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Where are They Now: An Oral History of the Speights/Ellington Trade

On January 22nd, 2013, the Cleveland Cavaliers made a trade that changed......well, not that much, in retrospect. However, it did make things more entertaining for the Cavs. This is the story.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Ed. note - The following accounts of the details of this story are fictitious. Probably.

The 2012-2013 edition of the Cleveland Cavaliers was probably the happiest of the four editions that preceeded LeBron James's return to Cleveland. It was a unique season, one sandwiched in between the sadness casserole of the Antawn Jamison-led 2010-2011 team and the fabled #SeasonofHuh.  It was a time when Kyrie Irving was getting his legs, Dion Waiters had potential to eventually not be Dion Waiters, and we could think Chris Grant maybe had a semblance of an idea of what he was doing. Comparatively, THINGS WERE GREAT!

But it wasn't that way for the entire season. For the first 43 games of the season, the Cavs still had the stink of the previous two years on them. The Cavs went 11-32, and were still employing notable tank drivers Donald Sloan, Samardo Samuels, and Jeremy Pargo. Anderson Varejao got hurt (Blood clot edition), and Byron Scott was regularly folding his arms in disgust rather than indifference. Things looked bad once again from an entertainment standpoint.

Fred McLeod, Cavaliers Play-by-Play Announcer: During the first half of the season, it was clear Kyrie Irving was gonna be special. Dion looked pretty good too. But it always felt like the Cavs were like seven or eight players away from competing, instead of just 5 or 6. Something had to be done. Even Austin thought so.


Byron Scott, former Cavaliers Head Coach: We shot too many damn threes.

Chris Grant, former Cavaliers General Manager: The team took a while to get going the direction I wanted. Danny Ferry barely left me with anything, and it took awhile to jettison some of the "assets" we'd been stuck with. I quickly hit the eject button on Manny Harris and Luke Harangody. Ditched Donald Sloan in December. Got a nice young core with Kyrie, Dion, Tristan Thompson, and Tyler Zeller. but I still felt like we were weak in two areas: shooting, and undersized power forwards. C.J. Miles helped the former, and Samardo Samuels had been good enough for awhile in the latter, but he'd just gotten too big, and had to go. Same with Jon Leuer. I couldn't just cut it with Miles and Kyrie shooting and Kevin Jones and Tristan at undersized four, so I had to go searching for something more.


Meanwhile, the Memphis Grizzlies were in the midst of a trying season. They were good, still competing for a top-4 seed in the loaded Western Conference, but their cap situation was getting a little hairy. They had a couple of enormous contracts on their books in Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph, and were looking at a few rotation players who would need to be re-signed, including O.J. Mayo, Tony Allen, and Marreese Speights. They had also played very well the season prior with Rudy Gay out with a shoulder injury, and there were questions about whether they needed him to compete, and if they did, how to get under the cap and keep him.

Chris Wallace, Memphis Grizzlies General Manager: We were strapped down pretty bad. Some kind of decision had to be made: Trade Rudy or deal away most of our depth. I opted for the latter because Gay was the type of go-to scorer bloggers would scream we needed three years after the trade if we dealt him.

Wayne Ellington, shooting guard, Memphis Grizzlies: It was kinda obvious me and Marreese might be on the hot seat. We both were gonna be free agents, and it seemed clear Rudy was there to stay.

Wallace: It eventually became clear. Trade Wayne and Marreese, and we'd have enough space to make things work. There was no way that would backfire and we'd end up dealing Rudy too. And even if it did, I was confident it would all work out in the end for ol' C-Dub. It's kind of my thing at this point.


So as teams like to do after January 15th, when contracts become guaranteed, the Cavaliers and Grizzlies began calling around looking for prospective trades.

Wallace: We were pedaling our expirings pretty heavily around the league. I had some interest from Toronto in a deal, but they wanted Rudy and to throw Jose Calderon at us, and he wouldn't fit our M.O. at all. The Philly wanted Speights back, but also three second round picks. It was rough going early.

Grant: We had a few picks to give, so I thought we had a shot at landing talent. But no one was biting on my advanced negotiating tactics.

John Hammond, Milwaukee Bucks General Manager: The Cavs put a nice package together for Ersan Ilyasova, I'll admit that. But Chris, he just is tough to negotiate with. He just whispers "and a first rounder" at the end of every sentence during negotiations. And I just wasn't falling for that.

