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Who Won the Rudy Gay Trade?

Masai Ujiri is no stranger to trading away his team's high paid scorers. In his short tenure as a general manager he's already done so with Carmelo Anthony, Andrea Bargnani, and now, Rudy Gay.

We were pretty high on the Raptors last season, thinking that they could vie for a playoff spot. But before he was "reassigned", Bryan "Colangelol" decided to trade away Jose Calderon -- a high efficiency, pass-first star -- for the type of overrated scorer that he coveted. So when Ujiri joined Toronto this past summer, the team was an even bigger mess than it usually is. Yet in a matter of months he's already lopped two heads off the Yay Points! Cerebus. If he finds a way to trade DeRozan this season as well, I think he deserves a medal. Let's break down the Rudy Gay trade to see how much of a fleecing this was.

Rudy Gay's Impact

Yay! Points!

The Raptors traded away Aaron Gray, Quincy Acy, and Rudy Gay. Both Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy are under 30, but neither has gotten significant minutes. The only significant player Toronto is losing is Rudy Gay, and is that really a problem? Over his last couple of seasons in Memphis, Rudy Gay was a bad player. When he finished out the 2012-13 season in Toronto, he managed to up his game to mediocre. And so far this season his performance has been terrible. At the moment, putting Rudy Gay out on the floor is like playing 4 on 5!

Gay is a "scorer" who is terrible at scoring. Yes, he's scored nearly twenty points per game across his whole career, but that's only because he takes a lot of shots. His True Shooting Percentage (TS%) -- a measure of shooting efficiency that factors in three pointers and free throws -- has been below 50% the last two seasons. To put that into perspective, the average small forward has a TS% of around 54% (that's with some generous rounding), and star players like LeBron James (68.2%) and Kevin Durant (60.9%) shoot even better. A player like Rudy Gay shouldn't be taking lots of shots!

Besides taking a lot of shots, what is Rudy Gay supposed to be good at? Even according to conventional wisdom he's never been that great. His only NBA accolades are being a top eight pick in the 2006 draft and making the All-Rookie team that same year. He hasn't made any All-Star games or any All-NBA teams, and he isn't known for his defensive prowess.

Return on Investment?

As for the players the Raps are getting back, they turned Rudy Gay into two solid -- but not great -- players. Vasquez and Hayes both offer average production at the two most important positions. This definitely helps, as any time you upgrade your overall productivity, you win the trade, but neither player is likely to be a major win producer. Patrick Patterson is young and has shown some signs of being a decent player, but as a power forward, he probably won't see too much playing time. And John Salmons hasn't been very productive over the last several years of his career, but then again, neither has Gay. Salmons can serve as Toronto's version of Tayshaun Prince: about as good, but much, much cheaper.

The real reason this deal turns out to be a major winner for the Raptors is because of the salaries involved. Hayes' contract is the only deal that extends beyond this season. Salmons has a $7 million deal for next year, but only $1 million of that is guaranteed. It's highly likely that the Raptors plan on doing God's work and will hasten Salmon's departure from Toronto. Ujiri has saved the Raptors $12.3 million in salary next season, assuming that Gay exercises his player option for $19.3 million over the summer (which is certainly not guaranteed: Gay may opt out in order to land a longer-term deal worth more total salary). As for this season, the deal actually adds $672,058 to Toronto's books.

Royal Failure

For the Kings, getting Rudy Gay to play alongside Cousins and Williams is a terrible, terrible idea. However, there is a little silver lining for the Kings, as they also picked up Quincy Acy. Acy's minutes have been limited, but Toronto has been great at finding top big men and -- until recently -- watching them sit on the bench behind Bargnani. It's possible that Acy could be a hidden gem that turns the Kings' grade from an F to a D minus, but that's only if Acy sees any court time in Sacramento. As for Aaron Gray, I don't expect him to make a huge impact one way or the other.

