When the Memphis Grizzlies hired John Hollinger as their VP of Basketball Operations a month and a half ago, many basketball diehards were heartbroken that the writing of the NBA analytics guru was being robbed from them.
It did not take long for Hollinger's name to pop back up amongst basketball circles as the Grizzlies front office managed to piece together both of the first two NBA trades of the year.
Last week (Jan. 28), as originally confirmed by Ken Berger of CBSSports.com, Memphis made a cap-saving move which sent Josh Selby, Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington and a protected 2015 first-round pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Jon Leuer.
While the move did save the Grizzlies roughly $6 million in cap space and brought them under the luxury tax threshold for this season, it was an interesting move for a title-contending team to deplete their bench of three role players who could actually provide some valuable minutes down the road.
Any question of depth was answered eight days later when the Grizzlies again were part of a trade. This one made a much bigger splash.
As reported by ESPN.com's Marc Stein Wednesday afternoon (Jan. 30), the Grizzlies, Raptors and Pistons took part in a three-team trade that sent Memphis star Rudy Gay and his hefty contract to Toronto along with center Hamed Haddadi.
Memphis acquired young forward Ed Davis and a 2013 second-round pick from Toronto, as well as veteran forward Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye from Detroit. The Pistons were able to pick up crafty point guard Jose Calderon.
The clear motivation here for Memphis was saving money while replacing Gay's production with multiple cheaper pieces.
Gay was owed over $37 million over the next two years (before luxury tax penalties), and was playing at a level nowhere near that value. He is currently shooting just 40.8 percent from the field and 31 percent from downtown while posting a measly 14.39 PER.
Considering that the league average for PER is 15.00, Gay was not exactly wowing the Memphis front office that was paying him $16.5 million this year.
On the contrary, Prince is making only $6.8 million, Daye costs just under $3 million and Davis comes at a bargain for $2.2 million.
According to Ken Berger of CBSSports.com, the two trades save the Grizzlies $37.2 million total over the next three years while adding a combination of championship experience and youthful potential:
Grizzlies now $8M under tax, leaving room to take on short-term salary in other deals. Total savings in two trades: $37.2M over three years.
—Ken Berger (@KBergCBS) January 30, 2013
Gay's 17.2 PPG, 5.9 RPG and 2.6 APG will be replaced by Prince (11.7 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 2.5 APG), Davis (9.7 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 0.8 BPG) and Daye (5.1 PPG, 2.6 RPG, and 0.9 APG) at a cost savings of over $4 million.
Providing us with some comic relief as always, Bill Simmons pointed out that Hollinger's Analysis on ESPN Trade Machine had the Grizzlies boosting their win total by three wins:
2013's best sports moment: Automated Hollinger saying Human Hollinger's trade w/ Toronto made Toronto 6 wins worse. es.pn/TZ1pY4
—Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) January 30, 2013
While it is unclear how much of a role Hollinger actually had on these two deals, there is no doubt that his statistical and analytical expertise played a major factor in determining which players the Grizzlies were okay letting go and which players they aimed to acquire.
New owner Robert Pera and CEO Jason Levien have made it a goal to incorporate advanced statistics into their basketball operations decisions and bringing Hollinger aboard was a big step in that direction.
Upon his hiring, GM Chris Wallace noted that the new VP of Basketball Operations would be a "prominent voice in the team's front office beyond providing statistical analysis."
Hollinger has already proven that he has the ability to be an influence in NBA transactions that make sense from both a basketball and financial standpoint.
The godfather of PER (Player Efficiency Rating) was an NBA writer for ESPN since 2005 and has been developing modern basketball statistics since creating his own blog Alleyoop in 1996.
His fingerprints are all over the ESPN NBA website with sections dedicated to his work including "Hollinger Player Statistics," "Hollinger's Power Rankings" and "Hollinger's Playoff Odds."
While he is not the first NBA stat guru to be hired by an NBA team, he is definitely best known for his work with ESPN. He could pave the way for writers and other analytics specialists in the future to ascend to the ranks of NBA team executives.
If Memphis can remain near the top of the standings in the Western Conference and prove that Prince, Davis and Daye are a sufficient replacement to a high-profile player like Rudy Gay, Hollinger may earn even more power in the Grizzlies front office.
NBA writers all around the country are hoping for Hollinger's success as he serves as the pioneer of the writer-turned-NBA-executive movement.
Only time will tell how successful trades motivated by advanced stats will be. For all of us writers, we can only hope for the best.