Southwest Division roundup: Trade Winds in Memphis while the Rockets continue to roll

SOUTHWEST W L PCT GB HOME ROAD DIV CONF PF PA DIFF STRK L10
San Antonio 27 10 .730 14-2 13-8 8-1 14-7 104.9 96.6 +8.2 Lost 1 8-2
Memphis 22 10 .688 2 ½ 13-4 9-6 3-2 12-7 94.8 89.1 +5.7 Won 2 6-4
Houston 21 14 .600 5 14-6 7-8 3-5 7-12 106.8 103.7 +3.1 Won 5 8-2
Dallas 13 22 .371 13 8-7 5-15 1-4 5-13 98.6 103.1 -4.5 Lost 3 1-9
New Orleans 9 25 .265 16 ½ 4-13 5-12 2-5 4-16 91.8 97.3 -5.6 Won 2 4-6


While San Antonio has clearly separated themselves from the field in this division, the Grizzlies and Rockets continue to make noise of their own. Houston is creating buzz for all the right reasons, as they have won 10 of 12 including 5 straight.  Memphis, one of the elite defense teams in the league (more to come on this later), has been in the middle of the NBA rumor central for the past 48 hours (Rudy Gay and now rumblings about Zach Randolph being moved). In this roundup we will look at each team’s recent performance as well as explore some of the trade rumors in Memphis.

San Antonio:

The Spurs lost 2 of 3 this week dropping games to both the Knicks and Hornets while they defeated the 76ers.  The weakness of this roster right now is that is has a difficult time matching up with elite athletes, especially at the front court position which leads to struggles rebounding the basketball. But honestly, that may be this teams’ only short coming.  They are 4th in the NBA in offensive efficiency scoring 107.8 points per 100 possessions, while they are 5th in defensive efficiency giving up only 98.6 points per those same 100 possessions.  Only the LA Clippers have the same claim to being in the top 5 in both those categories.  That’s elite company.  Further more for the Spurs, the rank fist overall in the NBA in assist rate (rate of assists per possession) and 3rd overall in true shooting percentage (weighted efficiency adjusting for three pointers and free throws). What this all tells me is that this is the epitome of a team.  They work together offensively making the extra pass, space the floor well using the strengths of each player to their advantage, and have crisp defensive rotations resulting in superb help defense. Clearly the best in this division, they are in the thick of it in the loaded western conference with arguably only the Clippers and Thunder looking like fellow contenders to get to the finals.

Memphis:

Memphis continues to play good ball, shutting opponents down defensively while grinding out offensive possessions. Now second in the league in defensive efficiency allowing a paltry 96.5 points per 100 possessions, this team’s identity starts and ends on the defensive end.  Anchored by Tony Allen on the wing and Marc Gasol in the interior this team swarms the ball forcing opponents to shoot over the top of the their defenders. They rarely allow layups and they allow Mike Conley, who has some of the quickest hands in basketball, to go after anyone dribbling the ball in the lane.  Conley is another defensive stalwart who averages 2.4 steals a game and has been one of the best theifs in the NBA over the past few seasons. This week we also saw one of the streakiest shooters in the NBA catch fire as Wayne Ellington absolute made it rain for the Grizz, torching the Kings to the tune of 26 points on an unreal 10-11 from the field including 6 of 7 from downtown. Watching an elite athlete get into a zone is both terrifying (knowing you could never do that) and electrifying (also knowing this is something you can’t do), but either way it was fun to see for a brief stretch of time.  Now for Memphis fans, if only Rudy Gay could get into a zone like that…..Which bring me to the next discussion point, the trade winds in Memphis.

As my colleague Evan pointed out yesterday, the need to move Rudy Gay is based on the fact that he earns too much money for what he is giving this team as his salary forces the team over the cap. See Evan’s article for an in depth look: http://pickandpopdiaries.blogspot.com/2013/01/rudy-gay-trade-derby.html

Basically this season a team will pay one dollar of tax for every dollar they are over the cap, but in future seasons this changes.  h/t to Larry Coon and CBA FAQ as he has this chart listed for what tax paying teams will pay in the future.

Team salary above tax level Non-repeater Repeater
Lower Upper Tax rate Incremental maximum Tax rate Incremental maximum
$0 $4,999,999 $1.50 $7.5 million $2.50 $12.5 million
$5,000,000 $9,999,999 $1.75 $8.75 million $2.75 $13.75 million
$10,000,000 $14,999,999 $2.50 $12.5 million $3.50 $17.5 million
$15,000,000 $19,999,999 $3.25 $16.25 million $4.25 $21.25 million
$20,000,000 N/A $3.75, and increasing $.50 for
each additional $5 million.
N/A $4.75, and increasing $.50 for
each additional $5 million.
N/A