Summing Up

Raptors fans may be a little disappointed with this deal, because unlike the Anthony or Bargnani trades, Toronto wasn't able to acquire any game-changing pieces or major draft picks for Gay. However, on the first count, I'd argue that Gay and Melo aren't equivalent players; Melo's an overrated scorer who's perceived as a star, but I think that most teams are onto the fact that Gay is not a very productive player. And on the second count, I'd counter with the fact that the NBA's new CBA says that Ujiri can only abuse the Knicks once every season [Editor's note: 100% factually true]. I'll say that simply dumping Gay would have been a win. But also getting serviceable rotation players and major flexibility next season is another feather in Masai's cap.

Seriously though, what the heck Sacramento? I'm unimpressed by Vivek Ranadivé and the new ownership.

The counterclaim that low usage high efficiency players can't compensate for losing a volume scorer like Rudy was tested last night, when high efficiency, underused Amir Johnson got 17 shots. He went 14-17.
Slightly off topic:

I don't disagree with the notion that the Raptors will be more efficient without Rudy Gay on the team, but I am curious on the WoW community's opinion of the following article on the diminishing returns on scoring:
I don't think we'll see Rudy's teammates struggle to maintain efficiency while increasing usage. I think such a struggle only occurs when the high-usage player who was lost, was also a "shot creator". By this, I mean someone who commanded defensive attention either through driving or posting, which led to good looks for his teammates. Rudy was not that, he just liked to shoot a lot.

Masai has been on fire so far. I don't really think letting Calderon go was a big mistake. The dude is a terrible defender, and turning 32, would likely start regressing in other facets of the game.
I could make this long or I could make it short. Let's go short, I've actually found that usage and efficiency are positively correlated in practice in the NBA. Makes sense if you think about it as you generally get more opportunities to score if you're actually good at scoring. In more general terms, I do agree that at a certain point there are diminishing returns to increasing usage, but in general we are far away from that point. If I gave all of Gay's shots to another player, we'd have a problem, but in general these are spread around. You also need to keep in mind that Toronto has a better (if not great) high usage guy in DeMar that can act as the focus for the D fairly well.
In general, the trick to all this is the interaction between usage and efficiency. High usage/low efficiency guys are easy to replace (Melo in Denver and NY(linsanity), Kobe in the early part of this year, Gay in Memphis, Bargs in Toronto), High Usage/High efficiency guys are impossible to replace (LeBron in Cleveland, Dirk when he's gotten hurt, KD).
The other key that people forget is that scheme and coaching matter in these scenarios. A well coached scheme can create enough opportunities to easily offset what was lost with Rudy Gay. Can Casey draw something like that up? Who knows.
Letting Calderon go wouldn't have been a mistake; Kyle Lowry was their point guard of the present and future, and it wouldn't have made any sense to re-sign him in a reserve role. Toronto wasn't winning that year and Calderon still has some gas in the tank, so ideally he could have been traded for some longer term assets in picks or prospects.

They could have just let Calderon walk when his contract expired at the end of the year; instead they decided to set 37 million dollars on fire by trading for Rudy Gay. You take on a contract like Rudy Gay's if someone is piling on the bribes - if someone is offering you multiple draft picks to clean up their cap situation, ala the trade the Jazz made with the Warriors last summer.

Dumping Gay on the Kings for serviceable parts is a great trade for the Raptors. It can't hold a candle to the beating they gave the Knicks in the Bargnani trade, but it's another big step towards undoing the damage Colangelol did to the Raptors.
Dumping potentially good young players (Acy and Gray) for expiring contracts (Acy and Gray were expiring too) is something I wouldn't do because you are still locked into two players for another season(Hayes and Salmons). But getting rid of Gay is worth keeping those two for another season. Use them as trade fillers. Apparently God hates a lot of cities too.
I defended the Kings here when we were talking about the Cousins extension/Williams trade, but this really looks terrible. I thought, y'know, it's only two moves, kind've a small sample size, maybe there's something the Kings saw that we haven't, can't write the book on those moves right after they happened... but this just reeks.

