Thoughts on Rudy Gay

January 30th, 2013 by Nate Smith

In case you missed it last night, Rudy Gay was traded to Toronto.  In a three way deal, Ed Davis will head to Memphis, along with Austin Daye and Tayshuan Prince.  Detroit will receive Jose Calderon.  Additionally, the U.S. loses its only Iranian born NBA player, as Hamad Haddadi, obviously the centerpiece of this deal, moves north of the border.  This deal has several implications for the Cavs.

First, this trade takes the Cavaliers out of the running for Rudy Gay.  Sportswriters often liked to conjecture that the Cavs were interested in him.  He’ll now be a Toronto Raptor.  In my mind, we dodged a bullet on an overpaid player (see below).

Second, Analytics driven front offices are slowly taking over the league.  This trade had John Hollinger’s fingerprints all over it.  In looking at what he does on the court, Rudy Gay is massively overpaid for his contributions.  With salaries of $16.5 million this year, $17.9 million next year, and $19.3 million in 2014, Gay should have better numbers than a 14.39 PER, a 0.0 RAPM, and an 82games simple rating of +1.3.  These paint Gay as a player who posts incredibly average per minute production.  Furthermore, he plays with some very efficient players in Randolph, Marc Gasol, and Mike Conley.  One would think with these kinds of players there would be space to shoot better than .408.  In return for giving up Gay, Hollinger and Grizzlies pick up the efficient Ed Davis, who has an 18.19 PER, but a simple rating of -1.4, and a -1.8 RAPM.  In Prince, they get an aging vet who is not very efficient: 12.94 PER, -0.9 SR, -2.2 RAPM, and a prospect who needs a change of scenery in Daye.

Daye is the hidden gem in this trade.  He’s a player I wished the Cavs could have gotten their hands on for a long time.  He was tragically misused/underused in Detroit.  A 6’11” small forward, with a ridiculous 7’3” wing span, according to 82games, he holds opposing small forwards to a 7.6 PER, and power forwards to a 11.1 PER (to be fair, he’s often playing against scrubs).  He has a 12.93 PER, +5.4 SR, and a 0.5 RAPM.  He’s also shooting .525 from three, and .833 from the line.  As Kelly Dwyer notes at Ball Don’t Lie, Daye shoots poorly on the corner three, but fantastically from the wing, while Prince shoots well from the corners and the baseline but takes a lot of inefficient 10 to 15 footers.  I’m quite sure Hollinger is aware of this.  He’s basically traded Gay for a slight downgrade in offensive efficiency but for guys who can hit open threes from specific locations, and who make about $10 million a year less.  Additionally, he’s picked up a defensive prospect who’s a restricted free agent next year, and a guy who will be a decent locker room veteran in Prince.  The problem comes in that the other part of Prince’s offense is in the post where he’ll get very few opportunities with Z-Bo and Gasol on the team.

This trade gets the Pistons Jose Calderon, who fits the classic Bill Simmons mold of a player who was underrated, overrated, and finally properly rated over the course of the past few years.  He is probably overpaid, but he’s a good distributor and efficient offensive player with a 19.37 PER, +2.0 SR, and -.01 RAPM.  Calderon’s also in the last year of his deal, and this deal gets Detroit out of Prince’s contract which has about $14.9 million on it over the next two seasons.  Suddenly, they’ll have almost $22 million in cap space this offseason.  This makes Detroit a destination for salary dumps next season as teams try to shed salary for the 2014 free agent sweepstakes, or sets Detroit up to get in on that free agent class.  Given how badly Joe Dumars squandered his last cap windfall on Charlie Villenueva and Ben Gordon, nothing about this trade makes me worry about Detroit at all.

