Memphis trade sheds $6M in payroll

Updated: January 23, 2013, 1:53 PM ET
By Brian Windhorst | ESPN.com

The Memphis Grizzlies have completed a multiplayer trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers, slicing more than $6 million off their payroll to get under the luxury tax threshold.

Memphis sent big man Marreese Speights, guards Wayne Ellington and Josh Selby, and a future first-round draft pick to the Cavs for forward Jon Leuer.

The pick is the most valuable part of the deal for the Cavs. In 2015 or 2016, if the Grizzlies' first-rounder falls between picks 6-14, the pick goes to the Cavs. Starting in 2017, if the Grizzlies' pick falls outside the top five, the Cavs then get the selection. In 2019, the pick becomes unprotected. It is the sixth first-round pick the Cavs have traded for since 2010.

Grizzlies logo The Grizzlies will fall below the luxury tax threshold after sending Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington, Josh Selby and a future first-round draft pick to Cleveland for Jon Leuer.

The Grizzlies, under pressure to reduce payroll, had been in trade talks with teams around the league involving stars Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph.

This deal is expected to ease those concerns in the short term and allow the Grizzlies to keep their starters together. Memphis owes Gay, Randolph and Marc Gasol nearly $50 million combined next season.

"It's a trade that had to be made from a business decision, so we have a chance to keep our core together and we move forward," Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. "Hate to lose Mo (Speights) and Wayne or Josh, but it's part of the business of basketball and you have to do things. You have to make some tough decisions, and tough decisions were made and we live with them and move forward."

Memphis is 26-14, fourth in the Western Conference and second in the Southwest Division, five games behind the San Antonio Spurs.

To get the deal done, the Cavs used salary-cap space to absorb some of the contracts and waived guard Jeremy Pargo. The Grizzlies will receive a trade exception of more than $4 million they can use in a future trade over the next year.

Speights averages 6.5 points and 4.7 rebounds and has been a key big man off the bench for the Grizzlies. He makes $4.2 million this season and has a player option at $4.5 million for next season. Ellington is averaging 5.5 points off the bench. Selby has played in only 10 games, averaging two points. Leuer, who the Cavs claimed off waivers over the summer from the Houston Rockets, has played in only nine games, averaging 2.4 points.

Cleveland coach Byron Scott thinks the trade will benefit Cleveland in several ways.

"The biggest thing out of the whole deal is getting Mo in there and getting that first round pick as well," Scott said. "Very valuable assets. It was a good day for us."

The Cavs are 11-32 record -- second-worst in the Eastern Conference -- after Tuesday night's home over Boston. Speights will help Cleveland replace center Anderson Varejao, who was leading the NBA in rebounding but will miss the remainder of the season after developing a blood clot in his right lung.

"We needed another big with Andy being lost for the season," Scott said. "Maurice is a guy who has been in the league for a while. He's definitely proven he can play. He's a good mid-range shooter, is a tough kid and rebounds the ball. Wayne Ellington can stretch the floor. He's gotten better each year he's been in the league. Josh is a little bit of a combo (guard)."

Varejao remains hospitalized at The Cleveland Clinic.

The ownership group led by Robert Pera took over the Grizzlies on Nov. 5, and they had been scheduled to pay about $4 million in luxury tax this season with a payroll of more than $74 million.

On Wednesday Memphis signed guard-forward Chris Johnson to a 10-day to give the team 12 players on its roster.

The 6-foot-6 Johnson had been averaging 12.6 points, 4 rebounds and 1.81 steals in 21 games with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the NBA's Development League. He ranks fourth in the D-League with 54 3-pointers made and tied for sixth with 38 steals. He played four years in college at Dayton and was the 2010 National Invitation Tournament MVP in helping the Flyers to the title game.

Johnson played for the Clippers and Orlando in the preseason.

Cleveland is trying to maintain salary-cap space and stay away from any maximum contracts so it can be active in free agency over the next two years. General manager Chris Grant has been doing all he can to attain assets to help the rebuilding.

"Marreese will strengthen our front court, while Wayne and Josh will add depth to our backcourt," Grant said in a statement. "At the same time, we are adding a valuable asset with another future first-round pick, while also maintaining our future flexibility."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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