A Trade for Mediocrity

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So the rumours were true, Rudy Gay is now a Toronto Raptor. The former Memphis Grizzlies small-forward, who had been linked with a move to Toronto for what seemed like an age, was part of a massive 3-team deal yesterday that saw Ed Davis, Austin Daye, and Tayshaun Prince land in Memphis, and Jose Calderon become a Detroit Piston.

For some Grizzlies’ fans losing Gay might be a tough pill to swallow. He can create off the dribble—Memphis isn’t exactly stacked with players who possess that skill—and along with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, he formed one of the best frontcourt trios in the NBA. But it was a deal that Memphis just had to make. They’re a small market team that couldn’t afford to carry around the kind of payroll they would’ve had if Gay had been on the roster past this season

And Memphis actually added some nice depth with the deal. Prince isn’t Gay on the offensive end—no one would confuse the two—but he can make threes (a big void in Memphis) and he’s a decent defender. Ed Davis, who I’ll discuss in more detail when I get to the Raptors’ perspective, is a great young talent who’ll provide decent production as Randolph’s understudy.

As for the Pistons, this deal was about shedding salary, which they did a fine job of. And hey, half a season of Calderon and rookie Andre Drummond on the pick-n-roll might actually give Pistons fans something to get excited about—and give NBA neutrals a reason to watch Pistons’ games.

But Bryan Colangelo’s reasoning for making this trade is harder to understand.

Perhaps Colangelo has entered the ‘make dramatic moves for the short-term to save my job’ mode—something that’s never in the best long-term interests of a franchise, because from a Raptors perspective this deal is puzzling for a number of reasons: the first of which being the trading of Ed Davis. While Calderon’s exit made sense—he’s been a consummate professional and loyal servant to Toronto, but the team wanted to move forward with Kyle Lowry at point-guard—getting rid of Davis does not.

Davis has blossomed since Andrea Bargnani went down with injury, forming an exciting frontcourt partnership with Amir Johnson. In his newly acquired starting role Davis gave the Raptors everything they’d been lacking with Bargnani at the 4-spot: rebounding, defense, and most importantly, tons of energy. Trading him away when he was starting to look like a very decent prospect is a bit of a head-scratcher.

Secondly, Rudy Gay, the trade’s centerpiece, hasn’t exactly looked like a franchise player recently—and Colangelo is definitely bringing him in to be just that. Granted, Randolph and Gasol are the focal points of the Grizzlies team, but Gay is shooting very poorly from the field this year—barely 40 percent—and is averaging his lowest points per game total since his rookie season. And don’t forget, the Grizzlies made their magical play-off run in 2010-11 with Gay out of the lineup, and lost to the Clippers last season with Rudy struggling to break down Nick Young’s defense.

What’s more, Gay is very similar to a player the Raptors already have on their roster: DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan is actually putting up better numbers than Gay this season and his effectiveness could be nullified by Gay’s presence on the team. Gay will be taking shots away from DeRozan, a player who was only recently extended on a 4-year deal, and who Colangelo appears to have put a lot of faith in.

Another player whose development might be stunted by Gay’s arrival is Terrence Ross. The rookie swingman has shown a lot of promise over the past couple months, not only with his breathtaking dunking abilities, but also his sweet stroke from beyond the arc. With Gay taking over the small-forward position, Ross’s minutes with undoubtedly be cut back.

And finally there’s the issue of where this realistically leaves the Raptors going forward. What is their ceiling with Rudy Gay? Are they actually a better team with Gay in the line-up? Probably, but how much better? If the aim of the franchise is to contend for the 7th or 8th seed in the East, then the acquisition of Gay will help that cause. For all his faults he’s an above average scorer who can be clutch at the end of games—and the Raptors could do with a closer on the evidence of this season. He’s also a ‘name’ that’ll help put asse** in seats at the ACC. But the Raptors aren’t contending for a championship anytime soon, so what’s the point in making this move?

8th place in the East means being swept by the Miami Heat or another Eastern Conference giant, and not being able to improve through the draft. The way forward for the Raptors should be to develop their young talent—the likes of Valanciunas and Ross—and to get better by drafting well. Taking on massive amounts of salary is not part of the rebuilding process. Gay makes $17.8 million and $19.3 million over the next two years respectively—a hell of a lot of money to pay for a guy who has never proven that he can be a franchise player in the NBA. And don’t forget, if the Raptors want to keep Kyle Lowry, he’s going to have to get paid sooner or later. His contract is up in the season that Gay is due to make almost as much money as LeBron.

During the press conference to announce the trade Colangelo told the media that he wasn’t done conducting trades. Presumably that means Bargnani is next on the chopping block—and that would be a GOOD move. But the move for Gay screams of desperation—a lame-duck G.M. that is looking to protect his job by sacrificing the team’s long-term prospects; making small, but superficial short-term gains. I hope I’m wrong. I hope Rudy Gay turns into the sort of franchise superstar the Raps haven’t had since Vince, but on current evidence this is a puzzling salary-sapping move for the franchise.

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