Dribbles: Early returns on Gay deal, Marreese Speights & Eric Gordon.

Before the inaugural Armchair 3 30 in 30 drops later today, let’s take a quick look at some NBA headlines on this Super Bowl Sunday.

Gay shines in Toronto debut

Memphis shipped star SF Rudy Gay to Toronto earlier this week in a cap-saving move that also brought them Ed Davis, Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye. I screamed fairly loudly shortly thereafter that the move made little sense for Toronto, a team already laden with bad contracts about to absorb Gay’s $37 million through 2014-15. Without getting rid of Andrea Bargnani’s $33 million through 2014-15, to me, the risk outweighed the reward, since the Raptors are locking themselves in as a fringe playoff team, at the luxury tax, but not a serious competitor.


Also Gay and DeMar DeRozan are similar NBA types, slashers who can’t shoot well from the outside and also need the ball to be effective. That said, Friday night against the Clippers, it seemed to work; Gay came off the bench and dropped 20 points on 8-16 shooting in 33 minutes. Gay, 31% from 3 on the season, even hit 3 of his 6 3-ball attempts.

We’ll learn a lot more about this experiment this afternoon, when Gay battles LeBron James and the Miami Heat. Gay’s historically held his own against LeBron, notching 21 points in head-to-head earlier this season, as well as, of course, this game-winner in 2010.

Speights should stay in Cleveland

Moving from one ex-Grizzlies forward to another, Marreese Speights was among the 3 players Memphis sent to Cleveland in a cap-saving move 2 weeks ago. And Speights has not disappointed. With Anderson Varejao out for the season, Speights is the third big in Cleveland’s rotation and usually the first guy off the bench. In 5 games with the Cavaliers, he’s averaging 15.4 points and 6.8 rebounds a night in 26 minutes. He’s even shooting 53.4% from the field and 88% from the FT line, all substantial improvements on his career averages.

Speights was especially key in spurring a Cavaliers’ run that led to a 115-110 win over the Thunder last night at The Q. He dropped 13 of his 21 in the 4th quarter, then handed the reigns over to Kyrie Irving, aka Mr. 4th Quarter, who also tallied 13 of his 35 in the final session, including 13 of the team’s last 15. Speights played 33+ minutes, 9 more than starting center Tyler Zeller, shot 10-15 from the field and also grabbed 10 boards.

Speights has a $4.5 million player option for next season, and his name’s been included in trade rumors. His inside-out game and down-low presence must be attractive to any NBA contender, as his athleticism is a major plus for his position. The Cavs would be wise to hold on to Speights and, if he opts out, consider signing him to a reasonable long-term deal this summer, though it’s likely he could fetch more than his market value in a comparably weak free agent class. GM Chris Grant, and much to his credit, has been amassing draft picks like wool socks, but it’s also a good idea to keep a few effective veterans to help a team grow.

New Orleans plays cautiously with Eric Gordon

OK, Gordon’s played 15 games this season and averaged 16.9 points, so stories of his return are a little more than a month dated. But Gordon’s been complaining of a sore back since the team’s comeback loss in Los Angeles, played only 24 minutes Friday night and was held out last night against Minnesota. Coach Monty Williams has been cautious with Gordon thus far this season, sometimes not playing him on the second night of back-to-backs. And that’s wise, especially on a team that’s 15 wins are dead last in the Western Conference. Oh, and the Hornets invested a max $58 million over 4 years in the 2-guard this offseason.

Watching their near-comeback win against the Lakers earlier this week, it’s clear Gordon’s athleticism and perimeter shooting brings another dimension to this Hornets’ team. Greivis Vasquez has been terrific this year in Gordon’s absence, but his 36% shooting from 3 can give defenders an easy out. Assuming full health at the start of next year, I really like the Vasquez-Gordon backcourt while Austin Rivers continues to grow ā€” with pieces such as Robin Lopez, Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson, also a threat from 3, already on the books ā€” and still only $35 million committed toward next year’s cap, excluding Lopez’s $5 million team option. Between a lottery pick and a solid free agent or two, this team could make noise in 2013-14.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


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