The Trade that Keeps on Giving
January 30, 2013 — Toronto traded Jose Calderon, Ed Davis, and a 2013 second-round draft pick (Jamaal Franklin) to the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for Rudy Gay and Hamed Haddadi. This deal would be Bryan Colangelo’s second last trade (his final major deal) as Raptors General Manager before being replaced by Masai Ujiri.
December 9, 2013–11 months later. Ujiri, in his second deal as Raptors GM, traded Rudy Gay, Quincy Acy, and Aaron Gray to the Sacramento Kings for Patrick Patterson, Chuck Hayes, John Salmons, and Greivis Vasquez. I have come to affectionately call this deal the Trade that Keeps on Giving. As I stated in my examination of the 5 most glorious trades in Raptors history, this transaction was the most important deal that the organization has made thus far. It ignited the ‘We The North Era’ — the most successful era in franchise history.
Rudy Gay was the centerpiece for both of the above trades and also the player that has come to define the legacies of both general managers. Trading for Gay was the final act of Colangelo’s legacy; trading away Gay was just the beginning of Ujiri’s legacy. This trade is not only about the players we received, it is also about the spoils that this deal has provided, and more importantly, it is the tale of two general managers with different team-building philosophies.
Colangelo’s tenure in Toronto started better than anyone could have imagined. However, his itchy trigger-finger, his willingness to throw money around, and his dizzying volume of trades (he made 26 trades in his time as Raptors GM!!) is ultimately what came to define his time in Toronto — with the Gay deal being the proverbial final nail in his coffin. Ujiri, on the other hand, is known for his extreme patience and caution, his unwillingness to mortgage the future for the present, and for only doing a deal if it is in the best interest of the franchise — both short-term and long-term (Ujiri has only made 10 trades in his time in Toronto).
But let’s begin our tale with Colangelo who was hired in February 2006 to replace Rob Babcock — best known as the GM who traded Vince Carter for pennies on the dollar (one of the worst trades not only in Raptors history, but NBA history). I wouldn’t trust Babcock to make a good trade for me in Monopoly or Settlers of Catan let alone run a basketball team. Prior to joining the Toronto front-office, Colangelo served as GM of the Phoenix Suns for 11 seasons (1994–2006) and was the architect of the popular 7-Seconds-Or-Less Suns squad led by Steve Nash. During the 2004 offseason, it was Colangelo who signed Nash away from the Dallas Mavericks (6 years, $65 million) and took a chance by handing over the reins of the offense to him. Nash would reward Colangelo’s decision-making by winning league MVP in his first year and leading the team to a 62–20 record (they won 29 games the year prior). Colangelo would be awarded the Executive of the Year for his gamble on Nash and for a 33-win turnaround.
The following season, Nash again won MVP and led the team to 54 wins. But this was also the season that Colangelo’s relationship with the organization became strained. During that season, the Suns were sold to an ownership group headed by Robert Sarver. This sale included Jerry Colaneglo, Bryan’s father, selling his 20% stake in the franchise. The story goes that Sarver was hesitant to offer Colangelo an extension as GM — thus allowing him to have discussions with other teams. This is where the Raptors enter the narrative.
The Raptors, wanting to bring in an experienced GM (i.e., not Babcock), saw this as an opportunity to get a proven commodity with name recognition — someone who would legitimize the organization. Colangelo looked the part and had the Executive of the Year hardware to backup his reputation. In February 2006, Colangelo left his post as GM of the Suns to become the President of Basketball Operations and the General Manager of the Toronto Raptors. Once Colangelo signed, there was a sense of optimism and excitement amongst fans — maybe what he did for the Suns he could do for Toronto. The perception was that Colangelo was going to turn the fortunes of the Raptors around — make them prominent once again.
