The reporting of the Memphis Grizzlies' salary dump of Wayne Ellington, Marreese Speights and Josh Selby to the Cleveland Cavaliers makes it seem like Rudy Gay's future in Memphis is secure. The logic: by making this deal, the Grizzlies get under the luxury tax this year, which would have been the purpose of any trade involving Gay.
It's correct to say that Gay's much more likely to stick around past the trade deadline. In reality, though, the Grizzlies just kicked the can down the road.
Memphis skirted the luxury tax this year by sending out $6 million in salary while taking much less back. The Grizzlies were about $4 million over the tax before the trade, so this puts them in the clear. The front office can now acquiesce to coach Lionel Hollins' wishes to keep the core of the team together for one more playoff run.
But this deal does very little to account for the surefire tax bills they will have to pay in the next two years if they do not move one of their high-salaried players. Memphis is already slated to pay $68 million in team salary to just eight players in 2013-14, according to HoopsHype's salary page. In 2014-15, they owe $60.5 alone to their four core players (Gay, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley), assuming Randolph exercises his player option. The luxury tax line should come in around $70 million, so it's going to be very hard for Memphis to find five players that make around $2 million combined next year to fill out their roster, much less finding nine guys that make $10 million combined to fill out their roster in 2014-15.
Ultimately, if the Grizzlies want to avoid future luxury tax bills, they're going to have to trade one of their high-salaried players. That puts us right back where we were when these rumors first started. Gasol is too valuable, Conley is too cost-efficient and Randolph is too old. That leaves Gay as the player that likely will be dealt.
The only things that have changed are timing and leverage. By dealing Ellington and Speights, the Grizzlies put themselves in a position where they could ride out their core and see what happens. If teams want Gay now, they have to make better offers because the Grizzlies aren't quite as boxed in as before.
But if those teams are smart, they'll wait Memphis out and get Gay at a discount later. The Grizzlies can't keep solving their tax problem by trimming fat. Soon, there's not going to be any fat left.