This morning the Memphis Grizzlies made a trade, just not the one so many people were expecting. Over the last two weeks there have been trade rumors hovering over the Grizzlies season and making focus tough to come by. This move may have put those rumors to bed for now. Memphis has agreed to trade G Wayne Ellington, G Josh Selby and F Marreese Speights and a 2015 1st round pick (top 5 protected) to the Cleveland Cavaliers for F Jon Leuer.
This is undoubtedly a move driven by two factors; GM Chris Wallace recognizing that ownership is dead set on making sure they do not pay the luxury tax under the new CBA and doing what he can to keep the core together, and doing it in a way that was probably heavily influenced by their new Vice President of Basketball Operations, John Hollinger, a new age metrics based executive.
Chris Wallace knows that Memphis is playing well but is still not a big market team and can’t afford to sit in the luxury tax like the Lakers, not to mention losing the trade and free agent exceptions that all teams above the soft cap and under the luxury cap are allowed to use. The NBA salary cap for this season is set at $58.044 million and the luxury cap is set at $70.307 million. The Grizzlies needed to get below the luxury tax to avoid the terrible restrictions under the new CBA that would eliminate their ability to have any flexibility in the off-season. Before the trade the Grizzlies total salary was at $74,127,785 and the Cleveland Cavaliers were at $48,019,809. Clearly, Cleveland has a lot of space to work with and decided to take on salary to get that 2015 1st round pick.
As for the Cavs, this is what you do with cap room — use it to wring a valuable asset (a first-round pick) from a desperate team.
— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) January 22, 2013
The Grizzlies wanted to get under the cap and did so by trading away $7,045,237 in salary and only taking on Leuer’s expiring contract of $725,195. After the trade, Chris Wallace has brought Memphis’ cap number to a manageable $67,807,743.
One more thing must be taken into account in this salary dump, Memphis must have at least 12 players on their roster and then have time to sign a 13th. After this trade, Memphis has only 11 players on their active roster and must immediately sign one player and within the next two weeks, a second. The current rumors are 2 of Delonte West, Bill Walker or Sasha Vujacic. They each have a minimum annual salary that must be met based on years in the league. Vujacic is at $1,146,337; Bill Walker is at $915,852; Delonte West is at $1,233,166. Signing any combination of the three will not put them over the cap and would give them back the back court depth they desire.
Hollinger surely believes that the front court depth will be fine once G/F Quincy Pondexter comes back and they won’t lose as much with the loss of Speights because of the addition of Jon Leuer. The Grizzlies front office believes that they have added a potentially valuable player in Leuer despite the aim of this trade clearly being a salary dump. They would not have needed to include the 1st round pick if this was a trade to gain talent.
Overall this trade was surprising and does make the upcoming traded deadline a lot less exciting. Rudy Gay or Zach Randolph could certainly still be traded, but the purpose of this trade was clearly to clear the necessary cap space to be able to keep the Memphis core together. Cleveland’s GM, Chris Grant, succeeded in getting even more young assets in Selby, Ellington, a 1st round pick and a solid rebounder in Speights to replace C Anderson Varejao, after he had a blood clot post surgery and thankfully will be ok but will be out for the remainder of the season. Memphis succeeded in getting rid of their NEED to trade one of their marquee players to allow ownership to let their belts out a few notches. Will it hurt them in the short or long term? Only time will tell for the Grizzlies.
UPDATE 11:49 am 1/22/2013 The pick isn’t quite as simple as a top-5 protected pick. Seeing as the exact protections are a bit convoluted, here it is from Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal.
#Cavs trade official. Pick is protected 1-5 & 15-30 for 2015 and 2016. Top 5 protected 2017 & 2018 and unprotected in 2019.
— Jason Lloyd (@JasonLloydABJ) January 22, 2013