Colangelo inherited a squad that would finish the 2005–2006 season with a 27–55 record — which was the fifth worse record in the league. At the draft lottery, it was Colaneglo who would be there to represent the franchise — one of his first major appearances on behalf of the organization:
The Raptors ended up winning the 2006 draft lottery and the first overall selection despite having a mere 8.8% chance of landing the top pick. This only added to the perception that Colangelo was the franchise saviour and had some sort of Midas Touch. He was our very own good-luck charm! Even the dude opening the envelopes cannot help but comment on Colangelo’s good fortune:
“The number 1 pick in the 2006 NBA Draft goes to….the Toronto Raptors, where Bryan Colangelo brought a lot of luck in the first year”
Having Colangelo in charge made it seem that better days were indeed ahead (sadly, we know how this unfolds). However, at the 2006 draft itself, is where Colangelo’s infatuation with Gay began.
Stories circulate that Colangelo was enamoured with Gay (the 8th overall pick who ended up with the Memphis Grizzlies) but felt compelled to take Bargnani as that seemed to be the consensus number one pick. So, with the first overall selection, Colangelo would select Bargnani.
Let’s take a break from the column to remind ourselves how bad Bargnani was. Take a look at this play from his time with the Knicks. What is he even doing on defense!? Who he is trying to guard!?
Selecting Bargnani was the first major move of the Colangelo tenure — the move that would define his legacy along with his eventual trade for Gay. It was also during the 2006 offseason that Colangelo would begin to re-shape the roster that had won only 27 games. Colangelo did not bide his time. Eager to make his imprint on the team he jettisoned 9 players from the 2005–2006 squad.
The following season, the Raptors would win 47 games — tying a then franchise high — and win their first Atlantic Division banner while also clinching home court in the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Also, Colangelo was able to ink Chris Bosh to a long-term extension — the second franchise player to stay beyond his rookie contract! Colangelo, again, would be awarded the Executive of the Year Award for the 2006–2007 season. Perhaps everything he touches does indeed turn to gold! Fans could not have asked for a better first full-year.
Colangelo was not afraid to make big moves and not afraid to make many moves. At first this seemed like a positive — as the team had a quick turnaround. But over the subsequent seasons his itchy trigger-finger would do more damage than good.
The first crack in the armour of Colangelo’s invincibility, was Bargnani slowly revealing that he was not worthy of the first overall selection. Another crack, was Colangelo’s willingness to carelessly throw around money without thinking of the long-term fit and salary cap ramifications. He threw around money like a spoiled child from a very wealthy family — oh wait.
As chronicled here and here, Colangelo would trade for and then trade away Jermaine O’Neal, he threw over $50 million at Hedo Turkoglu, he gave $20 million to Landry Fields, he gave $50 million to Bargnani, over $20 million to Jarrett Jack, and he almost gave $36 million to a washed-up Steve Nash. Colangelo was always looking for the quick fix and when the initial fix did not work, he would trade it away hoping to find another. His impatience (26 trades!!!) was digging himself into a hole over and over again. He was making trades the same way I do in NBA video games — one after the other without a concern in the world.
After the one magical season, take a look at how the franchise continued under his leadership.
2007–2008: 41–41 (lost in the first round)
2011–2012: 23–43 (strike shortened year)
Not too good. The team made the playoffs only twice with Colangelo in charge — his very first 2 seasons as GM. Following those 2 postseason appearances, the team would not make the playoffs again with Colangelo running the team (the next 5 seasons!!). Questions started emerging about Colangelo’s direction — if he even had one — and his inability to provide a proper long-term plan for the franchise.
Which brings us to the 2012–2013 season, where Colangelo’s infatuation with Gay became a reality. In 2013, he traded away fan-favourite Jose Calderon, Ed Davis, and a 2013 second-round draft pick to Memphis for Gay and Haddadi. Guess what Colangelo did with Haddadi? He traded him away one month later — his final trade as Raptors GM. Ballers gotta Ball and Traders gotta Trade!
We’ll get to how the Raptors performed with Gay (spoiler alert: not too well — what else would you expect from a splashy Colangelo deal).
The organization quickly grew impatient with Colangelo’s lack of patience and his direction-less trades — when one trade did not work out, guess what, he had another ready to go. Shortly after the Gay deal, the front-office took away Colangelo’s General Manager title. They would keep him on as President of Basketball Operations but he had zero power anymore to shape the roster. In June 2013, Colangelo would step-down as President thus ending his time in Toronto.