David Griffin, assistant Cavaliers General Manager: Look, man, it was a resume line.

Then came that fateful night. January 22nd. Chris called Chris, and negotiations on a potential cap-relief deal were made between playoff contender and tanking machine.

Grant: Memphis didn't want to take on anything on the cap, so I was basically offering our lowest salaries to entice them into a deal. I threw out a few names: Shaun Livingston, Tyler Zeller, Jon Leuer. I was very careful not to offer any shooters, picks, or undersized fours, though. Gotta stick to your guns.

Wallace: I wanted Tristan Thompson, because he'd be a nice backup for Z-Bo and could eventually replace him. But I liked Leuer more than Zeller because he could shoot a bit, so we agreed he'd be the guy we took. I got to ship off Speights and Ellington without taking back much salary. Even got Josh Selby out of our D-League system. Man that was a terrible draft choice. Anyway, it sounded perfect!

Grant: But I knew there was work to be done.

Griffin: I'll admit, the call to David Stern was why Grant stuck around Cleveland as long as he did.

Wallace: So we call Stern, and I've got this smug look on my face because I just saved us a bunch of money, we get to keep Rudy, and I got a prospect I liked. But that's when Grant, that magical devil, swerved me.


Mark Tatum, NBA Deputy Commissioner: Stern's most underrated moment of his last year, in my opinion. Grant and Wallace are on the line, it's late, and Stern literally could not care less. Grant reads off the terms, and I hear him cough then whisper "And a future protected first." Stern reads back the trade and confirms it without a blink as Wallace is raging on the other end of the line. Finally Stern just bluntly states, "Chris, you decided to work with Chris Grant. This is your own fault," and hangs up. Vintage Dave-O!

Wallace: I guess he had a point. I'm not one to get too angry after I know I've been had, so I just protected the crap out of the pick and called it a day. Win some, lose some.

Grant: *Maniacal laughing*


The trade was relatively mundane per NBA standards, other than the absurd amount the Cavs got in the deal. However, a few mixed reactions were seen from the players on both sides.

Ellington: I actually got half a season to you know, actually see the floor a bit, so needless to say I was happy.

Tyler Zeller, Cavaliers center: I was super pumped to have Wayne around. When I was on a UNC recruiting trip, I stayed with him and we totally [REDACTED]

Dion Waiters, Cavaliers shooting guard: I thought Josh was going to be the best player we got. He was a point guard after all, and I assumed he'd be there to get me the ball. He just never really got a chance here, in my opinion.

Jon Leuer, Grizzlies power forward: This is probably obvious, but as a small-town Minnesotan who'd spent college in Wisconsin and only played for the Bucks and Cavs, the transition to Memphis was.......a challenge.

Future first round pick, Now a member of the Denver Nuggets:


The Grizzlies, it should be noted, ended up trading Rudy Gay after all, and making a conference finals run anyway. Chris Wallace gonna Chris Wallace.

The Cavs, meanwhile, ended up getting an immediate impact from Speights and Ellington, going 9-6 from January 23rd to February 1st. Ellington and Speights became the first two guys off the bench in most games, and the Cavs ended up getting a fun little second unit together with Livingston, Ellington, C.J. Miles, Luke Walton, and Speights that absolutely worked other teams for that month.

Luke Walton, Cavaliers power forward: I loved playing with those lineups. Wayne and C.J. from three, Shaun cutting to the hole, Speights.......doing Speights things. I looked like a mutant Steve Nash working with those guys, but they really made it so easy. I just had to feed the rock.

Speights: Byron told me on my first day that he wanted me to feel comfortable taking midrange shots. I knew immediately I was in the correct offense for me.

Ellington: It really felt like the UNC days. Kyrie and Shaun got the rim at will like Ty, Speights ate possessions like Psycho T. I mean, we weren't good or anything, but we were having fun, and the young guys loved having a few veteran leaders to rely on.

Scott: We shot too many damn threes. But, with that group, I actually could put five guys on the floor at the same time who could run an offensive set, so it was a net positive.


