The arms race is on in the East.
It started with Philadelphia trading for Tobias Harris, stacking their starting five and moving them into serious threat mode. The rest of the top of the East felt the need to respond. Milwaukee went out and got Nikola Mirotic from New Orleans to add to their front-line shooting.
Now Toronto has responded, getting Marc Gasol out of Memphis, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
The Raptors just got better. Maybe much better. Gasol is averaging 15.7 points and 8.6 rebounds a game, but more than the numbers it’s what he opens up in the offense. Gasol is essentially a stretch five who can shoot the three (34.4 percent this season), is a gifted passer, is usually in the right place defensively, and plays a high-IQ game. Nick Nurse can open up his offense a little more with Gasol. He’s not what he was a few years ago, but he’s still an above-average NBA center who can be relied upon in the playoffs.
The second round of the East playoffs and beyond will be a bloodbath.
Toronto had started Serge Ibaka at center this season and brought Jonas Valanciunas off the bench. That almost certainly changes now and Ibaka will have to adapt to a new role, but what this trade gives the Raptors is versatility to adapt to whatever Boston/Milwaukee/Philadelphia throws at them.
Gasol is under contract through 2019-20, with a $25.6 million player option for next season. He had suggested to the Grizzlies that he would opt out, but if Kawhi Leonard stays in Toronto past this season — a big “if” but possible — would Gasol opt-in?
For the Grizzlies, who were determined to trade Gasol rather than get nothing for him, this is probably as good a trade as they could find. It’s not great, but it will save Memphis money and help start the rebuild. Valanciunas has a player option for next season at $17.6 million that he’s expected to opt out of (looking for more long-term security), although he could stay on. Delon Wright will be a restricted free agent this summer, and C.J. Miles has a player option for $8.7 million for next season. The Grizzlies liked that better than the Charlotte offer, which would have added more salary (around $30 million in unwanted total) for next season but provided a mid-first-round pick this summer.