After posting my initial reaction to the trade late last night/early this morning, I decided to take in some other reactions before giving it a second take myself. And if I'm going to read this stuff, I might as well pass it on.
A couple of general thoughts about national reaction: I think that if you have your own informed opinions you shouldn't put too much emphasis on outside declarations or conventional wisdom. The Pau Gasol trade was almost universally panned. I thought it was a rational and reasonable move. I was proven correct. Here, the consensus is much more in line with my thinking. But we could all be wrong. Maybe this “not great but makes sense” deal will end up being a disaster instead.
It's also probably telling that the writers most optimistic about the deal from the Grizzlies perspective are analysis-oriented types who concentrate on thinking about the game. The writers most pessimistic about the deal from the Grizzlies perspective seemed to be conventional reporter types whose work is more rooted in being a conduit for front-office sources. Doesn't mean one perspective is inherently more worthwhile than the other, but I do find that split compelling.
Anyway, here's an annotated guide to my morning reading. I'll wade into the deal again from some new or deeper angles later in the day and will be on “The Chris Vernon Show” at 1 p.m. to talk about it.
There are copious angles to consider with this deal, but let's try — as quickly as possible — to give an initial reaction to many of them, in question-and-answer form. I'll wade into some of these issues more, with more time for reflection, in the coming days. But here's my first impression:
Is this really the best the Grizzlies could do?
Apparently so. While the Grizzlies gave up the highest-wattage player in the deal, they also checked most of the boxes on their wishlist:
Obtain a significant younger player on a good contract: Ed Davis, check.
Add a draft pick: Toronto's second-rounder this summer, likely to be in the 35-45 range, check.
Add a replacement small forward on a more manageable contract: Tayshaun Prince, check.
Clean up payroll to enable flexibility under the tax going forward: Check.
Even accomplishing all that, it's hard to get excited about the deal. Prince, at age 32, with three years left on his deal, is a less attractive wing replacement than seemed to be the realistic ideal. (My version of realistic ideal: Jared Dudley.) Davis, while a great get as a general asset, will likely have less of an immediate impact based on available minutes than a similarly productive wing player would have. And the second-rounder is not the kind of draft pick people — including the Grizzlies — had in mind.
The inability of the Grizzlies to get a first-rounder in a deal for Gay may suggest how much the confluence of Gay's massive contract and sluggish production has impacted his trade value. Toronto, it should be noted, could not have given the Grizzlies a first-round pick for 2013, since their pick this summer may be owed to Oklahoma City. As a result, a first-rounder from Toronto couldn't have come until at least 2015. But apparently the Grizzlies weren't able to get a first-rounder in any deals they considered otherwise viable.
Though there's definitely risk of further decline for Prince over the remaining years of his contract — I would fear the third year may have value only as an expiring-contract trade chip — this deal is preferable to what it would have been without a third team, which wouldn't have addressed replacing Gay at small forward.
Monday night, just as the Grizzlies were mounting a comeback in Philadelphia, the Rudy Gay Trade Machine got revving again, with a Marc Stein report that Toronto, long-rumored to have interest in Gay, was in “active trade discussions” with the Grizzlies. And that report got some back-up via Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski, who reported Tuesday night that the Grizzlies are “determined” to move Gay “as soon as possible” and are looking for a third team to involve.
I wrote this about the Raptors as a potential trade partner in my Rudy Gay Trade Opus:
Toronto Raptors: Toronto has shown an interest in Gay in the past, but there's no good deal to be made here. Any one-on-one deal — like this — would have to include the $10.5 million expiring contract of Jose Calderon, and that's too much for the Grizzlies to invest in a back-up point guard in a season when they're still trying to make some post-season noise. A better bet would probably be a multi-team trade with Calderon or even Andrea Bargnani going somewhere else, but I haven't come up with any good scenarios along those lines.
In truth, I was too fatigued at the time to try to dream up multi-team scenarios involving Toronto, but now that there are actual reports that such ideas are being discussed, it seems more purposeful.
Two days after putting 106 on the Lakers, the ecstatic first half tonight suggested that maybe the deplorable defense of Team Turmoil wasn't the lone reason for the Grizzlies' suddenly fluid offense.
A day after being “snubbed” for the All-Star team, Marc Gasol came out more aggressively than he's been in weeks. It took him three-and-a-half minutes to match his field-goal attempt total from Monday's game against the Pacers. It took fewer than five to match the seven shots he put up against the Lakers.
