Rudy Gay trade makes sense, if you’re the one signing the checks

Wow.

That was Mike Conley’s one-word tweet not long after the Grizzlies traded Rudy Gay to the Toronto Raptors Wednesday afternoon in a three-team deal that, more than anything, signifies change is going to be the one constant for a while under new majority owner Robert Pera and right-hand man Jason Levien.

For Grizzlies fans who were tempted to think the earlier deal that sent Mo Speights, Wayne Ellington, Josh Selby and a protected first-round pick to Cleveland and saved the team more than $6 million in salary and a $4 million luxury tax bill meant the team had achieved its short-term goals, the trade of Gay had to be a shock (center Hamed Haddadi also went in the deal).

Certainly, Conley’s tweet communicates shock. But truthfully, we shouldn’t be that surprised. The Memphis NBA franchise is now in the hands of people who really have little or nothing in common with the old-guard NBA and they have to operate the team in a new-world economy where the luxury tax is ever more punitive. That’s not palpable for a new owner in a small market.

We all deal with financial realities we don’t necessarily like in our daily lives. Only our decisions are typically on a much smaller scale. If we have to cut back, we drive the car an extra year or two and maybe downsize the next vacation. But if you’re Robert Pera, tough decisions are bigger. You bring in John Hollinger, the analytics expert from ESPN, and his metrics tell you Gay may be athletic and graceful but ultimately is only an average NBA player. Yet he’s making more than $16 million this year and is due more than $37 million over the next two seasons. That’s not average pay. That’s not logical if you’re one the signing the checks.

So whether Grizzlies fans like it or not, the deal makes a lot of sense from where Pera sits. We won’t go into all the details of every player involved the trade now, but veteran Tayshaun Prince comes from Detroit and several things are immediately apparent: he’s older (almost 33), cheaper (around $7 million per season), a better 3-point shooter, a more tenacious defender, and less athletic. At worst, it looks like a push. Plus, the Grizzlies are getting a couple of young forwards. And yes, that may mean the larger plan could include parting with Zach Randolph after the season. But that’s a “wow” for another day.

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