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The Extra Pass: Grading the Rudy Gay Trade

Jan 31, 2013, 8:36 AM EDT

Memphis Grizzlies v Phoenix Suns Getty Images

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

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