The ball was usually running through Gasol and All-Star post-mate Randolph and moving with more quickness and precision than Griz fans have seen since November, while the bench — lead by rookies Tony Wroten and Chris Johnson and a rejuvenated Jerryd Bayless — entered the game with big-play energy. The result was a season-best 67-point half, with 17 assists on 32 made field goals, including 32 and 12 on a combined 16-23 shooting from Gasol and Randolph.
Then, in the third quarter, it all changed. Though I doubt this was the stated game plan, it almost looked like the team decided it needed to get Rudy Gay — 4 points on 2-5 shooting in the first half — going. Suddenly the offense grew heavy with Gay isolation plays. He went 3-8 in the quarter. Gasol and Randolph combined for two field-goal attempts. And the Grizzlies scored only 18 points, four assists on eight made field-goals. Meanwhile, an emboldened Nets squad was able to slice a 30-point Grizzlies lead down to 18.
The Grizzlies embark on the second half of the season tonight against a Brooklyn Nets team that's gone 10-1 in January and is pushing its way up the Eastern Conference standings.
This is likely to be a much tougher test for the newer-look Grizzlies than the Lakers provided Wednesday night.
As always, three thoughts:
Prior to yesterday's announcement, I did a quick survey of media picks around the web. Of the 11 I found, only one — CBSSports.com's Ken Berger — had no Grizzlies on the team. Two — ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Ethan Sherwood Strauss — picked both Randolph and Gasol. And the other eight all had Gasol making it over Randolph. Still, I wasn't surprised the coaches went the other way. Randolph's per-game stats (16-12-1) are a little more impressive than Gasol's (13-7-4), and Randolph has the easily digestible pegs of “second in the league in rebounding” and “first in the league in double-doubles.” For Randolph, it's an outside affirmation of his full return from last season's knee injury.
Gasol's offense has waned along with the team's over the past month, but his chief calling card is his rock-solid but rarely flamboyant defense, where he anchors the conference's best unit. The choices of Joakim Noah and Tyson Chandler in the East proves the coaches don't ignore defense for the sake of scoring averages, but in Gasol's case, with so much worthy competition, his subtle excellence on that end wasn't enough.
Gasol will be matched up tonight with another “snub” in Nets center Brook Lopez, who is having a bounce-back season with the Nets, averaging 19 points a game on 52% shooting.
The Lead: This game began with both teams in a very fragile state and ended with one in an even bigger world of hurt and the other maybe — just maybe — finding out a few things.
The Lakers began their day in Memphis with an Airing of Grievances, but were not able to follow it up with any Feats of Strength. Instead, their day just kept getting worse:
Dwight Howard had two rebounds and zero made field goals through 14 first-half minutes before grabbing his shoulder and asking to leave the game. He didn't return.
Steve Nash impersonated a traffic cone on defense while shooting 2-6 with six turnovers.
Kobe Bryant went into Kobe Hero mode, which worked for awhile. Five minutes into the third quarter, Bryant had scored 24 points on 11-15 shooting, with three consecutive makes early in the quarter cutting what had been a 15-point Grizzlies lead down to only three. Bryant then went 0-8 the rest of the game and with the makeshift bandages he was applying to the team's offense unraveling, the Lakers completely fell apart, the Grizzlies going on a 30-14 run between the late third and early fourth quarter to blow the game open. (An 11-3 Lakers garbage-time run made the game look closer than it really was.)
As for the Grizzlies, the 106 points were the most the team's scored since January 7th in Sacramento. In both cases, you have to consider the defensive quality of the opponent — per Pau Gasol: “We make these teams look a lot better offensively than they really are” — but for a team that's been struggling to even hit 85, the outburst served to relieve some pressure. They did this scoring at least 23 points in every quarter, without doing much from outside (4-13 from three), and despite terrible, turnover-riddled starts to each half.
It was the Grizzlies first game since the trade that sent away two rotation players, and Lionel Hollins had only 10 active players at his disposal. If an opponent in a death spiral had a lot to do with the Grizzlies success, part of it probably had to do with a collective — and potentially short-term — reaction to the theoretical adversity of the trade. Coming together. Playing with a chip on their shoulder. Having something to prove. Pick your cliché.
