Trade of Gay shows new labor deal seems a lot like old labor deal
NBA Commissioner David Stern made a startling declaration last month, tacitly acknowledging that arguments for maintaining competitive balance for smallermarket NBA teams through a punitive luxury tax penalty were merely rhetoric.
The latest labor deal, which initially was hailed by the league as a victory for small-market teams, has in fact made it more difficult for well-run organizations without deep-pocketed owners to draft, develop, trade and build contenders without eventually sacrificing quality assets.
Last week, the Memphis Grizzlies became the latest talent-rich small-market team to prioritize fiscal responsibility over spending with the hope of a June payoff.
The Grizzlies shipped Rudy Gay, at 26 a relatively young but expensive talent, to Toronto in a three-team deal that yielded promising big young man Ed Davis and a second-round pick from the Raptors and Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye from Detroit.
A week earlier, the Grizzlies made another cost-cutting deal by sending Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington, Josh Selby and a protected No. 1 pick to Cleveland for Jon Leuer, who has been playing in the NBA Development League.
Memphis achieved its financial goals with the trades, clearing roughly $16 million in commitments, and will no longer have to worry about a $4 million luxurytax bill. Had the Grizzlies stuck with Gay’s deal through 2015 — he is owed $37 million over the next two seasons — the tax penalty would’ve been more severe and increased each year because the team would be considered a repeat offender.
Grizzlies Coach Lionel Hollins openly supported keeping the team together, hoping to see how far it could go. But Hollins also understood the economic challenges of being a small-market team, conceding this week to reporters in Oklahoma City, “When you have champagne taste, you can’t be on a beer budget.”
The Grizzlies could’ve possibly waited until the offseason to move Gay and Speights and still avoided paying the luxury tax. Gay’s optout clause for the 2014-15 season — when he is slated to earn about $19 million — made teams unwilling to surrender anything of value for a possible one-year rental.
Memphis certainly had basketball motivations in trading Gay, with the team sputtering offensively, slumping since a red-hot November and with Gay showing signs of regression two seasons after shoulder surgery.
But economics, not necessarily a fair talent swap, once again became the primary factor for a trade in the NBA, where deals are rarely made without the buzzwords of “expiring contact” and “salary cap flexibility.” The deal was more disconcerting because it came exactly five years after the organization traded Pau Gasol to the Lakers, creating a perennial championship contender in Los Angeles.
The Grizzlies couldn’t guarantee that a core of Gay, all-star forward Zach Randolph, former all-star center Marc Gasol and Mike Conley could compete with San Antonio, Oklahoma City and the Los Angeles Clippers, but backed out before giving it a real chance. And the new collective bargaining agreement adds its latest casualty.
Forward Rudy Gay scored 20 points in his Toronto debut on Friday, a 98-73 win over the L.A. Clippers.