Who did the Raptors bring in to be their new General Manager? Masai Ujiri! The organization signed him to a five-year deal to return to the franchise where his front-office experience began. Perhaps Colangelo’s best move was not for actual NBA players — in 2007, he hired Ujiri to be the organization’s Director of Global Scouting and eventually the Assistant General Manager. Ujiri would ultimately leave the Raptors in 2010 to become the Executive Vice-President of Basketball Operations in Denver before returning home in 2013.
During his time in Denver, Ujiri earned his reputation as a patient and skill-full Executive. The trade that defined his legacy in Denver was the deal that sent Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks. Anthony had made it very clear to the Nuggets organization that he wanted out and that he wanted to play in New York. However, Ujiri did not have a knee-jerk reaction to Anthony’s demands — like Babcock did with Carter by trading him for next to nothing. Ujiri bided his time until the right deal presented itself. He was not going to do a trade simply because he had to — who do you think he is, Bryan Colaneglo? Instead Ujiri made New York sweat it out until he got the deal he wanted. And the deal he got has become the template for what front-offices expect now when trading away a superstar — Ujiri set the bar.
How did the deal turn out for the Knicks? In Anthony’s 7 seasons in New York, they have won only 1 playoff series and have not made the playoffs in 4 years — not the expected outcome when you acquire a superstar. Similar to Colangelo, Ujiri would join the Raptors as the reigning Executive of the Year (2013). Fortunately, this is where the parallels end. In May 2013, Ujiri signed a five-year contract to return to Toronto.
But let’s return to the trade that brought Gay to Toronto — Colangelo’s last major deal. He had long wanted Gay and now he finally got him. The perception of the trade was that the team was getting a reliable scorer who could carry the team during tight games. But it would not be a Colangelo deal if money was not the main talking-point — Gay was owed $16.5 million that season and $37 million over the next two years (with the final year being a player option worth $20 million). Gay would ultimately pick-up that player option in Sacramento. Want to take a guess why? Because no team would give Gay $20 million per year!!
Colangelo was certain that Gay would elevate the team and prove to be a reliable scorer. Would he elevate the team though? Was he indeed a reliable scorer? Let’s examine the first question. There were 36 games remaining in the season when Toronto acquired him. In those 36 games, the team would go 18–18 (13–18 if you subtract a useless 5-game winning streak to end the season — which I do subtract). The following season (2013–2014), Gay would play in 18 games before Ujiri shipped him to Sacramento. In those 18 games, the team would go 6–12. So in the 51 games that Gay played, the team went 24–30 — that, ladies and gentlemen, is not elevating the team.
Let’s examine the second question: Was he a reliable scorer? The knock on Gay is that he is an empty calories player — meaning the numbers he puts up look good on paper but do not translate to team success. Also, apparently, Memphis was eager to move Gay because they arrived at that very conclusion. They felt their team would be more successful without Gay suffocating the offense with his ball-dominate ways. Suffice to say, this was the reality that Toronto fans came soon to understand. Let’s look at Gay’s stats for the 51 games he played in Toronto:
Not bad you say. What’s wrong with those numbers you ask. Let’s take a closer look and see how he got those numbers:
FG%: 41.1% (!!!)
Shot attempts per game: 17.6
Field Goals Made per game: 7.3
41% shooting on 18 shots per game!! Now that is inefficient! Gay also tried to be a locker-room leader — he would infamously not permit box-scores in the Raptors locker room during half-time and after games. If you shot as poor as he did, you would too! This is like the person in your office who is routinely late not permitting attendance to be part of their work evaluation.
