 3-point shooting improved year-over-year, and his VORP skyrocketed in his new leadership role. Many feel the Pacers won the Paul George trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder thanks to Oladipo.

Thanks in part to his stellar play, Oladipo was invited to drive the pace car at the start of the 2018 Indianapolis 500. Turns out he was pretty good at it.

Via Twitter:

Oladipo is apparently going to be honored with the steering wheel from the pace car he drove. No doubt taking part in a classic local sporting event like the Indy 500 will help ingrain Oladipo into the sports fabric in Indianapolis even further.