Why the Gay trade will work for the Grizzlies

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Memphis Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph (50) and forward Darrell Arthur (00) and Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka (9) watch a rebound during an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013. Oklahoma City won 106-89. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

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When the Memphis Grizzlies shipped Rudy Gay to the Toronto Raptors last week many analysts, including TNT’s Chris Webber, were convinced they had thrown in the towel on what could have been a title contender.

Although they replaced Gay with veteran forward Tayshaun Prince from Detroit and promising big man Ed Davis from Toronto, it was hard to shake the thought that it was a move made by new owner Robert Pera with an eye on the bottom line rather than the top of the playoff bracket.

However, the move makes a great deal of sense for Memphis, both in the long term and short term, and should keep them in playoff contention – and maybe more – for years to come.

Although the Grizzlies had squirmed their way under the luxury tax by trading Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington, and Josh Selby to the Cavaliers in January, Gay’s contract was still of long-term concern, and needed to be moved eventually in order for the franchise to be able to move forward.

Because of that outsized contract, which is paying Gay about $16 million this season and even more over the next two, he had earned an unfair reputation as an underachiever.

His strong early returns as a Raptor have made clear that he’s still a premier talent, a wing defender who can finish at the rim and hit shots in crunch time.

But the focus of the Grizzlies’ offense, understandably, is in the paint, where they employ one of the most formidable front lines in the league in Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.

As important as Gay was to Memphis’ offense, his talents were not being utilized to their full potential as the third wheel.

A player like Prince fits in seamlessly, and in fact it already feels as though he’s been in Memphis his entire career, despite a storied past with the Pistons that included a championship in 2004.

Like Gay, Prince is a solid wing defender who can sidle in next to Tony Allen and not detract from what has been one of the most suffocating team defences in the NBA for the past several years.

Prince is arguably an even better fit for the Grizzlies than Gay, because as a relatively low-usage player, he does not demand the ball nearly as much as a player of Gay’s scoring ability would. He’s still a capable shooter when called upon, however.

The real prize in this trade for the Grizzlies is Ed Davis, who had been blossoming as part of a frontcourt tandem with Amir Johnson in Toronto.

Memphis’ investment in him likely won’t pay off this season, as they have an already crowded frontcourt between Randolph, Gasol, and Darrell Arthur.

But rumors have swirled for nearly as long as the Gay rumors that Randolph is next out the door.

A cheap, high-upside frontcourt talent like Davis will make it much easier for Memphis to move Randolph, despite the fact that, as of now, his talent still matches his enormous contract.

With head coach Lionel Hollins expressing his frustration with Grizzlies managemet for trading Gay, it wouldn’t be surprising if he was on his way out as well.

This feels like a final hurrah for one of the most reliable playoff teams of the past few years. But the moves the new Grizzlies regime have made are a step towards sustainability and continued playoff contention.

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