Three more thoughts on the Rudy Gay trade

With so many reaction pieces flying around about the Rudy Gay trade to the Raptors, it’s easy to think everything has been covered. But here are some thoughts, one for each team involved, that were left undiscussed.

1. The Pistons didn’t just dump salary, they got better

Detroit is just 17-29 and traded their last player synonymous with winning (Tayshaun Prince) in the deal so I get why it’s easy to write this team off. But despite that poor record, the sorry state of the Eastern Conference has the Pistons ‘only’ 5 ½ games behind the Rondo-less Celtics with just under half the season remaining.

With Calderon in the fold, I don’t think it’s all that insane to suggest this Pistons team — especially if aided by another move that breaks up the sieve-like frontcourt of Jason Maxiell and Greg Monroe — could make a run at a playoff spot. Though their new Spaniard’s defensive issues will be more apparent without active bigs like Amir Johnson and Ed Davis behind him, Calderon’s presence fixes a lot of issues dogging the team, most notably the uninspiring play of Rodney Stuckey.

All season long, the struggling guard has been like a square peg trying to be jammed in a round hole. To start the year, Stuckey was paired with with second-year guard Brandon Knight (another player who thrives off dribble penetration) and Prince (who posted up more than spotted up). Being forced to play off the ball with two non-shooting bigs in the frontcourt essentially sealed Stuckey’s fate before he played a minute.

Things got slightly better when he was moved to the bench with the exciting second unit I profiled on Grantland. There Stuckey was still playing second-fiddle to Will Bynum, but at the very least he had space to work with. Assuming he gets paired with Calderon in the backcourt and Kyle Singler — who should also be better now that he’s not masquerading as a two guard — Stuckey’s dribble-penetration (and post up) heavy game could receive a major boost as both those players have perimeter-based games.

And with rookie guard Kim English likely taking over Stuckey’s role as “corner 3-point shooter” in Detroit’s bench group, that lineup could actually be slightly better as well (though they will obviously miss Austin Daye shooting 50% from 3). Add it all up and it wouldn’t be totally shocking if the Pistons closed the season strong (21-15 would put them at 38 wins) and sneak into the playoffs.

2. Without Gay, Memphis will need to find coaching quickly

It’s not really a news flash that Gay’s game didn’t fit in seamlessly with Memphis but it covered up how undisciplined the team’s offensive game plan has been under Lionel Hollins. The departing forward is definitely a high-volume scorer but that actually had quite a bit of value on a Memphis team lacking shot creators, especially late in the clock when they’d inevitably operate due to poor time management (partly driven by Hollins insisting on calling a play every time down). And getting a shot — good, bad or otherwise — is always better than a turnover.

So while Gay’s efficiency was at a career low, he still had plenty of value (despite his effort issues) within this team. Now Memphis has to find shots among a group of players not cut out to be high-usage players. This can typically be done with great offensive execution, but the Grizzlies have never been synonymous with that under Hollins. It may take a total turnaround from Hollins and his staff, or a new coach, for the Conley-Randolph-Gasol core to compete with the elite teams in the West.

3. For this trade to make sense for Toronto, Gay has to transition to the 4

Here’s a solution to some of the issues that arise from the core of Kyle Lowry-DeMar DeRozan-Gay:

If Gay stays at the 3 and another non-shooting big ends up at the 4 next to promising rookie Jonas Valanciunas, it will be Memphis’ stagnant O all over again. But given Dwane Casey’s background working under Rick Carlisle in Dallas, he’s well-equipped to design an offensive system with Gay playing the part of the Mavs’ Dirk Nowitzki. Now obviously, Gay isn’t Nowitzki, but this is the only move with this current group that offers any hope for floor balance on offense.

By shifting Gay to power forward spot, Casey and the Raptors front office (insert Bryan Colengalo joke here) can either insert Terrance Ross into the starting lineup at small forward — crossing their fingers he shoots the 3 as well at the NBA level as he did in college — or acquire a wing that can act as a shooter/playmaker/ball mover at that spot. Then by sending DeRozan home this offseason to devotely study the Spursian way of the corner 3, Toronto could create an offense with Gay as Nowitzki, Lowry as a scoring point guard, two wings that can flatten and stretch the defense from the corners and Valanciunas tying it all together in a Tyson Chandler-esque fashion.

That is perhaps the only way this core will experience some success. Otherwise you can chalk this deal up as yet another one of Colengalo’s many mistakes during his inexplicably long tenure as the Raps GM.

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