But I also feel like this performance suggests a few things for the now newish-look Grizzlies.
While everyone has been waiting for a big move from the Grizzlies, involving Rudy Gay or, less likely, Zach Randolph (who was the subject of a specious trade rumor over the past weekend), the Grizzlies surprised the hoops world with a smaller deal on Tuesday morning. With the smoke still clearing, let's look at what happened and what it might mean:
The Particulars: The Grizzlies traded three reserve players — Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington, and Josh Selby — along with a protected future first-round draft pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers for reserve forward Jon Leuer. The pick can't be exchanged until at least 2015. The complicated protections on the pick are such that it will go to Cleveland in 2015 or 2016 only if it falls between picks 6 and 14. It will be protected through picks 1-5 in 2017 and 2018, and unprotected in 2019 in the unlikely event it still hasn't been exchanged. The deal also generates a $6.4 million trade exception the Grizzlies will have access to for the next year.
The Ostensible Rationale: This was, first and foremost, a financial move. It brings the Grizzlies safely under the league's luxury tax threshold — a team source suggests the Grizzlies may have been closer to $6 million over the tax line rather than the widely reported $4 million due to potential contract incentives, if you're wondering about the inclusion of Ellington — without having to move any of the team's top seven players (assuming Darrell Arthur and Quincy Pondexter as the most valued reserves).
What's Going Out and What's Coming Back: I'm somewhat sanguine about the short-term roster changes this deal will entail. Marreese Speights is a useful player whose real value is somewhat less than his surface stats. A lot of people who follow the Grizzlies seem to be under the impression that Speights bloomed into something dramatically different than he had previously been after donning Beale Street Blue. But, really, Speights just got more playing time.
He's remained much the same player: A good-not-great scorer and rebounder who's dependent on an excellent mid-range jumper but who is also mistake-prone, a poor defender, and someone who's overall impact grades out fairly poorly based on on-court/off-court breakdowns. Speights' poor-man's-Z-Bo production was a big help for a desperate Grizzlies team last season, but as first Randolph and then Darrell Arthur got healthy and back into the rotation, Speights was starting to settle, naturally, into the fourth slot in the team's frontcourt rotation. This month, in games where Randolph, Gasol, and Arthur have all been active, Speights has been playing about 12 minutes a game. $4.2 million was a lot to pay a player in that role, especially for a team over the tax.
The team traded three reserves — Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington, and Josh Selby, along with a protected first-round pick, to the Cleveland Cavaliers for reserve big man Jon Leuer. (I believe this was first reported by YahooSports' Marc Spears, but info was flying so fast this morning, I'm not sure.)
The deal gets the Grizzlies under the NBA's luxury tax and reduces the pressure to make a Gay or (less likely) Randolph deal this season.
The draft pick going to Cleveland isn't eligible to exchange hands until at least 2015, with the following protections:
2015 and 2016 — must fall between picks 6 and 14 to be dealt
2017 and 2018 — Top 5 protected
The trade brings the Grizzlies roster to 11, two under the league-mandated minimum of 13. The team can now sign two players to minimum contracts to get to 13 without going into tax territory, according to a team source, but cannot sign three.
Under league rules, the Grizzlies will have to sign one player, to bring the roster to 12, immediately after the trade becomes official and will have two weeks to get up to 13.
Chris Vernon reported this morning that veteran former NBA players Bill Walker, Delonte West, and Sasha Vujacic are potential targets. I was able to confirm those players as under consideration, with other options also being discussed.
Leuer, who played well for Milwaukee as a rookie last season and has spent much of this season for the D League's Canton Charge, is not considered mere cap fodder by the Grizzlies. He's a near seven-footer who is a terrific shooter from mid-range and potentially beyond. He doesn't rebound as well as Speights, but there's some hope he could replicate Speights' value at a quarter of the cost.
As for how this deal impacts the likelihood of a larger deal this season, it changes the calculus but doesn't take it totally off the table. As one Grizzlies source indicated, it takes the financial pressures off of those trade discussions, giving the team better leverage and allowing any potential deal this season to be driven primarily by basketball concerns.
After a disappointing 10-11 start, the Indiana Pacers had already crept up to 17-13 when the Grizzlies played them in Indianapolis on New Year's Eve, and the Pacers continued their ascent afterward, going 7-3 since and moving to within 2.5 games of the top seed in the East.