While this is a bit confusing no doubt, it means that it will become more and more expensive to be over the cap, forcing teams like the Grizz to dump salary before the tax is levied on them.  Rudy Gay is an exceptional talent.  He has the length, athleticism  speed, and versatility to be an elite player on both ends of the floor, but so far in his career he has not been able to find the consistency that validates him being a max contract player. In fact this year he has regressed offensively to the point where he is shooting a career low field goal percentage of 40.8% which includes shooting just 34.8% in his last 5 ball games.  What could the Grizz expect back in return for Gay? Well since they are trying to dump salary for an overpriced player, certainly not equal value and probably a poor contract in return.  I won’t repeat the work that Evan did yesterday as he threw out some trade ideas, but it would make a lot of sense for Phoenix to get involved as well as Boston in a three team trade if it means it can acquire a legitimate center.  Also the Kings and the Bucks could become interested if the price is right.

Rudy Gay isn’t the only Grizzly getting talked about in trade rumors.  The Memphis Commercial-Appeal also said that the team has had primarily discussions about moving Zach Randolph.  While like Gay, Randolph makes upwards of 17 million dollars, he, unlike Rudy Gay has been playing good basketball.  There is also the difficulty in moving him as he has had two major knee injuries and is no longer a young player (he is 31). Anyway let’s explore a trade possibility for Randolph to Sacramento which is the team mentioned in the preliminary discussion for a trade for a ZBO:

The Grizz Get: Thomas Robinson, Marcus Thornton, and Tyreke Evans
The Kings get: Zach Randolph and Tony Wrotten

The Grizzlies would certainly not be as good as a team without the interior presence of Randolph this year, but this is a solid haul for a team looking to dump salary.  They would get a solid PF option in Robinson, as well as a high level combo guard in Evans.  They would also get the unconscious scorer off the bench, the OJ Mayo type player they miss, in Marcus Thornton who can just light it up from downtown. This would also open up extended playing time for Darrell Arthur. Most importantly from the Grizz prospective, this would save the team $1.5 MM in player salaries as well as taxable dollars over the salary cap.

The Kings get the best player in this deal and someone they can use to sell tickets.  If they can keep DeMarcus Cousins then they will have one of, if not the best, rebounding front lines in the NBA. They also get a project PG who has the size and athleticism to be a good player at the NBA level.



Houston Rockets:

Houston continues to play great basketball, winning 5 in a row and 10 of 12. In fact they have mixed two 5 game winning streaks sandwiched around a two game losing streak.  The only concerning point for the Rockets is that they are 1-9 against western conference playoff teams (if the playoff started right now). I think this is more attributed to lack of experience together rather than skill as this young team should be able to compete with better clubs once all of the new faces have meshed together over a longer period of time. James Harden looks to have reached super-star level officially now, averaging 26.6 a game, 5.4 dimes, and 4.2 rebounds as well as 1.9 steals. Those gaudy numbers are of course only on a small sampling of not even half an NBA season, and doubters will say he needs to do this for multiple seasons before he is assigned a super-star status,  but I believe he will.  Also in his last 5 games he is averaging 29.6 points on nearly 50% shooting.  He is elevating his play during a period in which he team is able to make a run.  I love this kid, and quite frankly I really like this team.  Omer Asik is a beast down low defensively and not enough can be said about his transformation on the offensive end making him a threat on both ends.  Jeremy Lin has played well since facing the Knicks and getting the pressure of seeing his old team off his chest.  Chandler Parsons, Marcus Morris, Tony Douglas and Carlos Delfino continue to play well too. They are first in the league in scoring at 106.8 a game as they get out on the fast break even on made baskets. This is  one of the most fun teams in the league to watch on a daily basis and opponents better bring there track shoes or they will be run out of the gym.

Dallas Mavericks:

This team is going in the wrong direction and quickly.  They have lost 9 of 10 while rumors of Dirk requesting a trade have surfaced on the internet.  While Dirk has shut down these rumors, it would make sense for one of the all-time greats heading into the twilight of his career to want to be a part of a winner, which Dallas does not look to be.  The problems in Big D are numerous.  They are third to last in the league in allowing points, as opponents score over 103 a game on them and they turn the ball over at a rate near the bottom of the league as well.  They have the worst rebounding differential of any team.  Jesus Christ, I could go on forever about their shortcomings.  This team is awful and needs to make a trade or two (or three or four…) to set itself up the future.  They have no shot of being a contender this season.

New Orleans:

The Hornets had an impressive win over the Spurs Monday and rookie Anthony Davis finally looks to be coming out of his slump.  After struggling the previous week, Davis scored 17, grabbed 9 boards and registered 3 steals showing an energy that had been missing his previous 4 games.  Also showing signs of life was the finally healthy Eric Gordon who dropped 24 points in that game and despite shooting a woeful 35% so far in his 4 games back, looks to have his legs under him now.  The Hornets are certainly not a playoff team, but I look for them to play good ball in the coming weeks now that they have their #1 scorer back as well as a more confident Anthony Davis.


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