Perhaps Memphis was onto something. As soon as they traded Gay, the Grizzlies went on to win a franchise record 56 games and made the Western Conference Finals. Let’s also take a look at how Memphis did with Gay and how they did without Gay:
With Gay: 195–281 (.410)
Without Gay: 246–164 (.600)
They went from a .400 team to a .600 team with pretty much the exact same roster! That is bonkers! I think we know why Memphis was secretly happy to get rid of him. Also, let’s take a look at how the Raptors did with Gay and without Gay:
With Gay: 24–30 (.444)
Without Gay: 198–112 (.639)
During the 2013–2014 season, the Raptors traded Gay after getting off to a 6–12 start. They finished the season going 42–22 — making the playoffs for the first time since the 2007–2008 season. Essentially, trading Gay started the ‘We The North Era’ — which includes (and counting) 4 straight postseason appearances, 2 consecutive 50 win seasons, an Eastern Conference Finals appearance, and 2 consecutive trips to the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.
If Colangelo’s legacy will be remembered as drafting Bargnani, trading for high-priced players, and throwing excessive amounts of money at useless free agents — with his defining moves being the 2006 draft and his last-ditch effort to resuscitate his reputation with the Gay trade — it is safe to say that those moves proved to be complete failures. Also, apparently, Colangelo wanted to extend Gay to a rumoured $100 million dollar extension — that is insane!
To illustrate just how much of a failure Colangelo was in Toronto, Ujiri earned legendary status by trading Bargnani and Gay as his very first 2 deals! First, he dealt Bargnani. As covered in my piece about the 5 most glorious trades in Raptors history, Ujiri was able to Jedi-Mind trick the Knicks into coughing up real assets for Colangelo’s garbage. The trade ultimately yielded financial flexibility, removed Bargnani from the team, and brought back real assets that landed the team Jakob Poeltl and P.J. Tucker. This was the second time that Ujiri fleeced the Knicks. Here is what I wrote about this deal:
Ujiri not only dumped Bargnani’s contract on the Knicks, he actually got value in return! It’s as if someone dared the Knicks to make a bad trade just for fun. The 2014 second-round pick materialized into Xavier Thomas (non-asset), the 2016 first-round pick turned into Jakob Poeltl (asset), and the 2017 second-round pick was traded for P.J. Tucker (asset) at the 2017 trade deadline. Poeltl is not a superstar but should materialize into a solid rotation player and a potential successor to Valanciunas should the team decide to trade JV. The Raptors flipped that 2017 second-round pick to the Phoenix Suns for P.J. Tucker which is a move you make 100 times out of 100. Please, Basketball Gods, let the team find a way to keep Tucker.
Let’s take another break from the column to appreciate how bad Bargnani was. This gem is from a December 2013 game versus the Milwaukee Bucks. Bargnani, and his Knicks, are up 2 points in overtime with 16.3 seconds remaining when the Knicks secure the offensive rebound — meaning they could hold onto the ball forcing the Bucks to foul them so they can shoot free throws to ice the game. After securing the offensive rebound, the ball is thrown to Bargnani with 14.8 seconds remaining. Instead of holding the ball and waiting to get fouled, let’s see what he does:
LOL! Look at his teammates raising their arms in frustration — wondering if Bargnani even understands the basic tenets of basketball. What would the Bucks do with this extra possession that Bargnani gifted them? If you guessed that the Bucks would tie the game forcing a second overtime - then you guessed right. Anyways, back to the column.
Ujiri’s second trade was dealing Gay — I have come to affectionately call this deal the trade that keeps on giving. In my column examining the most glorious trades in Raptors history, I emphatically stated that this was the most important deal in franchise history — which it is. I also promised you a breakdown of why this is the most important trade in franchise history: here is that breakdown!
As outlined above, as soon as the Raptors parted ways with Gay the franchise enjoyed its most successful stretch ever — no need for me to rehash this. But my favourite part of the deal is the spoils that the team still enjoys from the ripple effects of this trade. This is where the fun is. Let’s begin by examining the players Ujiri got in return: Patrick Patterson, Chuck Hayes, John Salmons, and Greivis Vasquez.
