As many Grizz fans are already aware, Alex Kennedy came out last week with a rather harsh view of the Memphis Grizzlies locker room and the situation surrounding the trade of Rudy Gay at the end of an opinion piece on Josh Smith.
Often times reporter are not able to explain as fully as they want what they know of a situation so the authors at 3 Shades of Blue sought out Kennedy to give him an opportunity to explain more fully what he mentioned in his article. As the Senior NBA writer for Hoopsworld.com and USA Today Sports, Alex Kennedy is well aware of the space limitations.
So without further ado, here is our discussion with Alex Kennedy.
3SOB: You wrote an interesting article today detailing the reasons for trading Rudy Gay now instead of during the summer. To be clear: do you really believe Rudy was unhappy in Memphis or did it have more to do with the trade rumors constantly surrounding him?
Alex Kennedy: Rudy Gay was definitely tired of the trade rumors, as any player would be, but there was much more going on behind the scenes. In the weeks leading up to the trade, Gay had questioned the front office and criticized the coaching staff. Keep in mind, Gay’s unhappiness is nothing new. Last summer, when Gay’s name was surfacing in trade rumors, he welcomed a trade and was even contacting some players on teams that were pursuing him to discuss the possibility of playing together.
As I wrote in my article, Gay seriously considered leaving the Grizzlies when he became a free agent back in 2010. People in his camp often say that Gay re-signed because he couldn’t turn down a maximum extension from Memphis, not because he was in love with the situation. The rumors and speculation may have taken Gay’s unhappiness to another level, but there was already some frustration there.
3SOB: We are still rather novice as fans in Memphis. Could you explain the opt-out provision in Rudy’s contract. How much did that really play into the Grizzlies decision?
AK: Rudy Gay has a player option for the 2014-15 season, which would allow him to opt out of the final $19,317,326 of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent after next season. While it seems crazy for a player to walk away from that much money, sometimes players decide to opt out so that they can secure a new long-term deal. The Grizzlies wanted to trade Gay now because if they kept him for the remainder of the season and he made it clear that he was going to opt out of his deal, he would basically be in the final year of his contract. Once a player has an expiring contract, it becomes much harder to trade them because they have some control over the situation.
Take the Nuggets and Carmelo Anthony, for example. Because Anthony was in the final year of his contract, he could scare teams off by refusing to sign an extension with them. Teams like the Nets and Rockets were interested in Anthony, but they weren’t going to give up significant assets to acquire him if he wasn’t going to commit long-term. At the end of the day, the Nuggets really had no choice but to trade Anthony to the Knicks because they were the only team that he would extend with. If the Grizzlies kept Gay for the rest of the season, they likely would’ve found themselves in the same situation. Gay would’ve been able to scare teams off and force the Grizzlies to settle for a lesser offer.
That definitely played into the Grizzlies’ decision. No team wants to be in the situation where a player can hold them hostage, control the trade process and severely limit their options.
3SOB: What do you think of the trade? Did the Grizzlies come out with a good deal?
AK: I think it was a solid deal.
A lot of fans were surprised to see Rudy Gay traded for Ed Davis, Tayshaun Prince, Austin Daye and second-round pick, but that’s a better deal for Memphis than some of the other trades that were on the table. Gay is a big-name player, but his trade value wasn’t very high since he was struggling this year and has a monster contract that will pay him $16,460,532 this season and then $17,888,932 and $19,317,326 over the next two seasons.
He’ll be one of the highest paid players in the league for the duration of his contract, and it’s hard to justify paying a player that much when he’s having one of the worst years of his career. A lot of people in NBA circles are actually saying that Davis is the best player in this trade, not Gay.
John Hollinger’s Player Efficiency Rating tells a similar story: Davis had a PER close to 19 at the time of the trade whereas Gay was below 15, which is the league average. The Grizzlies also get Tayshaun Prince, who will help keep them in contention this season. I think it was a good trade for Memphis.
3SOB: Steve Kyler suggested that there have been problems in the Grizzlies locker room. Do you feel that way as well?
AK: Yes, there were definitely problems in the Grizzlies’ locker room. I saw that Steve described the leadership of Zach Randolph and Tony Allen as “aggressive” and “bully-like,” which is accurate. Rudy Gay sometimes butted heads with those guys. He didn’t appreciate the way that they carried themselves and called people out. Eventually, Gay learned to just tolerate those two, but they were never close. There was definitely drama behind the scenes in Memphis.
3SOB: Do you feel that not being friends off the court makes it difficult to play well together on the court?
AK: It depends. When players are friends, it certainly makes things easier.
However, there are some teams where players aren’t particularly close because they have families at home and things like that. In that situation, a team can win without being friends off the court because it doesn’t affect chemistry. Not every team can be the Oklahoma City Thunder – a group of guys who are all the same age and who play video games together every day after practice. Just because players aren’t friends, doesn’t mean they dislike each other.
The problem comes when players aren’t friends because they dislike each another or don’t trust each another. That’s when the off-court issues start to affect the on-court performance. I would put the Grizzlies in the second category.
Over the years, Gay and Randolph would complain about one another. Gay felt that Randolph padded his stats to get paid. Randolph felt that Gay took too many shots. Things like that can hurt a team because then it’s not just about players not being friends, it’s about players having issues with each other on the court as well.
3SOB: Just how do you think the team is going to react to the new players?
AK: I think the new players will fit in and be welcomed with open arms. Tayshaun Prince is a proven veteran who is respected throughout the league. He’s been somewhat forgotten in recent years since he was playing on a struggling Pistons team, but he should elevate his game now that he has something to play for on a contender.
He also provides the team with postseason experience, since he won a championship in 2004 and has played in 118 playoff games. The Grizzlies wanted to make sure that they got a veteran small forward back in the Rudy Gay trade, and I think Prince is an excellent fit. Memphis also considered Vince Carter and Corey Maggette, according to reports, but I think they landed the right guy in Prince.
Ed Davis won’t receive the playing time that he was getting with the Raptors, but he gives the Grizzlies another frontcourt weapon and someone who could develop into a very good player down the road.
3SOB: Do you believe the Grizzlies front office handled the situation as best they could?
AK: I think they did a good job. They weighed all of their options and spoke with basically every team before pulling the trigger on their deal.
The move with the Cleveland Cavaliers got them out of the luxury tax, which allowed them to trade Rudy Gay for basketball reasons rather than financial reasons. They accomplished everything they wanted to accomplish with the three-team trade – finding a replacement small forward, adding an up-and-coming player, acquiring a draft pick and getting some cash that they can use to purchase a first-round pick in this year’s draft.
3 Shades of Blue wants to thank Alex Kennedy for his time. We hope that this shows a little bit more of the situation behind the scenes of the Grizzlies locker room and explains in greater detail what the front office was dealing with heading up to the trade.