UPDATE: According to ESPN.com, the Grizzlies subsequently shipped Jose Calderon to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Austin Daye and Tayshaun Prince.
—end of update—
The Memphis Grizzlies are one of only a few teams that have given the Golden State Warriors fits halfway through the 2012-13 season. In both matchups, the Dubs clawed for 48 minutes but could never get enough traction overtake the Grizzlies. Golden State fell twice, by a combined 17 points.
As it stands now, Memphis is the team keeping the Warriors in the bottom half of the Western Conference’s playoff seeding. The Grizzlies are 29-15, a game and a half better than Golden State. But the task of catching them may have just gotten easier.
The Grizzlies traded forward Rudy Gay to the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday, ridding themselves of a ticking-time-bomb contract but also one of the most talented and–at times–explosive players in the league. Gay is averaging just over 17 points per game (right at his career mark), but is only shooting 40 percent from the field, which would be a career low if the season ended by the time I finish typing this sentence.
Despite those struggles, though, it’s hard to see Memphis becoming a better team without Gay. The two players acquired in the swap, forward Ed Davis and guard Jose Calderon, are nice complementary pieces but neither are the “can score in bunches” type. Freeing up a large portion of the budget may indeed serve Memphis well down the road, but in the second half of the current season, the move opens up the door for the Warriors to make a move and position themselves for a more advantageous postseason slot.
It’s no secret the Warriors are a better team at home. The stats show it, their play shows it, and the crowd knows it. A home-court advantage in the first round would go a long way towards helping Golden State sneak into the second round, especially if Memphis ends up as its opponent. That’s not to say the Dubs can’t win on the road (they’re 14-11 away from Oracle Arena), but, let’s face it, what Warriors fan doesn’t want to see a potential deciding Game 7 played at Oracle instead of, well, anywhere else on the planet?
That’s what makes the Gay trade so intriguing. Memphis had assembled arguably the best team the city has seen since the franchise moved there from Vancouver. They can absolutely play with the three teams ahead of them in the West. And yet, they still deal one of, if not the most talented player on the roster. With the league looking more and more like a power players association, in which the big markets attract the big stars, Memphis is taking a calculated risk, knowing full well they probably won’t be able to replace Gay’s talent in the free agent market.
The Warriors will have to find a way to make this trade hurt. It should become apparent quickly what type of team the Grizzlies are without Gay, and the next step is to exploit his absence. With only a game and a half to make up over the course of the next 37 contests, hosting Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals suddenly looks not only feasible, but perhaps even likely.