Carter Rodriguez, Fear the Sword (From his Post-Decision era Highlights):For whatever reason, the group of Shaun Livingston, Ellington, Speights, Walton and sometimes Boobie Gibson or C.J. Miles, dubbed the Herculoids by Cavs: the Blog's Nate Smith, combined to create the most devastating bench unit in league history. I'm joking, but some of the numbers these guys put up were absolutely the dumbest things I've ever seen. Each player complemented one another beautifully on these units. Livingston and Walton dished the ball beautiful, Speights was money on turnarounds and from mid-range, and Ellington and Miles/Gibson bombed away from deep.

It was the dumbest, most beautiful random occurrence of basketball nirvana that I have seen or ever will see.

Each member of the trade had a signature moment during that stretch. For Speights, it was a February 2nd win over Oklahoma City, where he scored 21 points on 10-15 shooting:

Ellington: We had a ton of nights where Kyrie carried us, and he had 35 that night. But no one remembers that. We just remember Speights balling.

Scott Brooks, Oklahoma City Thunder coach: Guard Speights with Collison and Perk, he said. Don't take Serge away from the rim, he said. Make Mo beat you, he said.

Speights: Two things got me that contract with the Warriors: Luke being on the coaching staff, and the fact Mark Jackson doesn't know how to work a DVD player. Only watches film if someone else puts it on. My agent only had to show him this tape.

McLeod: I don't share your greed, the only card I need is the Ace of Speights! The Ace of Speights!

Ellington, meanwhile, would have his big game later, scoring 21 points as a depleted Cavs team without Irving almost beat the San Antonio Spurs on March 16th:

Zeller: Wayne and Marreese carried us that night, but Wayne was on fire, especially. Even if we didn't win we played a close game against the team that won the West, and they were only resting one guy. That meant something.

Scott: He shot too many damn threes.

Ellington: It was a good game, yeah. Sucks we lost, but getting a good game in against a team like the Spurs was great. Even better that I got to TORCH Danny Green. YA HEAR THAT GREENIE? I OWN YOU.


Unfortunately, the fun had to end eventually. A nine-game losing streak marked by injuries to both Irving and Waiters killed the Cavs' chances of a sustained rally, and they eventually finished with a 24-58 record.

McLeod: Ultimately that bench group just couldn't sustain things when they were forced into bigger roles. Livingston in particular played well with Kyrie out, but the rest of the team suffered overall.

Ellington: We tried to keep the magic going, but when we had to break up the Herculoids to just field a competent starting lineup, the complexion of the season changed. It was fun while it lasted, though.

Waiters: Pretty funny that Kyrie got hurt and we still won a few games then I went out and the season went to hell, huh?

Byron Scott was fired for not shooting enough damn threes. Grant replaced him with a man he thought would bring a more radical approach to the offense: Mike Brown. Despite his self-proclaimed prowess at trade negotiations, Grant had a tendency to do dumb stuff, and was ultimately fired for it in February 2014.

Speights: I wanted to come back, but when the GM you're negotiating with uses the possibility of being traded for a protected first rounder as a reason to re-sign, that says about all it needs to.

Griffin: Chris's heart was always in the right place. He just really had a weird, unsettling thing for guys who were 6'" or 6'9" and had crippling flaws. That was ultimately his undoing.

Grant: Anthony Bennett would have worked out if he'd been given a chance

Kyrie Irving, Cavaliers point guard: Things are great now! Why we gotta focus on the past, man?????

Both Speights and Ellington signed elsewhere that summer: Speights with the Warriors, where he still is today, and Ellington with the Mavericks.

Speights: We had some fun on that Cavs team, but Golden State offered a winning environment AND the ability to go berserk from midrange with no consequences, and the opportunity to mesh both was what ultimately sold me on that place.

Walton: Mo still has me do all of his low-post entries during warm-ups. We may have left Cleveland, but that bond was created on that bench unit, and it will always be there.

Ellington: It was hard to move on from Cleveland, but with Dion and C.J. there, I knew I didn't have a place. I did a season with Dallas, but without the camraderie of that Cavs team, I feel empty, and I've been trying to find a home like that since.

Ellington went on to the Lakers last season, thinking he could foster that connection with Byron Scott on another terrible team. He will spend 2015-2015 with Jarrett Jack, Sergey Karasev, Earl Clark, and Donald Sloan in a post-decision Cavs refugee camp in Brooklyn, also known as "The Nets."

As for 2014 protected Memphis first-rounder? He lasted another season with the Cavs, then was dealt to Denver in the Timofey Mozgov trade, where he resides today.

2014 Protected 1st-round Pick:

His tale is the most poignant of all.