Postups: Gay trade bait as Grizzlies maneuver between winning, taxes

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RENO, Nev. -- Team executives gathered at the annual D-League Showcase this week, providing the usual uptick in trade discussions. While most of the talks are still in the exploratory stage, execs left Reno on Thursday with a good understanding of who is going to be ready to do business come the Feb. 21 trade deadline.

By far the most talked-about name during the four-day scouting (and gossiping) event was Rudy Gay, as the Grizzlies' new management team tries to determine his value on the trade market. New owner Robert Pera dispatched general manager Chris Wallace and vice president of player personnel John Hollinger to Reno, with CEO Jason Levien and director of player personnel Stu Lash working the phones to plot out the plan to keep Memphis competitive with massive tax bills on the horizon.

With $74.4 million in committed payroll, the Grizzlies are $4.05 million over the luxury tax threshold. That isn't really the problem. The real issue begins next season, when Memphis is projected to be $4.8 million over the tax when the rates for teams up to $5 million above the threshold increase from $1 to $1.50. That would equate to a $7.2 million tax bill for a new owner in one of the smallest markets in the league.

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In order to avoid even steeper tax rates for repeat offenders beginning in 2014-15, the Grizzlies have to begin planning now for how they're going to restock the roster once their total obligation of nearly $52 million to Gay, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph falls off their books following that season. If they wait that long to move one of their Big Three for a package of young players and/or picks, it may be too late.

Thus, the Grizzlies have engaged in conversations with the Suns, Warriors, Raptors, Kings and others, with the primary emphasis on Gay, an All-Star-caliber talent who is owed $37.2 million over the next two seasons. The Suns do have two first-round picks from the Steve Nash trade with the Lakers -- in 2013 and '15, the former of which looks much more attractive than anticipated -- plus Minnesota's protected 2013 first-rounder. But aside from those picks and Jared Dudley, Phoenix doesn't have much more than cap room to offer. With $6.4 million of room, the Suns could absorb most of the Grizzlies' tax burden in an uneven financial trade, but sources familiar with the Grizzlies' strategy say Memphis is not interested in a pure salary dump. The Grizzlies are seeking at least one quality young player in return.

Talks with the Warriors appear fruitless since Golden State would insist on the Grizzlies taking back Richard Jefferson (owed $21 million over the next two years) or Andris Biedrins (owed $18 million) -- both non-starters for Memphis. A deal with Toronto that would include Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon might be attractive, considering that Bargnani makes $7.1 million and $7.8 million less than Gay over each of the next two seasons and Calderon's $10.5 million contract expires after this season.

The bottom line for the Grizzlies is that, like Oklahoma City and other smaller market teams, they must begin adjusting to life under the more punitive tax rules before they get walloped with bills they can't pay. Their new management team is doing what it's supposed to do -- talking to as many teams as possible to determine what their assets are worth on the trade market.

Is it a certainty Gay will be moved before the February deadline? Hardly. It depends on the offers.

If the same players and picks will be available around draft time or after July 1, one school of thought is that Memphis will wait until then. In the meantime, there would be little harm in taking their shot with a team that has at least a puncher's chance against the elite in the West in a year when everyone in that conference is enjoying the rarity of the Lakers and Mavericks being non-factors at the same time. It wasn't so long ago when the Grizzlies had the best record in the league, and it would be foolish to break up a team that has a chance to make a run in order to solve a tax problem that could be just as easily fixed in June or July.

And with that, on to the rest of this week's Postups:

 With unseemly details emerging in the sexual assault allegations over which Andray Blatche was questioned, several team executives expressed dismay and concern about the Nets forward's notoriously poor judgment. Though police initially said Blatche was not involved in the alleged assault at the Four Seasons hotel in Philadelphia, authorities have since characterized that information as "very preliminary" in a statement provided to CBSSports.com and other media outlets.

"It is an ongoing investigation and information will be released by [the] Special Victims Unit once the investigation is complete or formal charges are filed," the police said. "Charges will not be determined until this investigation is complete and the district attorney's office has a chance to review it."

In a Philadelphia TV interview, the alleged victim said Blatche did not have a sexual encounter with her, but stood nearby while each of two associates "had his way" with her in a suite rented to the player.

Blatche and his lawyer have professed the player's innocence, and Blatche called the incident "a bad situation," telling reporters, "When the truth comes out, then everybody will realize what really happened."

Other than a statement from Nets GM Billy King, the team has declined comment on the matter. The NBA office is monitoring the situation.

 Team executives involved in exploratory trade talks report that the Knicks (Amar'e Stoudemire), Lakers (Pau Gasol), Raptors (Bargnani) and Celtics (Paul Pierce) are open to discussing their high-profile names. In every case but one, the early indications are that none could be moved without a bad contract going back in return. (In Stoudemire's case, his health and the $45 million left on his contract after this season almost certainly will prevent any deal from happening.) The lone exception, executives say, may be Pierce, whose ruthless scoring prowess and championship experience come with another attractive feature: only $4 million of his $15.3 million salary is guaranteed next season. With the Celtics playing better since Avery Bradley returned from injury, president Danny Ainge once again finds himself trying to determine whether the remnants of the 2007-08 championship team have enough to make one more run. Some rival executives believe the Celtics recently waived Jarvis Varnado and Kris Joseph to create roster flexibility for a potential trade. If Ainge decides to stand pat, a deal involving Pierce -- which would mark the true end of the Big Three era -- could be re-examined around the draft or during free agency.

 The D-League Showcase was relatively quiet in terms of call-ups, with the Hornets (Donald Sloan, Sioux Falls), Mavs (Mike James, Texas) and the Heat (Varnado, Sioux Falls) agreeing to 10-day contracts. According to executives scouting the event, among the other free agents who helped themselves the most during the four-day event in Reno were Jerome Jordan (Reno), DaJuan Summers (Maine), Luke Harangody (Fort Wayne), Shelvin Mack (Maine), Darius Johnson-Odom (Los Angeles), Chris Wright (Iowa) and Marcus Landry (Reno), who finished second to Andy Rautins (Tulsa) in the 3-point contest. Rautins' teammate, Dominique Sutton -- who one scout characterized as the best wing defender in the D-League -- won the dunk contest Wednesday night.


Before joining CBSSports.com, Ken Berger covered the NBA for Newsday. The Long Island, N.Y., native has also worked for the Associated Press and can be seen on SportsNet New York. Catch Ken every Saturday, when he hosts Eye on Basketball from 6-8 p.m. ET on cbssportsradio.com
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