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January 5, 2012
Transaction Analysis

by Kevin Pelton


Memphis Grizzlies

Acquired forward Marreese Speights from the Philadelphia 76ers as part of a three-team trade with the New Orleans Hornets in exchange for guard Xavier Henry and a conditional 2012 second-round pick. [1/4]

A little more than two weeks after losing Darrell Arthur to a ruptured right Achilles tendon, the Grizzlies have now filled out their new-look backup frontcourt. Given the circumstances, Memphis did well to sign Dante Cunningham as a free agent, trade for Speights and bring back Hamed Haddadi. The three players give Lionel Hollins a variety of different options up front. Cunningham replaces Arthur's midrange game, Speights is a potent reserve scorer and Haddadi--when he finishes up the visa process and is able to play--provides desperately needed size.

There's only one problem: Now, one of these players has to start in place of Zach Randolph, who is expected to miss six to eight weeks after suffering a slight tear of his right MCL. On Wednesday night, Cunningham got the call but played just 18 minutes, shooting 1-of-7 from the field. Hollins spent the remainder of the game playing smallball, with Quincy Pondexter, Sam Young and even Rudy Gay manning power forward.

Most likely, Speights will be the eventual replacement. A volume scorer who maintains reasonable efficiency thanks to his accurate free throw shooting, Speights has averaged 17.7 points and 9.0 rebounds per 36 minutes over the course of his career. However, he was never able to earn a significant role in Philadelphia because of his atrocious defense. In many ways, Speights is Arthur's opposite number. Last season, the Sixers were (shockingly) better defensively with him on the floor. Before that, Philadelphia allowed 7.2 more points per 100 possessions when Speights played in 2008-09 and 8.4 more points in 2009-10.

Perhaps Speights will get it defensively with a new team. After all, Randolph has made remarkable strides at the defensive end in Memphis after serving as a sieve with the Knicks and Clippers. Speights is still just 24 and SCHOENE pegs late bloomers Brandon Bass and Kris Humphries as two of his closest comps, so there are worse gambles to take.

The Grizzlies will do well to play .500 basketball in Randolph's absence. Last season, they were outscored by 2.3 points per 100 possessions when he was off the floor, and that was with Arthur around to handle most of those minutes. Basically, Memphis just needs to hang around the playoff race. Fortunately, none of the teams likely to knock the Grizzlies out of the top eight has gotten off to a great start. The best of the group in terms of adjusted point differential entering Wednesday was the Timberwolves, who opened 2-3 against a difficult schedule but blew their opportunity to move ahead of Memphis in the early standings.

The minor downside to this trade won't be felt until next season. Henry's cost-controlled rookie contract could have been valuable to a team that will struggle to avoid the luxury-tax threshold. The Grizzlies will almost certainly let O.J. Mayo walk at season's end, and Sam Young could depart if he gets a solid offer as a restricted free agent. That would leave Memphis with only newcomer Quincy Pondexter and undersized Josh Selby as backups on the wing.

Had he developed, Henry might have stepped up in place of Mayo, leaving the Grizzlies needing only to fill one hole (backup center) in free agency. It's impossible to tell from the outside how much this deal was an indictment of Henry's development as opposed to a difficult decision that had to be made to deal with a more pressing need in the middle.

New Orleans Hornets

Acquired guard Xavier Henry from the Memphis Grizzlies as part of a three-team trade with the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for a 2013 second-round pick. [1/4]

I'm not quite sure what to make of Henry at this point of his development. Henry was bad last season. Really bad. In 527 minutes, mostly in late November and December when he started at shooting guard for Memphis, Henry made just two three-pointers and posted a .451 True Shooting Percentage without any other statistical contributions of note. It's hard to find players who were so ineffective early in their career and eventually developed into anything. Reggie Williams (the Georgetown version who was a bust before resurrecting his career in Denver) and Allan Houston (who had a dreadful rookie campaign in Detroit) are the closest examples I can find. Neither was quite so bad, though.

The optimistic perspective is that Henry barely snuck over the threshold for statistical relevance, his season was over before he turned 20 and his previous indicators were excellent. Not only was Henry a big-time recruit at Kansas, he played well during his lone season as a Jayhawk. I had him rated as a top-10 pick in the 2010 Draft.

So Henry's career could go either way, and I think it's worth the low price of a future second-round pick for the Hornets to figure out whether there is something here. If there's a concern, it's that New Orleans won't get to see much of Henry before having to make a decision on the third-year option of his rookie contract by Jan. 25. Henry has been sidelined since early in training camp with sprained ligaments in his right ankle and is not yet back on the court. But the cost ($2.3 million) isn't onerous, so the Hornets should probably feel comfortable picking the option up and seeing what they have. There's significant upside to this deal, and very little downside.

Philadelphia 76ers

Acquired a conditional 2012 second-round pick from the Memphis Grizzlies and a 2013 second-round pick from the New Orleans Hornets as part of a three-team deal in exchange for forward Marreese Speights. [1/4]

Speights' departure from Philadelphia was only a matter of time, so for the 76ers it was worth it to get basically anything for him. If Memphis goes into the tank and New Orleans continues to rebuild, both second-round picks could have some value. The Sixers also create a $2.7 million trade exception they could use at some point and save Speights' salary for the time being.

The other tiny benefit to this deal is that it should allow Philadelphia to balance its roster a little better. Before the trade, eight of the 76ers' 13 players were bigs. (That counts Thaddeus Young, who swings between both forward positions, as a big.) The Sixers can fill Speights' roster spot with a third point guard who could keep them from having to do things like play Jody Meeks and Evan Turner in the final minutes of a 28-point win because there are no other guards available.

One note on the "conditional" nature of the pick dealt by the Grizzlies. That's left over from a trade with the Miami Heat for Shaun Livingston in January 2009. The Heat was just dumping Livingston's contract and paying Memphis the cash to cover it, but the Grizzlies had to send something in return, so Miami got a 2012 second-round pick--protected through pick 55. So if Memphis emerges as one of the NBA's top five teams, the Heat will get the Grizzlies' second-rounder. Otherwise, it goes to Philadelphia. I like the 76ers' chances of landing the pick.

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Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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