Memphis Grizzlies small forward Rudy Gay is the biggest name being bandied around the trade market so far this season. The former UConn standout has had his name mentioned in rumored trades for quite some time and talks will continue to heat up as the trade deadline approaches.
As of Jan. 16, the Grizzlies are 24-12 and fourth in the Western Conference standings. Gay is the team's leading scorer (17.8 points per game) and one of the cornerstones of a franchise with legit championship aspirations.
So, why is Gay's name being passed around in trades, you may ask?
The biggest motivation to deal Gay would be money. The 26-year-old is due close to $37 million over the next two seasons and that doesn't include the $16.4 million he's set to make this year. With the Grizzlies under new ownership, there is a sudden need to trim payroll in order to avoid the dreaded luxury tax.
Another potential reason is the success the team has had previously without Gay. The best postseason run the Grizzlies have had in their franchise's history came during the 2010-11 season, when they made the Conference Semifinals with Gay on the shelf.
The Grizzlies haven't officially come out and said Gay is available. In fact, Robert Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal, citing a source, reports that Gay is likely to remain with the team through the end of the season.
"The message to Gay at the moment is that if he is dealt by the league's Feb. 21 trade deadline, then the Grizz will have been offered a no-brainer scenario." Tillery wrote.
That makes a Gay deal possible, but not imminent. As expected, teams looking for someone with Gay's versatile talents have been lining up to throw their names in the hat.
There are a number of teams vying for Gay's services. To look into this matter further, I've ranked the best possible destinations for the Grizzlies star forward.
For the most part, these are teams who have been linked as a possible landing spot for Gay (with the exception of a couple teams that I believed should and could make a reasonable deal). Teams like the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors, while intriguing, didn't make sense as potential trade partners.
With the Grizzlies having a legit shot at a title, why would they deal one of their best players to one of their top competitors?
Alas, here are the six best possible destinations for Memphis Grizzlies small forward Rudy Gay.
The Trade: Washington sends SG Bradley Beal, SF Trevor Ariza and SF Jan Vesely to Memphis for SF Rudy Gay
The Washington Wizards are said to have interest in Rudy Gay and have been talking to the Grizzlies about making a deal. This proposed deal makes sense for everyone involved, except maybe Gay himself.
While a trade to Washington would send the Baltimore native closer to home, Gay would be going from one of the best teams in the Western Conference to the worst team in the NBA.
The Wizards have the league's worst record at 7-28 (as of Jan. 16). The move does allow Gay to be "the man," albeit on a floundering franchise.
The deal would cost the Wizards a promising young guard in Beal, who is averaging 13.3 points per game and has scored in double-digits in six of his last seven games. However, Gay's arrival presents an upgrade at small forward and Washington would still have leading scorer Jordan Crawford to man Beal's shooting guard spot.
It also allows Washington to get rid of one of the bad contracts they never should have taken on in the first place in Trevor Ariza. Ariza was acquired in June from New Orleans along with big man Emeka Okafor.
Despite being owed close to $15 million for this season and the next, Ariza has been a colossal disappointment, averaging just 7.5 points per game.
Speaking of disappointments, the deal also gives Washington the opportunity to bid adieu to 2011 draft bust Jan Vesely. So far this season, Vesely has scored a total of 78 points, while committing 70 fouls.
For Memphis, the deal gives them a young shooter in Beal. The rookie can team with point guard Mike Conley Jr. to give the Grizz a promising backcourt. Ariza can provide depth or, if the team is desperate, he could fill Gay's starting small forward spot.
The trade also saves Memphis money, as the three players combined make just under $2 million less than Gay makes by himself.
The Trade: Orlando sends SG J.J. Redick, F Al Harrington and SF Moe Harkless to Memphis for SF Rudy Gay
The Orlando Magic are another team with rumored interest in Rudy Gay, and for good reason. With center Dwight Howard now in Los Angeles, the Magic are a team without a marquee draw. While Gay is hardly a household name, he's a talented kid with the potential to be a star.
In this deal, the Grizzlies would get back a solid role player with an expiring contract in shooting guard J.J. Redick. Redick's having an excellent season, averaging 14.6 points per game while shooting 44 percent from the field.
Memphis would also get expensive forward Al Harrington, who could play either forward position and give the team depth in the frontcourt. Rookie Moe Harkless hasn't seen a ton of playing time but, at only 19, he's somebody the Grizzlies could develop to eventually fill Gay's small forward spot.
For Orlando, Gay could lead a rebuilding Magic franchise. The team has some nice pieces in rookie forward Andrew Nicholson, forward Glen Davis and guard Arron Afflalo. Gay's presence doesn't make the Magic a contender, but he might be good enough to sneak them into the playoffs.
It's a deal that works out for everyone. The Grizzlies get a couple nice pieces, while not taking back a ton of salary. The Magic get a potential building block and Gay gets to be the star on a rebuilding team with some promise.
The Trade: Phoenix sends SF Jared Dudley, F Channing Frye and draft picks to Memphis for SF Rudy Gay
The Phoenix Suns were one of the first teams linked to Rudy Gay, with Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reporting back on Jan. 8 that a trade was being discussed. The Suns were busy during the offseason trying to rebuild themselves in the post-Steve Nash era.
They threw big money at guys like Michael Beasley and Goran Dragic, while also making a failed run at Hornets guard Eric Gordon. The potential acquisition of Gay would make up for swinging and missing on Gordon.
Gay would solidify the small forward position, which has been held down by Beasley and Jared Dudley, and also gives the Suns a cornerstone to build around.
The Suns have a number of first-round picks at their disposal, as they own L.A.'s selection as well as a lottery-protected pick from Minnesota (which is only useful if the Timberwolves make a late run at the postseason).
