Why wait? With about a month to go until the Feb. 21 NBA Trade Deadline, that was apparently the thought process in Memphis and Cleveland this morning. The two teams completed a deal involving four players — the Grizzlies’ Marreese Speights, Josh Selby and Wayne Ellington, and the Cavaliers’ Jon Leuer — but somehow they’re all afterthoughts. Memphis had Rudy Gay and avoiding the luxury tax on its mind, and Cleveland was looking to build toward the future, acquiring a first-round draft pick that they’ll get between 2015 and 2019. (For stipulations as to when exactly Cleveland will get that pick, read this Memphis Flyer report.)
Let’s start with Cleveland, since I’m a Cavs guy, after all. Going into today, the Cavs had the most salary cap space of any team in the league, so absorbing close to $8 million in salary isn’t the end of the world. And all those contracts are either off the books at the end of this year or next, meaning Chris Grant and the Cleveland brass still have a lot of cap flexibility going into the crucial summer of 2014, when LeBron James can opt out.
Speights is likely on the books for $4.5 million next year, which isn’t the worst thing in the world given his potential; he was Memphis’ top bench big after Z-Bo and Marc Gasol. Ellington, the former UNC sharpshooter who hasn’t exactly lit it up in the pros, has a $3.1 million qualifying offer, and Selby has a team option close to $900K. But all those deals are guaranteed off the books in 2014, unless the Cavs re-sign them.
The Cavs, according to Hoopshype, actually have $0 committed to the 2014-15 season. Of course, that’s a bit deceptive, since Kyrie Irving ($7.5 million), Tristan Thompson ($5.5), Dion Waiters ($4.1) and Tyler Zeller ($1.7) have affordable team options the team’s likely to pick up, as do Anderson Varejao ($9.8), assuming he’s still on the roster and, you know, actually playing, and Alonzo Gee ($3.25). That adds up to about $32 million, leaving $26 million by this (so it will be higher then) season’s cap number to sign a max player and fill out a roster.
But for the Cavs, this move is really about the pick. Cleveland’s been stockpiling picks like food before a flood, with four, in addition to our own (plural), by the end of the decade, as well as the right to swap Miami’s first-rounder (from the LeBron deal) with the Lakers’ (from the Ramon Sessions deal), assuming the 17-24 Lakers earn a postseason bid.
First hearing of the deal on Twitter this morning, I remembered the Mo Williams-for-Baron Davis swap from 2011, where the Cavs absorbed Baron’s ridiculous deal for an unprotected first-round pick; that pick later turned into the No. 1 overall selection and Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving. FWIW, though the Cavs amnestied Baron before last season, his contract still means he’s getting $14.85 million this season, despite not playing a single dribble. Back to the point: this deal coalesces with the Cavs’ attempt to build through the draft post-LeBron, ala Oklahoma City.
On the Grizzlies’ end, I also like the trade. Memphis sheds close to $8 million in payroll to duck below the luxury tax, leaving them enough room to sign a street free agent to fill out the twelfth spot on their roster. But Memphis, a team with a real lack of outside shooting, loses its best 3-point shooter in Ellington; he’s shooting it at a 42% clip this year through 40 games. And they lose depth in Speights, who was giving them 6.5 points per game in 14.5 minutes.
Now Memphis can channel its focus toward winning this year, rather than dealing Rudy Gay. With Gay, Zach Randolph and Gasol all on the books for close to max money, and Mike Conley getting around $8-10 million per, you have a great core, but also a dearth of financial flexibility. Hopefully now Memphis, 26-14 and fourth in the Western Conference, can make a run at OKC.
So, to recap, what we have here is a mutually beneficial deal. But I might just like it a tad more for Cleveland.
Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.