The Grizzlies built a nice lead in that earlier meeting only to suffer one of those now-familiar offensive collapses, getting outscored 28-16 in the fourth quarter and losing 88-83.
Today's rematch, of course, is being televised nationally on ESPN as part of the NBA annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day slate. Tipoff is noon.
As always, three thoughts. But we'll make this one an “and one”:
1. Martin Luther King Day: The game itself is secondary today to honoring the legacy of Dr. King. The annual pre-game symposium, held on the FedExForum practice court, will feature NBA greats Patrick Ewing and Elgin Baylor, and one of sports' most transcendent figures, the great Jim Brown. The halftime show will feature New Orleans R&B star Aaron Neville.
The reason we're here:
The Lead: After three consecutive 20-point losses and at least the suggestion of some internal discord, the Grizzlies needed a calming double-digit win. They got it tonight, even if scoring only 85 points against what is, statistically, the NBA's worst defensive team doesn't exactly scream “everything's okay now.”
This wasn't a focused, intense effort, but the Grizzlies did maintain control for most of the night, and this wayward, lark of a game was more entertaining in an offhand, NBA nerd way than the score suggests.
Man of the Match: Credit Tony Allen for an awful lot of the good that happened tonight. Competitively, Allen had one of his better all-around performances, scoring 14 points on 6-11 shooting, with 9 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 blocks, and only 1 turnovers. The rebound, assist, and blocks numbers were all season highs. The highlight was a no-look, over-his-head pass to Rudy Gay for a baseline dunk. Why not?
Allen was also in rare form as creator of chaos and joy. When he fouled Kings center Chuck Hayes, Allen looked to referee Ken Mauer, stuck his hand, fingers outstretched, in the air, and yelled, “Five! Five!” That's the number worn by Grizzlies forward Marreese Speights, who was not involved in the play. Mauer gave the foul to number five.
After the game, I asked Speights if a teammate had ever gotten him in foul trouble before. Speights said, “You saw that?,” then rolled his eyes. “That's just Tony being Tony,” he said, good-naturedly.
Tony Allen fouls Chuck Hayes and then talks Ken Mauer into giving it to Mo Speights. "Five! Five! Tony says, holding up five fingers."
The Grizzlies look to get back on track tonight against the 15-24 Sacramento Kings. But tonight's game isn't about match-ups or stylistic contrasts, it's about the Grizzlies fixing themselves.
And the issue of the day isn't on the court anyway, it's all the off-court intrigue currently festering around the team. So, today, let's make that the subject of the usual three points:
I'd say the details are very much unclear. Who instigated the meeting? (It was initially characterized as an invitation from Pera but was later softened to something more neutral. I've heard it two different ways: One that Pera asked for the meeting, and another that Conley and Gasol asked for it.) What was talked about? (I heard, unsurprisingly, that Gasol and Conley made a case for keeping the current core together for the remainder of the season.) To what degree was it actually disruptive?
There's certainly a chance that this meeting may have been unwise, counterproductive, or poorly staged, but even if it was at Pera's invitation — which, again, is very much unclear — I think some of the initial reaction to it was curious. I see nothing “weird” or perplexing about it. In fact, the potential rationale would seem pretty obvious.
This Grizzlies are facing very serious organizational decisions in the near future. It's a near certainty that Conley and Gasol will be here next season, and, for various reasons, they're probably the only core figures you can say that about. It's not surprising that new ownership might want to take their pulse as part of their decision-making process.
What's wrong? Here's a short answer nobody likes: I don't know.
Unfortunately, renewed chaos and worry on the Griz front coincides with a moment where I don't have time for any kind of deep dive. Instead, for now, a few quick reactions to different potential answers to that opening question
Trend be damned, it's still a blip: I tend toward the “calm down” approach most of the time, but I'm skeptical about the “blip” notion. But I'll entertain it. The Dallas loss wasn't surprising given the scheduling aspects. The Clippers game was played without Rudy Gay and with some odd lineups — some forced, some, as with the early, disastrous insertion of Josh Selby, not. And the Spurs, well, the Spurs are really damned good. Even with all this, the Grizzlies are still fourth in the Western Conference. Certainly, a home game Friday against Sacramento could be a good way to get healthy again. But a big loss in that situation would end all doubt.
