CLEVELAND — The Memphis Grizzlies liked Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington and Josh Selby. They just didn’t like them as much as Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph.
And those reasons alone are why the Grizzlies traded Speights, Ellington, Selby and a protected first-round draft pick to Cleveland in return for little-used (and inexpensive) forward Jon Leuer.
With the move, the Grizzlies shave more than $6 million off their salary cap — a move needed to keep standouts such as Gay and Randolph in place.
If nothing else, it lifted the dark cloud created by all those Gay trade rumors (and to a lesser extent, those involving Randolph).
And while Speights and Ellington were valuable reserves, Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace knew something had to give — and he didn’t want that something to be Gay or Randolph. Not when they’re the cornerstones of a team that currently holds the fourth seed in the Western Conference.
However, keeping both Gay and Randolph and not making a deal like the one Tuesday meant the Grizzlies would have to pay a hefty luxury tax, which kicks in at season’s end via the new collective-bargaining agreement.
“It’s a trade that had to be made from a business (standpoint) so that we can keep our core together and move forward,” Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins told the Memphis Commercial-Appeal. “I hate to lose Mo and Wayne and Josh, but it’s part of the business of basketball.”
By trade’s end, the Grizzlies had just 11 players on the roster. They signed Dayton product Chris Johnson (Columbus Brookhaven HS), a 6-foot-6 wing from the D-League, to make it 12 — but still need to make another transaction or two.
Available names mentioned as possibilities include guard Delonte West, swingman Bill Walker and even longtime NBA sharpshooter Michael Redd.
As for Gay, it appears he’ll be in Memphis for the rest of the season. Then again, even after Tuesday’s deal, there are no guarantees.
“He could still get traded tomorrow, I don’t know,” one opposing GM said of Gay.
For now, however, the Grizzlies will march ahead with what they have. And that’s not so bad.
“We’re trying to believe that nothing is going to happen and that we’re going to be together,” said point guard Mike Conley. “But you never know. It’s a business.”