The Memphis Grizzlies have new ownership and they have new faces in their front office, and those new faces have made some changes to what looked like a championship-contending team in the Western Conference. And perhaps not for the better.
A few weeks ago, the Grizzlies made an under-the-radar deal that sent big man Mareese Speights, guard Wayne Ellington, Josh Selby and a future draft pick to the Cavs for what turned out to be cap relief to stay under the luxury tax this offseason. Then Memphis decided to make one more deal just a few days ago. The Grizzlies traded away leading scorer Rudy Gay in a three-team trade with Toronto and Detroit. While they received a very intriguing player in Ed Davis and a true pro in Tayshaun Prince, The Grizz just dealt away their chance at an NBA title with Gay’s departure.
Grizzlies CEO Jason Levien joined 92.9 in Memphis with the Chris Vernon Show to talk about his feelings about the latest trade the Grizzlies made, the previous deal with Cleveland where they had to part with a draft pick, whether the decision was predicated on creating salary cap room, the idea that this trade was done because the new ownership doesn’t have money and why they didn’t wait until after the season to trade away Rudy Gay.
On his feelings about the trade:
“I think we got better. I think we’re very happy with it. Obviously it’s hard to lose a player like Rudy Gay and all his talent, his professionalism, the kind of guy he is, the kind of player he is, but we think we improved ourselves. We got a player in Tayshaun Prince who is an Olympic gold medal winner, NBA Champion — I’m not sure there’s been an NBA Champion player starting for the Grizzlies. (Host: Tony Allen! What are you talking about?) Oh, I apologize. I missed Tony’s ring and with all due respect I made a big mistake there, I’m sorry. Anyway, Tayshaun has five times as much playoff experience as most of the guys on the roster, he’s battle tested, he’s shooting over 40 percent from the three this year, he’s an elite defensive player. He has less NBA experience than Zach Randolph but he’s been through some great wars, and I talked to Zach about him last night and they have a good relationship. They’ve known each other since growing up playing and I think he will be a terrific addition.
On adding Ed Davis as well:
“I think Ed Davis is a very exciting player. He plays above the rim, he’s long, he’s athletic, he gives us something we haven’t had at that position, he adds depth and real excitement to our frontcourt. We have an elite frontcourt obviously, and Austin Daye is an interesting player who has played very well of late and it will be interesting to see what he can bring to us going forward. We’re happy. We think we’ve added depth, we think we’ve added experience, we think we have gotten better in the short term, we think we have created opportunities for ourselves in the long term and we like getting a draft pick back. It wasn’t fun losing a draft pick in the prior trade, but we got a draft pick back which we value and it’s understandable that (in order) to get you have to give, and we feel like we did that and we’re going to be better for it.”
On the previous deal with Cleveland where they had to part with a draft pick:
“I think overall, if you look at our basketball team, forgetting the luxury tax and all of that, I think we improved our roster in the two deals combined. I think we think Ed Davis is a player who is really going to help us in the frontcourt and give us something we haven’t had. If you watch Ed Davis this season you see the last two months of how he has played at 23 years old. He has also won an NCAA Championship, was a lottery pick and he is really coming into his own. … Obviously we’re sad to lose the players we lost but we think we outweigh what we lost. We gave up a pick which is likely going to come due mathematically in 2017, in five drafts from now and we got a pick this year. We’d rather have both picks and we value the draft, but sometimes you have to give to get and we feel like that is exactly what we did.”
So you feel like you sacrificed a pick later on for one now?
“We hope so. You hate giving up any picks, but that was part of that equation of that deal and we also think in some ways, that first trade we made it was almost like we traded for Tony Wroten. I was joking with Chris Wallace about it because it freed up an opportunity for Tony to play more and he’s been exciting to watch him play. It’s been exciting to see some of the young guys play and give us some energy. We like our roster. This was a hard decision to make, to lose a guy like Rudy Gay, but we want to win and we want to win now. We feel like we didn’t sacrifice the future because we got players that we think are going to develop into the future and we also didn’t sacrifice the now — we think we took a step forward.”
How much this decision was determined by the desire to have cap space:
“Yeah it certainly gives us a lot more flexibility to do that, to go on the offense and acquire players, to keeping the guys we really like. It gave us another trade exception, so we’re now flooded with those in terms of opportunities to use those to acquire players, and there’s no doubt that going forward in the next several years and especially this summer, we have a lot of flexibility. But we didn’t want to sacrifice the now to do that. It’s exciting to be able to give ourselves that flexibility and at the same time bring in guys who we think can help us now and really help us succeed. We’re hopeful that they can do that.”
On the criticism of this deal from the standpoint that new ownership had to make this deal because they don’t have money to support:
“We took on players that we thought could play. I don’t see where that (criticism) comes from. If we were dumping salaries then why would we take on Tayshaun Prince for multi years? We’re trying to get quality players and obviously we’re trying to do it in a way that makes sense with the salary cap and gives us that flexibility going forward in acquiring more talent. It’s a marathon and not a sprint for us, and we want to look at the next five-year window and be as competitive as we can be currently and through those five years. We think we are setting ourselves up to do that in a very good way. Honestly, I appreciate that criticism and I think for every one guy that said that, there were probably six or seven commentators who analyze the league who were very positive on the deal. Not that that is the barometer, but it was nice to see that people covering the NBA closely had a sense of where we’re heading and were supportive.”
Why didn’t you wait to deal Rudy Gay following the season?
“Without getting into privacy and specifics, what I would say what is public and what is out there, Rudy had an option that he could become a free agent in 2014, and the timing of a trade is impacted by how much value you can get for a player. That’s impacted by the length of a contract in many ways and there is certainly the view out there at least, how much would a team have given up for Rudy if we were going to trade him this offseason when they would only have a commitment of one year and then he could leave and choose his next destination? There’s significantly more time now for a team to have him and have him play out potentially two postseasons than one. I would have people look at Rudy’s contract, the structure of it and see through the different vantage points. I was a former agent and advised players in terms of when they were free agents, when they’re coming up on free agency and we talk a lot about leverage, but that certainly has to factor into this.”