Everyone else in the league seems to know (at last) that Rudy isn't good. People were split about the Grizzlies trade, but then they were better. So how do you decide to spend 20 million on the guy? I don't see a business angle (Gay isn't a great draw, like Melo), I can't even defend it in the way one could defend the Williams trade, where you're taking a risk on a guy who hasn't played THAT much and is still fairly young. Gay is older, has had as many minutes as he could want, and hasn't ever flashed anything special.

Just... What the hell?
A couple of quick comments. First, an upgrade from DJ Augustin/Dwight Buycks (completely awful) to Greivis Vasquez (adequate) at the backup PG is a very nice boost in productivity, I think.

Second, De Rozan is almost worth his contract now - I'd say he is worth about $8.5M per year, based on productivity, and his salary is $9.5M. Not too far off.

Third - will be interesting to see how TOR divides up the extra wing minutes now. Do they just slot Salmons into Gay's minutes? Doubtful. So whose minutes increase - Fields? Daye? Novak? Ross?

Regarding DeRozan, the problem is that in the NBA, a manager wants to have exploitative contracts -- meaning that you want to spend your money on good rookies (who are very underpaid thanks to the rookie pay scale) and all-star+ players (who are underpaid because there is a max salary).

You also want to underpay a few guys that are cheaper than they should be just because the market doesn't evaluate them correctly (like the aforementioned Amir Johnson).

So paying $10m per year on a "fair" salary is a bad deal for management because it ties up $10m in opportunity costs that can't be spent on exploitative contracts. This is especially true because shooting guard is one of the positions where it is easiest to find replacement-level talent.

Well, sure, everyone would love to have a bunch of exploitative contracts and other good deals. And if you told me that they were available to Toronto in lieu of De Rozan's contract, then I would agree that there was a forgone opportunity there. But I don't know that. So, at least as a quick take, it isn't so bad to simply look at the salary and compare to anticipated wins produced. That is, after all, what certain of your website partners do when giving their quick take on contracts -- see, e.g.,

So, yeah, it isn't a *good* deal. And it very well may have prevented Toronto from making a good deal, although I don't know what other opportunities may have been available that were forgone as a result. But it also isn't a bad deal, given De Rozan's current production.

The point is that Toronto could employ any number of replacement-level SGs and just keep the $7 million around as an option to spend should such an opportunity arise.

Having that option is more valuable than having DeRozan on his current contract, even if DeRozan isn't very overpaid.

That only works until you reach the minimum team salary (a bit over $52 million this year). At that point you need to add salary or pay a dollar-4-dollar financial penalty. Still, not relevant now because the raps are sitting at about $70 million right now and being below the cap allows for your to take advantage of luxury taxpayers. See Kurt Thomas Suns/Thunder trade; Eric Maynor Jazz/Thunder trade.

The best part about this trade is how ESPN and other mainstream NBA news sources claim that Toronto is clearly tanking. If anything they are better than they were with Gay.
The financial "penalty" for being below the minimum salary is such a weird thing to worry about IMHO.

There's just no real downside to being below the minimum, and the only upside in getting over the hump is to garner more assets, by say forcing a team to part with 1st rounder(s) to get under the tax line. There is simply no need to take on salary unless the salary has some strategic, longer term value.

And besides, I think a smart NBA team would LIKE to be below the minimum - as in prefer it, because here is the affect of the rule:

> If a team doesn't meet its minimum payroll it is surcharged at the end of the season for the shortfall. That money is distributed among the players on that team.

It seems to me that being below the minimum would be a nice chance to give your guys - guys I hope have some long term value - a nice little bonus they weren't expecting. Being say $5 mil under would provide a minimum guy with a significant % increase (no matter what the ratio it is paid to players in).
I also thought it was funny how a lot of people say they are tanking. What in Ujiri's history would suggest that he wants to tank? He got rid of a player who shot a lot of bad shots and took up a lot of the cap. Whether you are the Spurs or the Knicks that would be a good idea (although I don't think Dolan got the memo). Ujiri understands just like the other smart teams that assets are always more valuable than below-average veterans. While I don't really think they picked up much they did manage to get rid of a horrendous contract.
The worst thing about the DeRozan contract is that, just like the recent Kobe contract, Colangelo outbid himself for DeRozan's services - he extended him when no one else was likely interested and DeRozan was terrible.
"I've actually found that usage and efficiency are positively correlated in practice in the NBA. Makes sense if you think about it as you generally get more opportunities to score if you're actually good at scoring."

