Let it never be said that Bryan Colangelo gives up easily.
Word first leaked back in May that the Toronto Raptors were pursuing swingman Rudy Gay, the kind of high-powered scoring weapon that the Raptors have long needed and Colangelo has long coveted, and now eight months later he has his man heading to Toronto in a three-team trade.
Toronto will send Jose Calderon, Ed Davis and a 2013 second round pick to Memphis to complete their end of the transaction, while Memphis is flipping Calderon to Detroit for forwards Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye. The Raptors will also receive (and almost assuredly waive) big man Hamed Haddadi, opening up a roster spot for future transactions or signings.
Losing Davis will be hard for some fans to swallow given his young age and the fact that he just completed his best month in the NBA, but it takes talent to acquire talent and, considering where the respective pieces sit in the NBA pecking order, the Raptors did pretty well in this deal from a cost-versus-return perspective.
That's not to say that this trade is a home run for the Raptors, though. First of all, Gay is a fantastically expensive player, one who makes $17.9 million next season and $19.3 million in '14-'15. If you're tying up that much money in one player you would hope that he covers multiple areas for you on the court (as a way of compensating for the lack of dollars you now have to spend on other players), and Gay does not. Even if you assume that Gay will rebound from his current regression, at his best he's still a wing player that shoots inconsistently from two and from three, doesn't get to the free throw line like his athleticism suggests he should and leaves more on the table defensively than you'd like from your star wing.
Which takes us nicely to the second issue that Gay presents, and that's how closely his strengths and weaknesses mirror those of DeMar DeRozan, the guy Toronto just lavished with a four-year, $38-million contract extension. Make no mistake, Gay is MUCH better than DeRozan, but dealing with that much duplication from your starting wings (especially when it comes to a lack of three-point shooting and defensive stopping power) is far from ideal. Truth be told, Gay fits a lot better alongside rookie Terrence Ross, who can hit threes, play defence and likes to attack the rim. It's doubtful that they see too much time together, though.
Which brings us to our third point, and that's the suddenly very crowded wings in Toronto. If DeRozan and Gay are starting, and playing roughly 35 minutes each, that leaves precious few table scraps for Ross, Alan Anderson and Landry Fields, all of whom have been playing very well of late (although one can expect Gay to play some small ball power forward, as well). Since Ross was reportedly made 'untouchable' in trade talks for Gay, one assumes that the club will find him minutes somewhere, so the likelihood is high that we'll be seeing another trade or two before the trade deadline to balance out the roster.
Which is good, because not only are the wings overstuffed, but the point guard position looks painfully thin with only pseudo-point guard John Lucas left to back up Kyle Lowry. There is also now an abundance of offensively-talented but defensively-poor starters on Casey's club, something that would appear to fly in the face of the personality that this team was supposed to be rebuilding towards when they hired Casey in 2011.
So how do we evaluate this trade? That's hard to say. Since it is almost a near-certainty that more trades are in the offing, we don't yet have an accurate portrayal of the team's rotation or salary cap structure going forward. One can make a pretty strong case that Gay is now the team's best player, and anytime you can get one of those in a trade without giving up your current best player (Kyle Lowry) or best prospect (Jonas Valanciunas) that's a plus. It's also worth remembering that, given what the Raptors had to peddle, getting a player of Rudy Gay's caliber is pretty impressive. If Gay can bounce back post-trade then the Raptors have received a heck of a player for two quasi-starters, even if there are now redundancies that need to be addressed.
All that said, though, something just feels off about this move. Looking up and down this roster I feel like I can already hit my head on their ceiling. Sure, with a few more roster tweaks you may have a consistent Playoff participant (and given Toronto's issues getting there over the years that's not nothing), but are they really building towards anything more substantial?
One shouldn't sneeze at being a consistent Playoff club, I know. Dallas kept tweaking that formula until they won it all, and getting there consistently certainly changes the culture of the locker room - I guess the question just becomes whether or not this is a core you can build around or if it will need to be torn apart at some point before the team can really compete for the big prize.
So let's leave it at this: the Raptors have a staggeringly athletic team that should be plenty of fun to watch once they learn to blend with each other, but until we see what Colangelo does to iron out the rest of the roster we can't really look at this move in a 'big picture' sort of way. Gay is a very good basketball player, immediately one of the best that the Raptors have ever employed, and fit/price issues aside, raw talent is needed to win in the NBA.
There is big pressure now on Gay and Lowry to step up and lead a team, on Valanciunas to represent the club's upward mobility and on Colangelo to keep massaging this roster until it makes sense.
Colangelo got his guy, now everyone has to work to prove it was worth the effort it took to get him to Toronto.