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Hollinger On Gay, Prince, Speights, Analytics

Prior to the seventh annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston, John Schumann of exchanged a few emails with Grizzlies vice president of basketball operations John Hollinger.  The former ESPN scribe touched on a number of topics concerning the club and his new gig.  Here are some of the highlights..

How does your approach to analytics as a team executive differ from your approach as a writer?

The biggest change is that I’m looking at everything through this more narrow lens of “how does this impact the Memphis Grizzlies?” That means I’m probably looking at certain players much more closely and all but ignoring some national stories that I’d be discussing nearly every day in my former gig (like one that rhymes with “Spakers,” for instance), and it means I’m paying a lot more attention to non-NBA stuff (college, Europe, etc.) because that’s the pipeline for incoming players. As a writer I had the luxury of waiting until those guys got to the league if I so chose.

How has your team changed with the trades you made?

Rudy [Gay] was a very good player but Tayshaun [Prince]’s ability to pass and hit catch-and-shoot jumpers hopefully replaces some of the athleticism and shot-creating ability we gave up in this deal. Defensively we probably get even better, because we still have that 6-9 small forward who can guard, but now we also have an athletic big who plays above the rim in Ed, which is something we really didn’t have before. And finally, we’re pretty deep in the front line now, because we also have bigs like Jon Leuer and Dexter Pittman waiting in the wings from our other deals.

Can you explain the reasoning behind the Marreese Speights trade?

One thing I think a lot of people don’t understand is that we still were facing a potential luxury tax hit even with the [Gay trade], because of certain incentive deals in our player contracts. So even though all those little charts on the Web had us $4MM and change into the tax, in reality our potential liability was about $6MM. Because of that, it was inevitable that another deal also had to be made in addition to a Rudy deal.

Also, there was a fairly important chess element to this — we were able to improve our leverage in the second deal by being under the tax, because beforehand people were demanding a premium for all the money they’d be saving us. The basketball offers for Rudy got better once we’d done this. As for the particular deal we chose, it was clear given the frontcourt depth we had that moving off that Speights deal for both this year and next was the way to achieve the greatest savings at the least basketball cost…Obviously this isn’t the kind of move you’d prefer to make, but we came into a situation where our hands were really tied financially, and now we have options again.

While I have the floor, I’ll also point out two other things: First, that the Speights trade exception was parlayed into an even larger exception in the Rudy deal, because we took Austin Daye into it, so we now have a $7.5MM chip that could prove valuable in the offseason. And second, that our breathing room allowed us to take in Dexter Pittman and a second-round pick at the trade deadline.

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