The Grizzlies, Raptors and Pistons agreed to a six-player trade Wednesday that sent star swingman Rudy Gay to Toronto.
The Grizzlies, in the midst of a money-motivated makeover, acquired forward Ed Davis and veteran guard Jose Calderon in the deal that also sent backup center Hamed Haddadi to the Raptors.
Memphis then shipped Calderon to Detroit for Austin Daye and Tayshaun Prince.
The Grizzlies also received a 2013 second-round pick from Toronto as part of the deal.
At first glance, the Raptors didn't have to give up much for Gay. Ed Davis has a bright future in the NBA, but such is the cost of latching onto a star forward. Toronto also managed to retain Terrence Ross, so it's smiles all around—for now.
A core of Gay, Ross, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas is a viable building block, but it's just that—a start. This isn't a core that's going to win or allow you to contend for championships. With them, the playoffs are within reach (next season) but contender status is not.
Toronto needs more, but it cannot get more.
By taking on Gay, the Raptors now have roughly $65.3 million in payroll commitments through the end of the season, and it doesn't get much better moving forward.
Landry Fields and Amir Johnson are owed nearly $20 million over the next three years, and Andrea Bargnani is do another $33 million. With those hefty contracts in tow, Toronto's salary obligations exceed $61 million heading into next season.
Just as troubling, if we assume Gay exercises his $19.3 million player option in 2014, the Raptors will owe him, Bargnani, Fields and Johnson a combined $47 million. That's a steep price to pay for four players who presently total zero All-Star appearances.
Thus, I ask: Where do the Raptors go from here?
Well, per Eric Koreen of the National Post, the Raptors will explore dealing Bargnani and the $33 million he's still owed.
Colangelo told NBA TV he's shopping Andrea Bargnani. Has talked with agent about moving him, but won't just trade him to trade him.— Eric Koreen (@ekoreen) January 31, 2013
Moving him would certainly free up some cap space, especially looking ahead to the summer of 2014. Yet, is it even plausible to believe that Bargnani can be moved?
Not many seven-footers boast a career clip of 36.2 percent from beyond the arc, but most players in general have collected eight-figures while playing in just 52 games the last two seasons.
Going as far as to call Bargnani immovable is a stretch. No one (save for maybe Amar'e Stoudemire) is immovable. But the new CBA has made team thinks twice and three times about taking back burly contracts on a whim.
Of all the bad contracts Toronto possesses, and there are plenty, Johnson's will be the easiest to move, which really isn't saying much. He's posting a PER of 17.5, but he's offensively limited and wildly inconsistent. Few teams would be willing to pay him $6 or $7 million annually over the next three years.
Herein lies the problem—Toronto's flexibility has been shot to hell.
Before you go crucifying the Gay trade, though, understand that this is hardly his fault. Without him, the Raptors were a star-less coterie, void of direction and any hope of making the playoffs.
With him, Toronto suddenly has a viable pillar in which to build around, someone who will (eventually) allow them to toil with a playoff berth.
What's the problem, then?
This team is still empty of a direction.
Gay gives the Raptors a star to build around, but how do we propose they build? Amnestying one of their bad contracts would be a start, but considering the general manager admitted above that he won't just trade the worst contract of all (Bargnani) just to trade him, why would he pay anyone just to leave?
He won't; the Raptors won't.
Presently, Toronto's rebuild, its blueprint ends here. The Raptors don't have another course of action in mind; they haven't laid out a plan beyond this trade. If they had, the focus would have been shedding payroll in the first place, not adding more on.
Do the Raptors have the means necessary to build a contender around Gay?
Diminishing their salary commitments would have increased their flexibility. It would have given them concrete hope for the future.
Instead, Toronto opted to increase its financial burden and obtain a star it wasn't prepared to win or move forward with.
Now, its tasked with winning using the team it assembled, all the while attempting to determine whether or not it hopes Gay stays past the 2013-14 campaign.
Because in Gay, the Raptors finally got what they needed—a star to build around.
But now they're left to cope with the fact that they acquired him without the means to construct anything.
*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports and 82games.com, unless otherwise noted.