For the second time in 11 months, an NBA team is taking a chance on Rudy Gay as some sort of franchise-tilting scorer. The Sacramento Kings, flush with permanence in California’s capital and the end of the Maloof/Petrie era, have responded to its disappointing 5-13 start by trading for Gay in the hopes that he’ll resuscitate their middling offense as a stretch four power forward. The problem with this line of thinking is that Gay was the leading shooter and go-to guy for the league’s 19th-ranked offense in Toronto, though this doesn’t seem to bother new Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro.
Nor does Gay’s price tag. The forward is set to make nearly $17.9 this season and over $19.3 million next season if Rudy picks up his player option, which he’s likely to do. In exchange for his services (alongside Quincy Acy and Aaron Gray, who will also be moving on from Toronto), the Kings will send a grab bag of players to Toronto including swingman John Salmons, big forward Patrick Patterson, undersized defensive-minded center Chuck Hayes, and solid point guard Greivis Vasquez. Vasquez is coming off of a 2012-13 season that saw him average over 14 points and nine assists as a starter for New Orleans, and is perhaps the only keeper of this haul in the short term.
That doesn’t matter much to first-year Raptors GM Masai Ujiri, who will be able to trim over $12.3 million in salary from his books this summer should he decline to tender the qualifying offer match any offers for Patterson and Vasquez this summer, while waiving Salmons before his salary becomes fully guaranteed (John is due just $1 million if the Raptors cut him by July). This suddenly makes the Raptors players in the free agent market, because even if they do decide to retain Amir Johnson and Tyler Hansbrough’s contracts this summer, the team will have double-figure cap space as it heads into the offseason.
Toss in a likely lottery pick and a potentially warming trade market for guard DeMar DeRozan (who could be dealt after an impressive start to 2013-14, earning Ujiri even more potential assets and/or cap space), and you have a team that could manage to do something with the salted earth former GM Bryan Colangelo left the franchise with – far earlier than expected.
Dealing for Gay last winter was Colangelo’s last desperate grab at a chance at a mediocre team, and it clearly hasn’t worked out for anyone. Though Gay made waves by undergoing eyesight-correcting surgery in the face of longtime complaints about his efficiency as scorer and stagnant offensive game, his marks have declined in comparison to the production he offered as a midseason addition for the Raptors last year. Rudy is averaging 19.4 points per game, but he needs nearly as many shots per contest (18.6) to get there, shooting 38.8 percent along the way. No wonder the swingman wanted stat sheets banned from the Toronto locker room.
Stat sheets, and all manner of advanced metrics, were likely filling Ujiri’s desk when he took over a Raptors team featuring lottery-level talent and a nearly luxury tax-sized payroll. This deal wasn’t a complete cap-clearer, even though no remnants from the trade will probably be suiting up in Toronto in the fall of 2014, but that doesn’t matter. For Ujiri, one millstone is gone, as the basketball culture in Toronto slowly attempts to emerge from years in the muck.
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