As the preseason winds down and we begin to turn the corner to basketball games that actually matter, the litany of “NBA season preview” articles written by media organizations and blogs on both sides of the border is quickly approaching it’s saturation point. For most people reading this post (read: Raptor fans/NBA blog consumers), the preseason serves as both a blessing and a curse: on the plus side, it’s great to have so much literature on the Raps to read (at least as much as is afforded to any other mid-market NBA team during this time of the year); but on the other side of the coin, reading the same rhetoric by the larger NBA writer-sphere column after column can be ingratiating at best, and patronizing at worst. This year, basketball writers have chosen to focus on three particular narratives, with few exceptions:
- Jonas Valanciunas’ development will be key for the Raptors to improve as a group this year, compete for a playoff spot, and for the franchise’s health going forward.
- Masai Ujiri is a major upgrade over Brian Colangelo, and his impact has yet to be fully felt within the Raptor organization.
- There is more than a good chance that Rudy Gay will be moved at some point this season – for some columnists, it’s an inevitability (hi, Bill and Jalen’s NBA Preview!).
Raptors Season Preview Mini Round-up
Now, if you’re like me, the entire “trade Rudy” suggestion has been overplayed in the mainstream NBA media. Notwithstanding the team’s reasonable record with him during his limited tenure (barely a half-season to this point) and the excellent metrics of the current starting five, Ujiri has publicly stated he has no interest in simply letting one of his best players go in a fire-sale type move.
With that being said, though… Let’s say the Raptors’ season goes south in a hurry, Rudy and DeMar prove too similar to coexist on the same roster, and Ujiri decides that the best option moving forward is to move Gay, clearing his most onerous contractual obligation in the process. What then? What can we expect for him? And does it even matter?
The short answer to that last question is yes, obviously. Despite Rudy’s massive contract, he is still an above-average NBA forward on a short-term deal (player option this offseason, unrestricted free agent the next), and there will be some interest in signing him, either by teams looking to contend for the playoffs in the short-term (Bucks, Hawks) or by contenders looking to similarly move salary while still remaining competitive (Bulls). Any asset with multiple suitors demands return, and Ujiri won’t simply give away Rudy for cap filler.
In fact, this proposed deal – Gay for Carlos Boozer, straight up, is one that has been floated around the blogosphere in recent weeks. Despite the irony inlaid in the fact that it was just mere months ago we were talking about moving Andrea Bargnani for Boozer, the deal makes some sense, financially – the Raptors would be in a slightly better situation (about $4 million in cap relief next offseason), and would also be less competitive on the court (Landry Fields starting at small forward?), which would seem to work in concert with the tanking aspirations of a team that’s just (hypothetically) moved its number one scoring option.
However, deals like this – for a veteran player with time remaining on his contract – are essentially tit-for-tat moves for the Raptors organization. Instead of being burdened with Gay’s contract going forward, the Raps instead have Carlos Boozer’s – a player who doesn’t fit the team’s offensive identity and actually pushes one of their more efficient players to the bench. One could argue that you could move Boozer in the future for prospects, picks, or cap space, but if that’s the end goal, why not just do that with your first move?
A second, more palatable option would be to move Gay for cap relief right away – taking back expiring contracts that could make the Raptors players in the 2014 offseason. A variation of this deal was offered by the Pistons to the Raptors during the summer months and rejected by management, who explained that they don’t just want to “give a player away.” Now, rhetoric may change midseason, but in my opinion, moving an asset to simply be free of that asset is neither sound economics nor team management, and if Masai didn’t settle with that for Andrea Bargnani, he’s certainly not going to for Rudy Gay.
The final option, then, is to use a chip like Gay to collect assets that are useful in the future – either picks or young players. Obviously, this type of deal is the most difficult to consummate, given the relative value of these types of assets to other teams. However, there are ways for this to realistically happen: like the Bargnani/Knicks trade, teams desperate to acquire an impact player could fill a trade package with undesirable assets for the Raptors to deal with in addition to a few appealing pieces.
Ujiri himself actually has an excellent track record in this respect: moving Bargnani to the Knicks this offseason and Carmelo Anthony to them in 2011 (Knicks’ GMs, you might want to just lose his number), which should make Raptor fans cautiously optimistic on this front. If Rudy Gay, or any other part of the Raptor core is moved, it is IMPERATIVE that the team receive something in return that will move the team along the rebuilding process besides simply cap space, which has proven difficult to use efficiently over the lifetime of the Raptor franchise. Ujiri has shown a fondness for building through the draft in the past, which makes sense in Toronto, and so I’d imagine draft picks would be at the centre of any trade package moving significant Raptor assets in the near future.
Put simply: as much as we like to complain about the general stagnancy of the Raptor franchise, the entire starting lineup (and some of the bench) has significant value around the league as either proven young(ish) talent, or building blocks with significant upside. To give that away for nothing but expiring deals or aging veterans would be a major, major mistake. And if I can figure that out, I’m confident Masai and co. will too.
Now it’s your turn to have your say, though: What could/should we feasibly get in return in any Rudy Gay trade? Do you think he should be moved at all costs or stay put? Let’s hear it.