Patrick Patterson is still with the team. He is a 6-foot-9 forward who is a valuable contributor on the second unit and is capable of defending multiple positions and spreading the floor on offense — he is the prototypical player in the modern NBA. However, he is a streaky-shooter who does have a tendency to disappear in big games. He is also an unrestricted free-agent this off-season but may have played himself out of big money with his playoff disappearing act. He is still 28 and should continue to get better especially as he enters the prime of his career. Patterson also does the things that do not show up in the box-score — he defends well, sets some of the best screens in the NBA, and is a plus defender. I hope the Raptors find a way to keep Patterson because when he is playing well it unlocks a higher level of play for the team. Plus, you need floor-spacing for Lowry and DeRozan.
Chuck Hayes would go onto play 143 games with the Raptors when the team chose not to re-sign him when his contract ended. While with Toronto, Hayes played limited minutes — but he wasn’t brought into play a major role. He was brought in for his veteran leadership and his Old-Man-Strength-defense in the post.
John Salmons would play in 60 games for the Raptors before being traded, in June 2014, to the Atlanta Hawks for Lou Williams and Lucas (Bebe) Nogueira. Lou would spend 1 magical season in Toronto winning the Sixth Man of the Year Award during the 2014–2015 season. Williams averaged 15.5 points off the bench that year and provided a necessary offensive spark. Williams was well-liked by his teammates and was popular with the fans, earning chants of “Louuuu” every time he was playing well — which was often. However, Williams’ biggest weakness was his defense which was exposed when the Raptors were swept by the Washington Wizards in the very first round of the 2015 playoffs. The other piece the Raptors acquired was Lucas Nogueira — the 16th overall pick in the 2013 draft.
Nogueira, and his Sideshow Bob style hair-do, is still with the team and is only 24 years old. He enjoyed his first productive season as a Raptor this past year and figures to potentially be a prominent part of their future moving forward (he is also my buddy Chris’ favourite Raptor). During 2016–2017, the 7-footer showed the promise of why he was selected 16th overall — in 57 games he averaged:
Blocks:1.6 (team high and 9th best in the NBA)
Not bad. Sneaky-good even. If you extrapolate that to Per 36 Minutes, these are his averages:
Blocks: 3.0 (!!!)
Steals: 1.7 (!!)
The 24 year-old also shot 66% from the field (led the team) and showed a promising 3-point shot. Not a bad haul for a washed-up Salmons!
Greivis Vasquez would play 143 games in a Raptors uniform and played exceptional as a back-up to Lowry. Vasquez will always be remembered for making this clutch basket in game 1 of their first round match-up against the Wizards in the 2015 playoffs:
Vasquez will always be doing that shimmy-dance whenever I think of him. Similar to Lou Williams, Vasquez’ defensive limitations were exposed in the playoffs and Ujiri decided to part ways with him. In June 2015, he was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks for a 2017 first-round pick (via the Los Angeles Clippers) and the 46th pick in the 2015 draft which turned out to be Norman Powell. Powell, in only 2 seasons, has become an important contributor for the Raptors (offensively and defensively) and has a very promising future — so much so, that I am expecting a huge leap from him this coming year. Also, Powell became so good so fast that the Raptors needed to part ways with Terrence Ross to accommodate him. What did the Raptors do with that extra 2017 first-round pick they got in the Vasquez deal? They packaged it with Ross in a trade with the Orlando Magic for Serge Ibaka!
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I have affectionately called the Gay trade the trade that keeps on giving.
Colangelo and Ujiri had similar parallels to the start of their time as GM of the Raptors: both joined the organization as the reigning Executive of the Year and both enjoyed a complete turnaround their very first full-year as GM. The difference is that Colangelo’s impatience ensured his turnaround was temporary and fleeting; while Ujiri’s patience ensured sustained success and the best stretch in franchise history.
To recap: Ujiri traded Rudy Gay and Andrea Bargnani for Patrick Patterson, Lucas Noguiera, Norman Powell, Serge Ibaka, Jakob Poeltl, and P.J. Tucker. I dare anyone to find a better sequence of deals than what Ujiri pulled off here. This is why I worship at the altar of Masai Ujiri — say it with me now: In Masai I Trust.