HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — It’s impossible to determine how much, if at all, trade speculation truly distracts a team. But in the case of the Memphis Grizzlies, it’s fair to speculate that it has a lot.
“Trade rumors have been in this league since they’ve allowed trades,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said in Dallas 10 days ago as rumors of the franchise shopping Rudy Gay — as well as Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol — ran rampant.
Hollins is right, of course, but it doesn’t mean trade rumors are any less difficult to wrap the brain around now than in Hollins’ playing days. It’s actually an impossible argument to make in the Internet age and now with social media fueling speculation by the millisecond.
That night in Dallas was the start of three consecutive blowout losses for Memphis. Monday’s 82-81 home loss to Indiana makes it four in the last six games as the Grizzlies have fallen off the pace of the West’s top three teams and are fending off Golden State for fourth place.
A smaller-scale Cavs-Grizzlies trade consummated this morning gets Memphis under the dreaded luxury tax this season without needing to move any of its key pieces and perhaps gets it back to work with clearer minds.
The reported trade will send young Memphis reserves Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington and Josh Selby, plus a first-round draft pick to Cleveland for end-of-bencher John Leuer.
Memphis’ new ownership group wants no part of the CBA’s harsher luxury tax penalties to come. And with Gay, Gasol, Randolph and point guard Mike Conley on the books for a combined $58.7 million next season, Tuesday’s trade ultimately only postpones the inevitable trade of Gay and/or others until the summer.
As CBSSports.com’s Ken Berger tweeted: “Welcome to luxury taxonomics.”
The new CBA, drafted with the intent to help small-market clubs keep their rosters intact, isn’t really working out that way. Chris Paul was traded from New Orleans to the Los Angeles Clippers before the start of the 2011-12 season. The Oklahoma City Thunder traded James Harden to the Houston Rockets before the start of this season. And the Grizz will ship out Gay and/or others this summer to align their books with the new economic times.
The trade can be considered a win-now for the Grizz’s key components and fans who didn’t want the core split up before they had a chance to attack the postseason one last time. Remember, in 2010-11, Gay got injured and missed the playoffs. Memphis upset San Antonio in the first round and lost in the second round in seven grueling games to the Thunder.
Randolph injured his knee early on last season, came back late, but never got to full strength. Memphis lost Game 1 — blowing a huge lead — and Game 7 on its home floor in the first round to the Clippers.
“I definitely want to see this team stick together,” Randolph said that night in Dallas. “I’ve been with these guys four years. Rudy’s been here the longest. You want to see us together because we’ve come a long way, definitely.”
The downside to the deal is that the Grizzlies’ bench gets a little lighter. Although Speights’ role had decreased with the return of Darrell Arthur from injury, the 6-foot-10, 255-pounder averaged 6.5 ppg and 4.7 rpg in just 14.5 mpg. Ellington was Memphis’ most accurate 3-point shooter (42.3 percent) on a team that desperately needs that component.
But, at least as the Grizzlies reach the halfway point of their season at home Wednesday against the slumping Los Angeles Lakers, the core remains and they can get back to work with minds more at ease.