As is customary this time of year, trade rumors are swirling. With one month to go before the deadline, some players are being lined up for an exit from their current clubs, and once again Rudy Gay is one of those players.
Memphis faces a problem going forward due to their star-studded starting lineup that includes Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley. With that group, the Grizzlies have no financial room for depth on their squad and will have to pay a hefty luxury tax over the next few seasons should they keep Gay.
This season, the borderline all-star will make just over $16 million and see salary increases to $17 and $19 million over the next two seasons before his contract expires. That is a big chunk of change to pay for a guy averaging just under 18 points and 6 rebounds per game; but is this the right time for a trade?
Certainly, the Grizzlies have to shop around for the best option in trading Gay, but the question becomes: can they find a suitable situation before the deadline? Teams around the league are showing limited interest, but with Memphis having gone 23-10 and sitting just two and a half games behind San Antonio for the Southwest Division lead, is it worth dismantling this team for a future draft pick or two and a player that may not fit in?
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Amongst the most heavily touted suitors are the Phoenix Suns, Golden State Warriors, Sacramento Kings and Toronto Raptors. Looking at the four and what they could offer the Grizzlies in return, the decision for management won’t be easy, but it should still lead to Gay staying in Memphis until the summer.
Toronto stole headlines a few days ago by reigniting interest in Gay that they had over the summer by putting on the table Jose Calderon and his $10.6 million expiring contract along with center Ed Davis and a draft pick. The problem with that offer is that the Grizzlies would lose their leading scorer and essentially be without a replacement at the small forward position. Calderon gives them someone to back up Conley, but in the long term it’s not a solution to anything. In truth, the Raptors would have to look to involve a third team to make it work.
Golden State wants to a deal but only if the Grizzlies take on a junk contract in the form of Richard Jefferson’s $10.5 million a year over the next two seasons or Andris Biedrins and the $18 million he is owed. Memphis could take on one of those contracts and proceed to amnesty it in the offseason, but would it be worth it? The answer is maybe, but only if the Warriors are willing to part with their 2012 first round pick Harrison Barnes.
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The Phoenix Suns have also been at the forefront of the discussion, offering Jared Dudley and a couple of first round picks. While the Suns have their own first round pick, they also possess the Lakers first round pick along with Cavs, Kings and Heat picks. How all that will play out remains to be seen, but this is basically deconstructing your team to bring in a better perimeter shooter that will throw off the team’s defensive chemistry and some future draft picks that you’re hoping will pan out but add nothing to the team today. If done in the summer, this move may not be that bad and would give Lionel Hollins and his other stars enough time to work on making the necessary adjustments, but doing it mid season would throw the team a curveball.
Sacramento is the other team rumored to want to snag Gay, but talks have already broken down. No specifics have been published but the Kings do present the Grizzlies with the most options as they could receive former Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans, wingman Francisco Garcia and a point guard to back up Conley in the form of Aaron Brooks. Garcia is on an expiring contract and all three would cost a couple million less than Gay this season, but with Sacramento currently embroiled in the sale of the team to a group looking to move the franchise to Seattle, it’s tough to see the Kings doing anything until their off the court matters are settled.
Memphis’ biggest issue right now is depth. Once it becomes time to see the rotations happening every night, the Grizzlies most lethal player by far is Mareese Speights who is averaging a whopping 7 points per game. The rumors have been mostly fueled by the Grizzlies budgetary concerns, but bigger than that may be their need to address their depth if they are to make a deep run into the playoffs.
In the end, moving Gay in the summer still remains the best option. While the Grizzlies would have to pay some luxury tax, they’re best shot at postseason success this year is to keep Gay and not disturb the balance of the group they’ve put together. Perhaps the smartest thing to do for now is to pay the tax and sign a free agent player like Delonte West or Kenyon Martin who could come in on a minimum contract until the end of the season and provide some additional help. But this is the NBA and even with a new management team of fine basketball minds, the smartest move can often prove elusive.