Arturo: this is exactly right, but it means that you have no way of knowing what happens to efficiency if usage is increased holding talent constant, as will be the case when you take away a high usage player without replacing him.

We can speculate, based on some sort of assumption of market efficiency in shot allocation within teams, or we can try to find natural experiments as the guy at the countthebasket link above does.

What we shouldn't ever do is assert that data generated by one causal mechanism (increased talent earns you a larger allocation of shots and allows you to make them more efficiently) tells us something about another, unrelated relationship (players can be asked to increase their usage without impact marginal field goal percentage much or at all).

So I feel like your answer to this question should be "I don't know/no one knows", or, at most "we have anecdotal evidence to suggest the link between usage and efficiency is pretty weak".

In a perfect world it might also be worth acknowledging that Professor Berri's work, at least, has spent years confusing what can be gleaned from observed efficiency/usage correlations and then yelling at people who point out that confusion.
Prof. Berri's key point is very valid though: In general, there's always someone to take the shots. There are possible scenarios were you can put together a roster of non shooters/ low usage guys but you have to try real hard to do it. If your coaching staff has any clue you can design plays and schemes to get your players looks (maybe not great ones) and you can address the usage issue by spreading the ball around.
One of the most predictable things in basketball is what happens when you lose a high usage/low efficiency player. Teams get better and everyone is surprised.

You write that Toronto "could employ any number of replacement-level SGs and just keep the $7 million", but you haven't actually identified any of the replacement-level SGs that Toronto could have employed. I mean, look at the free agent list. The number of replacement-level SGs who got minimum contracts isn't large. And when you take into account risk, it is even smaller. For example, at this point, Anthony Morrow looks like one of those replacement-level SGs who are paying big dividends. But when you look at it ex-ante, taking into account prior year performance (Morrow was bad last year), it isn't easy to figure out which of the available replacement-level SGs would turn out to be ~.100 WP48.

As Brian pointed out to me in an email, Toronto already has such players. Fields is a good example.

Otherwise, I can think of many. And the point, by the way, is not who they are now -- it's who they were when Colangelol decided to outbid NOBODY and pay DeRozan $10m per year.

The salary floor is $53m. If you are at or over this money, spending $10 million on a "fair" contract is a horrible idea. It'd be better to just not sign anybody at all and sit tight on the salary floor (like that Sam Hinkie guy who seems to really know what he's doing). Worst-case scenario, if no juicy opportunity arrives to use the money for an exploitative contract, you just have more money in your pocket at the end of the season.
Sorry, I phrased that poorly.

What I meant was that Toronto did not need to extend DeRozan. No one was interested, and looked just like the Beasley deal -- i.e. just let him become an RFA and deal with it later.

So instead of spending an entire year looking for a replacement level....replacement....for DeRozan, and also taking a gamble that he might sign for something like $5m as an RFA because his perceived value was not high, they gave him $40m/4.

From a business perspective, just mind-numbingly awful.

I don't disagree that Fields (and Terrence Ross) seem to be adequate replacements for De Rozan. But the Fields contract isn't exactly cheap - averages over $6M/year. And I completely agree that the better way to have gone about dealing with De Rozan would have been to let him become a RFA and then see what the actual market for him would have been. (I think that the market would likely have been pretty close to his current contract value, however - just look at the contracts for guys like Kevin Martin, OJ Mayo, Kyle Korver, JJ Redick, etc. - De Rozan is slightly pricier and a year longer, but not wildly out of whack).

The bigger point is that I don't think it is feasible to construct a full winning roster only on good max contracts, good rookie deals, and underpaid veterans. Given the restrictions on obtaining players in the NBA, I think that it is generally likely that you need to pay some players about their market value. You need to hope that those guys provide you with enough wins to justify their contracts. And De Rozan is almost doing that.

Your shinning sanity is a inspiration.

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