In case you hadn't heard, the Memphis Grizzlies pulled off a trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers this morning. At first glance it looks like nothing much: Maurice Speights, Wayne Ellington, Josh Selby, and a first round pick for Jon Leuer. The Griz also get a $4 million dollar trade exception.
So Memphis trims around $6 million off their payroll... which allows them to keep their big stars... Zach Randolph, Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol, and Mike Conley. But at what cost? While Selby and Leuer are meaningless, Speights and Ellington were key reserves for the Griz, especially Speights, who gave them a tough, reliable big off the bench. That's the immediate loss, Speights and Ellington, with nothing back to replace them. But the big piece for Cleveland, of course, is the number one pick which is protected frontwards and backwards. According to Brian Windhorst:
"In 2015 or 2016, if the Grizzlies' first-rounder falls between picks 6-14, the pick goes to the Cavs. Starting in 2017, if the Grizzlies pick falls outside the top five, the Cavs then get the selection. In 2019, the pick becomes unprotected."
So, Cleveland gets the pick only when it actually has some value, not this year (when it will probably fall in the top twenty).
But if you keep your magnifying glass on this trade, it starts to look even worse. This is a tragic and desperate move for Memphis... and you can extend their dilemma to any small (or mid) market team. The Grizzlies are damned by their own success. As they've gotten better, their salaries have grown. They've made big money deals to keep their stars, and next year they'll have committed somewhere around $60 million to four of their five starters... the fifth (Tony Allen) will be a free agent... who they almost certainly won't be able to keep.
In order to get under the luxury tax THIS year, someone had to go... and that was two key guys from the bench. So what happens when the Grizzlies go up against teams with great benches like the Clips, the Thunder, or the Spurs? Well... they'll probably lose.
The other part of this, and this is should be a lesson we Clipper fans should carefully observe, is the foolishness of jettisoning first-round picks. In the new NBA, where extended life in the luxury tax results in stunningly punitive penalties, those long, low-cost first round salaries are a godsend. You can hold onto first class material (think
Erik Eric Bledsoe) for cheap and give yourself a lot of payroll leverage and cap relief. Memphis not only gave up a valuable chunk of depth in this trade, they also gave up future insurance.
Hey NBA! Where are we? And where are we going? If you don't want teams in Memphis or New Orleans or Sacramento, then move them, because this plan you've got here? This doesn't work. This doesn't work at all.