In a way, the Grizzlies inability to get any show stopping value out of this trade points to the analytics takeover of the NBA, and the fear many teams have of adding large long term salary for anyone who isn’t a superstar.  Dwyer panned this trade from Toronto’s perspective, citing Gay’s poor shooting numbers, noting,

“It’s like this guy was made to act as a John Hollinger talking point. You can almost see Brad Pitt spitting chaw into a cup while the newest Grizzlies personnel adviser talks up usage rate.”

Toronto is rolling the dice on the gamble that Gay can return to the shooting numbers of his earlier career.  Given that there will be more room in the middle in Toronto, this could happen.  This also clears out playing time for one of my favorites, Amir Johnson.  One of the most underrated players in the league, with an 18+ PER, a +5.2 SR, and a +4.1 RAPM, Amir only plays 25 minutes a game because of a crowded front court, and an embarrassing foul rate of 5.8/per 40 minutes (topped by new teammate, Haddadi’s 6.1).

It seems as if  Toronto is not big on NBA analytics, as they might now have two of the worst contracts in the league between Gay and Bargnani who will make over $60 million together during the next two seasons.  I like this for the Cavs as it commits Toronto for some long term sucking as the Cavs are ascending.  If Lowry comes back soon and continues his early season dominance, this may change, but I just don’t see it.  Toronto may be forever doomed by the stain of Isaiah Thomas.

Third, the new wave of the NBA is here: first was the James Harden trade, now this trade.  Teams are going to scheme their way out of paying the new NBA luxury taxes any way possible.  Players will be traded for packs of Garbage Pail Kids.  Toxic contracts will be dumped in Lake Springfield by C. Montgomery Burns himself.  The question now becomes, who is the next major player to be traded?  In looking at the cap numbers, I can identify a few candidates.  Denver is going to have to move someone or pay major taxes next year.  JaVale McGee, and Wilson Chandler will be sucking up a combined $17 million next year, pushing Denver’s payroll number to over $72 million.  If Iguodala opts out this offseason, they may avoid this, but they won’t be able to re-sign him unless they do a long term deal with less per year money. Cleveland could chase Iguodala this summer, or  make a move to take Wilson Chandler off Denver’s hands if they throw in a stud like Kosta Koufos.  If Gilbert’s willing to pay, Cleveland could take young talent and draft picks to be the toxic contract waste dump of the NBA.  Bring on the three eyed fish.

I’ve already talked about Golden State’s $75 million in commitments this year and next, and the desire to go after Jarrett Jack and/or Carl Landry because of it.  But what if the Cavs could eat Richard Jefferson’s $11 million next year, or Andris Biedrins’ $9 million for Harrison Barnes and a draft pick?  Hey.  They could throw in Gee to make it even and massage some draft positioning…

Boston will be similarly strapped, with $70 million in commitments next year, even before draft picks.   They’ve got nothing on their roster I want,  I want, but what if Cleveland took on any number of bad contracts they have (Bass, Courtney Lee, Jason Terry — though I’m not touching Jeff Green) in order to get an unprotected 2014 draft pick.  If Boston implodes, this is another shot and Andrew Wiggins (which is why Boston wouldn’t give the Cavs an unprotected pick).

This does not mention both New York teams, the Lakers, the Bulls, and Miami who will all be over the tax next year (though the Bulls have some wiggle if they cut Rip, and/or amnesty Boozer), and .  Additionally, Washington, Memphis, Portland, and OKC will be just under the tax and may look to shed some salary.

All this adds up to a league that is in major flux: new ways to analyze players are emerging, and some teams are taking advantage of them, highlighted by talent evaluators like Daryl Morey, Kevin Pritchard, Rich Cho, John Hollinger, Donnie Nelson, and Chris Grant.  The advantages of analytics are going to disappear quickly as teams catch up to each others’ abilities to evaluate players.  Combine that with a new salary system which attempts to punish teams for exorbitant payroll, and spread the talent throughout the league, it’s clear we’re in for a crazy trade deadline and off-season.  Rudy Gay was just the next domino to fall.  In the words of Marcus Burnett, “s**t just got real.”