Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
The Memphis Grizzlies got rid of Marreese Speights and Wayne Ellington in a deal that looks ugly on the surface, but could prevent the team from having to get rid of Rudy Gay.
All the talk surrounding the Memphis Grizzlies for the past few weeks had surrounded moving Rudy Gay, taking from them their best scorer. By trading away other pieces instead, they'll save themselves enough money to keep them, saving them the trouble of trading away Gay's contract -- and of having to find someone to score with him gone.
Tuesday, the Grizzlies reportedly traded away Marreese Speights and Wayne Ellington in a trade that is completely lopsided from a basketball perspective. Speights is a leaping big with strength and rebounding ability, while Ellington is a good shooter who led the team in scoring Monday night with 17 points. They also gave up project point guard Josh Selby, as well as picks. In return? Jon Leuer, an undrafted power forward who played decently in spot minutes as a rookie with the Milwaukee Bucks and hasn't done much of anything as a sophomore with the Cleveland Cavaliers, as he's been bench-bound even with Anderson Varejao hurt.
But the key is salaries: the Grizzlies have desperately wanted to get under the luxury tax, the main reason they wanted to get rid of Gay in the first place. Speights is due over $4 million this year, Ellington over $2 million. Dealing them dips Memphis below the tax -- with room to spare -- and will likely keep them from getting rid of Gay.
The prospect of moving Gay was a tough one: first off, he's set to make over $16 million this season, next season, and the year after that after signing for $82 million in 2010. And while Gay's a really good player, it's tough to justify bringing on that type of contract for a player that on many teams would be a second - or maybe third - option: it's a tough sell to ask teams to bring on about $50 million in contract obligations for a player who has never been to an All Star Game in the first place, not to mention that not many teams would be willing to part with a halfway decent group of players in return.
And although Gay's not a particularly efficient scorer - 17.5 points on 16.6 shots per game this year, a number that's only marginally worse than his career numbers - he fits with Memphis. He can score when given a high volume of shots, and most importantly, he brings the defense on a team that thrives on it: Memphis is second in the league in defensive efficiency, allowing just 97.0 points per 100 possessions. They don't need an elite scorer to win them games, just somebody to give them more than the marginal number of points they allow. Gay brings that, as well as the length and strength that make him a good perimeter defender.
Memphis has the depth to be afford to get rid of Speights and Ellington -- their ninth and tenth guys in terms of minutes played - and it could save them having to trade a player who is majorly important to them. Both players will get healthy minutes in Cleveland, who land a big to fill in with Varejao hurt and a better small forward option than Luke Walton, who has been playing recently, and the Grizzlies get to go under the cap without losing a player they need. It might be a rare trade everybody benefits from.
For more on the Grizzlies and complete coverage of reported trade rumors involving Rudy Gay, head over to Straight Outta Vancouver.