Phoenix would be better served offering up Beasley instead of Dudley, but the Grizzlies would be wise to not take on the former No. 2 overall pick.
For Memphis, Dudley would be an adequate replacement for Gay. He's a solid role player who can hit the occasional jumper. Channing Frye is a quintessential "stretch four" who can drain shots from behind the arc as well as be a solid third forward off the bench for the Grizzlies.
Both Frye and Dudley are signed for the next few seasons, but their deals are relatively cheap. Frye will make a little over $6 million a year for the next three years, while Dudley makes $4.25 annually for the next four.
The extra draft picks will also come in handy as the team tries to add more depth to an already deep team.
The Trade: Cleveland sends C Anderson Varejao, SF Omri Casspi and SF Alonzo Gee to Memphis for SF Rudy Gay
If not for the fact that the two teams ahead of Cleveland on this list were playoff teams, this would be the top landing spot for Rudy Gay. The Cavaliers may be at the bottom of the standings, but they are a young team that is a piece or two away from making noise in the East.
With reigning Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving and rising stars in rookie Dion Waiters and forward Tristan Thompson, the Cavs have a nice core to build around. By adding another young piece in Rudy Gay, Cleveland would have a young, formidable foursome.
There are a couple of hitches to this deal. First, Varejao is sidelined until early March as he recovers from knee surgery. Second, the Cavaliers have been asking for a steep price for their veteran big man, who was leading the league in rebounding (14.4 boards per game) before he got hurt.
ProBasketballTalk.com reported that Cleveland wanted young point guard Eric Bledsoe AND center DeAndre Jordan from Los Angeles in return for Varejao. It's a respectable offer, but the Clippers declined. Would a potential star with a huge contract like Gay be enough for Cleveland to let go of their prized big man? Only time will tell.
As for Memphis, the question becomes why trade for a guy who is already injured? If Varejao is set to return by March, he'll be back in more than enough time for the playoffs. That's where the value of this deal makes the most sense for the Grizzlies.
Marc Gasol's getting into foul trouble? You have Varejao to throw in there and the team doesn't miss a beat. If Zach Randolph goes down with an injury, you now have Varejao to back him up.
The presence of Varejao makes the Grizzlies even tougher to keep off the boards. Contenders would kill to have a guy who defends, rebounds and hustles like Varejao coming off the bench.
Gee and Casspi are decent role players who could possibly replace Gay in the lineup. The deal makes both teams better in the long run.
Truth be told, there's been no talk of Atlanta having interest in Rudy Gay or any immediate plans to move Josh Smith. However, this is a hypothetical deal that is intriguing for both sides.
Smith is a free agent at the end of this season. Given how hot of a commodity he'll be on the market and the number of short playoff runs he's endured in Atlanta, there's a chance he skips town this summer. This would be an opportunity for the Hawks to get a quality replacement.
For Memphis, Smith would make them better defensively, while also allowing the Grizzlies to shed a huge amount of payroll after this season (assuming they don't re-sign Smith). The addition of lightly used rookie John Jenkins would also give Memphis a shooter off the bench.
Smith's arrival on the Grizzlies still makes Memphis a formidable contender in the West, if not more so than they would have been with Gay. Meanwhile, Gay could still keep the Hawks competitive in the East and would form a nice duo with center Al Horford.
It's a trade that's contingent on the Hawks believing Smith won't be back after this season. If there's a belief that their best player will be playing elsewhere, it would make sense for the Hawks to make a move now instead of trying to replace him in free agency.
As for the Grizzlies, Smith is potentially the best expiring contract in the league, which gives the team value from a financial and talent standpoint.
The Trade: Boston sends SF Paul Pierce to Memphis for SF Rudy Gay
From a Celtics fan standpoint, the mere thought of trading Paul Pierce may be perceived as blasphemy. Pierce is the heart and soul of this Celtics franchise and represents the best player Boston basketball has had since Larry Bird retired. You don't just get rid of someone like Paul Piece.
That being said, this Celtics team isn't getting any younger and the departure of Ray Allen this past summer should signify a changing of the guard. Pierce may be Boston's heart, but this will eventually be Rajon Rondo's team.
Boston may feel this team still has one more title run left in them, but their current standing as the East's seventh seed suggests otherwise.
Trading Pierce for Gay may be sacrilegious to the Beantown faithful, but it's a move that makes sense for the future. It's also a move that seems to be supported by at least one member of the Celtics roster.
"It's hard talking to [Rondo}, because he's always saying 'We need you over here. We need you over here.'" Gay told Yahoo! Sports' Marc J. Spears.
Rondo and Gay are close friends, so it's understandable that the Celtics point guard would push to be reunited with his buddy, even if it means the departure of the face of the franchise. The addition of Gay would give Boston a core of Gay, Rondo and promising guard Avery Bradley.
For Memphis, the deal doesn't make the team much younger, unless you add in rookie Jared Sullinger or Fab Melo. It also doesn't save the Grizzlies from a luxury tax standpoint this season, as Pierce is still owed $15.3 million next season.
Still, paying Pierce $15.3 million for next year is still cheaper than paying Gay $37 million for the next two seasons. It also gives the Grizzlies a veteran small forward and leader with extensive playoff experience. Who better to lead Memphis to the next level than a cagey vet like Pierce, who has been to two NBA Finals?
Seeing Paul Pierce in another uniform may be a tough pill to swallow for Celtics fans, but they have to understand this is the nature of the business. There aren't many legends who get to finish their career in the same uniform. It's why Karl Malone ended his playing days with the Lakers and Patrick Ewing was last seen with the Orlando Magic.
Pierce's days in Boston are going to end eventually. Why not make a move for a suitable replacement now while you have the chance?