Just last week, Ryan Schwan stated that this weekly feature is one of his favorite reads on the site. I set out to change that today by taking time to project how our future would look if we inserted Rudy Gay into our small forward spot. According to recent rumors, the Grizzlies are listening to offers for Rudy Gay for a variety of reasons, the primary one being financial as Gay makes 16.4 million this year and an additional 37 million over the next two seasons. If Memphis doesn't move Gay, they are looking at a luxury tax bill of about 4 million dollars on top of their 74 million dollar payroll, but if they could move Gay for somebody(s) who makes 4-5 million dollars less, then they not only save that money and avoid paying the tax, but they will also get a rebate check of sorts from the teams over the luxury tax, which figures to be around 4 million dollars this year. Long story short, moving Gay could save Memphis about $12 million this year.
That is the primary reason they are looking at making the move. Other factors include future cap flexibility, as they are already projected to be over the luxury tax next year and that is without the added salaries of free agents they sign, draft picks, and taking care of their own free agents like Tony Allen. Allen is a fan and coaches favorite in Memphis and having Gay on the payroll makes it nearly impossible to match the offers he will likely get in free agency. You also can't overlook the fact that former ESPN writer John Hollinger having a voice in the Memphis front office is a major factor in this decision. Hollinger invented the stat PER and Rudy Gay only has an average PER (15.4), yet he is one of the highest paid players in the NBA.
As far as the Hornets making a trade for Gay this season, it is practically impossible without giving up Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson, or Eric Gordon because of the money Gay commands. For the trade to work per league rules, the Hornets would have to ship out over $13 million in salary and that can't be done without either gutting the entire team or giving up one of the big three. Ironically, this trade could be done if the Hornets still had Hakim Warrick's expiring contract, but Dell got rid of that chip in a move I still don't fully understand. A deal that centered around Lopez and our protected 1st going to Philly, Thaddeus Young and pieces going to Memphis, and Gay coming here would be possible if we just had another 3-4 million dollars in salary to make the figures work. Memphis would get a young vet with a higher PER and a cheaper salary to replace Gay, Philly would get a big who gives them Bynum insurance and a high pick, and the Hornets would get a possible missing piece plus lesser picks and backups for their squad. But alas, it is not to be this year because we cannot make the salaries match.
The more likely scenario would be that Memphis holds on to Gay this year and tries to make one last run with this squad. If they are one and done in the playoffs, they have to consider moving Gay or Randolph because it would not be wise to become repeat luxury tax offenders if all that spending that money gets you is an early exit from the playoffs. Of the two players, Gay would fetch more in a trade because he is still relatively young (26) and more teams in the NBA have a need for a small forward at this point. Memphis could look to move Gay straight up for our pick in the 2013 draft, and if the Hornets land outside of the range where they could realistically get Shabazz Muhammad (top-3), then it is something they should at least consider. If they do, here is what they would be looking at:
Gay makes 17.9 million next season. If the Hornets pick up their player options on Lopez, Thomas, Roberts, Miller, and Smith they will be right around $43.5 million in payroll. The cap is projected to be somewhere between $58 and $60 million, meaning that the Hornets would have to decline some of those options or move 1-2 of those guys in a trade to get Gay. The most likely scenario is that they could decline Smith's deal, which is not guaranteed, make the trade for Gay and then use one of their exceptions to give Smith a long term deal. Since Thomas, Miller, and Roberts are essentially on minimum contracts, cutting them wouldn't give the Hornets much space because there would still be a roster hold for those spots that would account for nearly $500,000. Declining Lopez and trying to re-sign him would probably not be wise, as he would likely command more than the two years and ten million he is currently owed on the free agent market. Declining Smith's contract, with the understanding that they will give him a long term one in July would probably be the best way to go and would give the Hornets a payroll of between $63-$66 million next season, which would be well under the luxury tax.
Moving forward, the Hornets books would be pretty tight again for the following year but they would not risk losing any current players by bringing on Gay, nor would they be at risk to go over the luxury tax. Essentially, they would have a two year window with a starting lineup of Vasquez/Gordon/Gay/Davis/Lopez with Roberts/Rivers/Miller/Anderson/Smith coming off the bench. After those two seasons, Gay, Lopez, and Vasquez would be free agents and Gordon would have a player option on his contract where he could choose to become an unrestricted free agent. Davis and Anderson would still be under their current contracts but would likely be due hefty raises the following year, making it unlikely that the Hornets could keep that entire core together if it performed well in the two years leading up to that summer.
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