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The Extra Pass: Analyzing a potential Memphis-Toronto deal

Jan 29, 2013, 10:00 AM EDT

Mike Conley, Jose Calderon

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 a potential deal between the Grizzlies and Raptors. 

The recent reports linking Rudy Gay to Toronto aren’t all that surprising. It’s no big secret around the league that Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo is in the market for a “star” player, and we can safely assume that Memphis wants to move Gay at some point to avoid the luxury tax going forward.

It’s a good match on the surface, but let’s dig a little deeper:

The motivation to deal

Toronto: Why is a young 16-29 team so anxious to acquire a B-level star on a huge contract? The answer has an awful lot to do with Jose Calderon.

Calderon is a really good player, but more importantly, his $10.5 million dollar expiring contract may be the best asset the Raptors have to lure a big name to Toronto. After having cap space last free agency and failing to land Steve Nash, the Raps were stuck footing the bill for Landry Fields ($6.25 million/3 years remaining). That sort of thing can’t happen again, but the good news is that it almost definitely can’t. DeMar DeRozan‘s contract extension all but guarantees the Raptors won’t have the chance to strike out this offseason, as even without Calderon, they’ll have about $59 million dollars on the books next season.

With the avenue to improve in free agency pretty much closed, the only real way for the Raptors to acquire a “star” is via trade — especially since they no longer have their first round pick thanks to the Kyle Lowry trade. Colangelo has to know he screwed this up, and a trade involving Calderon or Lowry to bring back an asset may be his last chance at fixing the problem.

Memphis: 

The absolute most important thing to remember when considering a potential Rudy Gay trade ($16.4 million/3 years remaining) is that the Grizzlies aren’t looking to take on substantial future salary. They need to get under the luxury tax for the future, and with the Conley/Gay/Randolph/Gasol core, that’s going to be incredibly difficult to do.

Because they don’t want to add future salary, you can safely rule out Andrea Bargnani ($10 million/3 years remaining) and DeRozan ($9.5 million/4 years remaining) coming to Memphis in any two-team deal involving Gay. That robs us of the hilarity of “Grit and Grind” having to deal with Bargnani, but such is life.

From a salary matching perspective, that means Jose Calderon ($10.5 million/expiring) would almost have to be involved in any deal for Gay. The Raptors may be more interested in moving Kyle Lowry ($5.75 million/2 years remaining), but the Grizzlies would have to take on an undesirable mid-level contract or two to make that happen, which again, seems counter-intuitive to the whole point of trading Gay in the first place.

The pieces

That doesn’t leave Lowry completely out of the question, though.  He’d likely be a good fit as a scoring 6th man for the Grizzlies, but more importantly, his contract isn’t guaranteed next season. That means Memphis could shave about $5.2 million in salary if they waive him before July 15th. That’s likely pretty appealing, but a third team would almost certainly have to get involved if the Raptors decided to hang on to Calderon and deal Lowry instead.

Of course, it’s worth mentioning that the Grizzlies don’t really need a point guard with Mike Conley holding down the starting spot, so a question of positional depth comes into play. If Gay gets shipped out, who plays the 3 for the Grizzlies? Quincy Pondexter should be back from his knee injury soon, and D-League call-up Chris Johnson has been impressive thus far, but is that enough to head into the playoffs with? Would a guy like Raptors swingman Alan Anderson be enough to calm those concerns?

That’s just one of the many questions surrounding a potential deal that’s also rumored to include a swap of Grizzlies’ super-sub Darrell Arthur and promising young big man Ed Davis. Simply gathering cheap, productive assets like Davis while gaining tax relief may be enough for the Grizzlies to part with Gay, but it makes a potential trade more curious for Toronto, unless future draft picks are involved.

All that said, the motivation to make a deal is there with both teams — especially since Toronto doesn’t have the leverage most teams would hold over the Grizzlies. Calderon is an unrestricted free agent this offseason and is heading into the twilight of his career, so you have to figure he’ll want a chance at a ring elsewhere.  Toronto can’t afford to let him walk away for nothing, just like Memphis can’t afford to keep paying Gay. It’s a classic buyer-seller fit, even if a third team might be required to make the pieces match up.

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