First Impressions of the Rudy Gay TradeThere are many ways to evaluate an NBA trade but--contrary to the popular trend of providing "analysis" that is instant, not very deep and focused on the short term--I prefer to take a deliberate, in depth and long term approach. The Memphis Grizzlies, a legitimate championship contender, shipped leading scorer Rudy Gay to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for Toronto's Ed Davis, Detroit's Austin Daye and Detroit's Tayshaun Prince, with Detroit receiving Jose Calderon from Toronto and Hamed Haddadi from Memphis to complete the deal. Memphis also received Detroit's 2013 second round draft pick.
It is very unusual for a contender to trade their leading scorer in the middle of the season and it is even more unusual for a contender to make such a deal without receiving in exchange even the second best player involved in the transaction; Tayshaun Prince made the All-Defensive Team four straight years but his last appearance on the squad was in 2008, Austin Daye was the 10th man on a bad Detroit team and Ed Davis is a solid young big man but his career arc thus far hardly screams superstar in the making: Jose Calderon is clearly the second best player involved in this three team deal but Memphis gave up Gay without even getting Calderon. Everyone understands that Memphis' primary motivation was to save money by avoiding future luxury tax payments and no one disputes that Gay is overpaid but Memphis players and fans are understandably discouraged that management broke up a potential championship team purely for financial reasons.
The "stat gurus" have always hated Gay's game and now that "stat guru" John Hollinger is a member of Memphis' front office it is not surprising that Memphis made this deal; Hollinger's PER statistic ranks Gay just 26th out of 70 qualifying small forwards and just 152nd overall out of 334 qualifying players. By Hollinger's reckoning, Gay is roughly as valuable as Kyle Korver or Shannon Brown--but one of the major limitations of "advanced basketball statistics" is that most such formulas do not take into account the value of being able to create one's own shot and/or draw a double team. Gay's field goal percentage has been hovering in career-low territory all season but his presence still created space for Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol and he ranked third on the team in rebounds, steals and blocked shots; Gay provided a lot of value that is not captured by "advanced basketball statistics." It also is not good for team morale if the coaching staff and players believe that management is more interested in cutting costs than in producing a champion. Considering the paltry returns that the Grizzlies received for Gay, they should have let this season play out and then dealt Gay during the summer, if necessary; critics hammered the Grizzlies for the Pau Gasol deal but that trade made much more sense than this one: Pau Gasol was clearly not a franchise player and the Grizzlies needed to completely reboot their roster, which that deal facilitated not only directly (by bringing Marc Gasol aboard) but also by making it possible for the Grizzlies to later acquire Zach Randolph, Mike Conley and Tony Allen (among others). It is extremely unlikely that the Gay deal will have a positive impact for Memphis even remotely approaching that level; the Gay deal weakened Memphis in the short run and, other than saving some money, it is not at all clear that it will strengthen Memphis in the long run.
Memphis saved a ton of cash and acquired some spare parts but Gay will likely be a 20-plus ppg scorer for several years for the Raptors while Calderon--who ranks eighth in the league in assists and has finished in the top five in that category four of the past five seasons--solidifies the point guard position for the Pistons, perhaps indicating that Joe Dumars has overcome his peculiar fascination with Rodney Stuckey; Dumars got rid of three perennial All-Stars (Chauncey Billups, Allen Iverson and Richard Hamilton) to create playing time for Stuckey, who has yet to prove that he is more than an average player. Unless Davis develops into a significant member of the Memphis rotation and/or Prince provides some flashbacks of his former defensive prowess the Grizzlies will get less value out of this deal than both the Raptors and the Pistons.
How is Memphis' cost-cutting different from what the Oklahoma City Thunder did with James Harden? The two huge differences are that the Thunder have two players who are much more valuable than Harden and the Thunder replaced Harden with a player (Kevin Martin) who can more than adequately fill Harden's role; in contrast, Gay was Memphis' leading scorer--which is significant regardless of how much the "stat gurus" carp about Gay's efficiency--and the Grizzlies did not come close to acquiring a player who can adequately fill Gay's role (which, it must be emphasized again, involved not just leading the team in scoring but also creating floor spacing while being versatile enough to rank third on the team in rebounds, steals and blocked shots). Strip away all of the hype about Harden's individual numbers and look at Houston's bottom line: a .515 winning percentage in 2011-12 without Harden and a .531 winning percentage in 2012-13 with Harden, which over 82 games roughly translates into the difference between being a 42 win team and being a 44 win team. Meanwhile, the Thunder not only improved their financial situation by dealing Harden but they actually increased their winning percentage from .712 in 2011-12 to .745 in 2012-13. It is worth remembering that Houston has a 9-10 playoff record and three Lottery appearances during Daryl Morey's five year reign--and the Rockets (who are currently clinging to the eighth and final playoff spot in the West) may very well be heading for their fourth Lottery appearance by the end of Morey's sixth season. As Mike Lupica once said in a different context, it is time for the guru to start "guruing." The Grizzlies built a very strong playoff team after trading away "stat guru" favorite Pau Gasol--a player who Morey has openly coveted for quite some time--so it will be interesting to see if Memphis' "stat guru" fares any better in the next five years than Houston's "stat guru" has fared in the previous five years.
Labels: Daryl Morey, Detroit Pistons, Ed Davis, Hamed Haddadi, Houston Rockets, James Harden, John Hollinger, Jose Calderon, Memphis Grizzlies, Oklahoma City Thunder, Rudy Gay, Tayshaun Prince, Toronto Raptors
posted by David Friedman @ 3:33 AM