Trade rumors have ruined the chemistry: This sounds good but feels like nonsense to me. The Rudy Gay trade rumors have been out there for a while now. They were out there when the team started January going 5-1 with a perfect West Coast trip, a road win in Boston, and a home win over the Spurs. Trade rumors were a lot hotter with O.J. Mayo in the past and the team didn't go in the tank. Trades rumors are common all over the league every season. It's an easy excuse, but in the absence of some actual evidence, I have a hard time saying that's the reason for anything.
There were excuses for both bad losses, if you want them. The Dallas game seemed like a classic schedule loss, the second night of a back-to-back on the road after a draining overtime win. Monday night, the team was playing without leading scorer Rudy Gay, out of town for a family funeral. Gay's loss, on top of the loss of his own back-up, Quincy Pondexter, had the Grizzlies playing little-used and unconventional lineups all night, and against the league's deepest team. The Clippers, of course, were playing without their best player, point guard Chris Paul.
If the Grizzlies have a good showing — win or lose — in a Wednesday night re-match with the Spurs in San Antonio, these losses can maintain their asterisks. A bad showing Wednesday night — a third in a row — and alarm bells will sound.
But while the Grizzlies' contender status and season trajectory hang yet still in the balance — pending the next game, the next Rudy Gay trade rumor, or the next Lionel Hollins radio interview — let's take a quiet moment amid the clamor to recognize two players on the roster undercard doing good things now that promise even more going forward.
Darrell Arthur missed all last season with an Achilles injury and then missed the start of this season with a more minor leg injury. Upon his return, it's taken him a few weeks to improve his conditioning and timing back to something resembling his pre-injury form. But in recent weeks he's shown why many — myself included, not to mention new Grizzlies exec John Hollinger — thought he was the team's best reserve player and one of the league's better back-up forwards before the injury. Arthur's minutes and production are both up in January — his rebounding rate up, his turnover rate down, his jumper starting to fall more.
Arthur's surface stats don't look like much — 7 points, 3 rebounds a game — but watch him closely and you'll regularly see Arthur make impactful defensive plays that don't register in the box score: Blowing up pick-and-rolls. Switching onto and containing perimeter ballhandlers. Cutting off drives and setting up teammates' steals. Racing down in transition to disrupt a fastbreak.
Both of those losses have their mitigating circumstances: Saturday's night's road implosion at Dallas felt like a classic “scheduling loss,” the second night of a back-to-back, on the road, after a draining overtime win the night before. Monday night against the Clippers, the absence of both Rudy Gay and Quincy Pondexter threw the rotation into disarray against the league's deepest team. True, the Clippers were playing without Chris Paul, but they notched a commanding win without Paul again last night in Houston — also on the road, on the second night of a back-to-back.
So, all that makes tonight's game particularly important — not in terms of outcome as much as performances. A good performance, win or lose, and you can call those last two losses a blip or sorts. Another bad performance — with no good excuse to offer this time— and we're looking at a troubling trend.
Well, not really. I'm actually ditching it again because I have multiple print deadlines looming tomorrow and have to keep this quick. But, boy, was this bad.
What happened? Take it away, Marc Gasol:
“Tonight we couldn't make shots. We couldn't score. We couldn't finish around the basket. We couldn't make plays for each other. And our defense wasn't very good,” Gasol said after the game.
The 26-point scoring margin is the Grizzlies' worst defeat of the season and the 30.3% shooting was the worst home performance in franchise history. It marked two terrible games in a row, with Friday's big home win over the Spurs followed by a miserable loss in Dallas the next night.
Both games had mitigating circumstances, but not enough to forgive efforts this poor: The Dallas game seemed like a classic schedule loss, the second night of a back-to-back on the road after a draining overtime win. This time, the team was playing without leading scorer Rudy Gay, out of town for a family funeral. Gay's loss, on top of the loss of his own back-up, Quincy Pondexter, had the Grizzlies playing little-used and unconventional lineups all night, and against the league's deepest team.
A surprise early insertion of second-year guard Josh Selby proved particularly disastrous. Selby entered with under a minute left in the first quarter and the Grizzlies were only down by two. Four minutes later, when Selby went to the bench, a 13-2 Clippers run had pushed the deficit to 13. A mini-run brought the Griz to within 6, but the Clippers hit back and the Grizzlies were down 15 or more from the end of the second quarter on.