NBA Rumors and Speculation: Power Ranking Best Destinations for Rudy Gay

Grant RindnerContributor IIIJune 18, 2012

NBA Rumors and Speculation: Power Ranking Best Destinations for Rudy Gay

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    After missing the end of the 2010-2011 season due to a serious shoulder injury, Rudy Gay had an excellent comeback year for the Memphis Grizzlies as he proved to still be a dynamic and electrifying player. In the wake of Zach Randolph's knee injury, Gay carried Memphis to its first home-court advantage in the playoffs, averaging 19 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game along with 1.5 steals during the regular season.

    However, Memphis is once again rumored to be shopping the athletic small forward, who is owed over $53 million over the next three seasons. One rumor has the Raptors potentially targeting Gay, according to Chad Ford of ESPN.

    With harsher luxury tax penalties and Memphis owing a considerable sum to Gay, Mike Conley, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, the team—should they be looking to shop the former UConn star—would want to receive quality assets, free up cap room and retain some financial freedom.

    While Gay proved he can fit well with the Grizzlies, anchoring the team last year and into their grueling seven-game series with the Los Angeles Clippers, there are several NBA teams that are very good fits for the UConn product and that would make plenty of sense for Gay to play for next season.

    If the rumors turn out to be true and the Memphis Grizzlies really are looking to deal Rudy Gay this summer (outgoing owner Michael Heisley told The Memphis Commercial Appeal that they were not true rumors, but with Robert Pera coming in, who really knows?) don't be surprised if he is suiting up for one of the following teams when next season tips off.

No. 5: Golden State Warriors

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    According to Alex Kennedy of Hoopsworld, the Warriors have been heavily linked to Rudy Gay, as they possess the seventh overall pick and several young assets that could interest the salary-cap-conscious Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizz are looking to improve their long-term financial picture considering the significant amount of money they have tied up in Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley, not to mention Gay himself.

    The Warriors are currently rebuilding their team and are looking to make in improvement over Dorell Wright, who regressed considerably in the 2011-2012 season, going from 16.4 points to 10.3 points per game and watching his shooting percentages dip and his assists fall from three per game to just 1.5.

    The team appears set at the shooting guard spot with impressive rookie Klay Thompson, and David Lee is still more than capable as a starting power forward. But if they want to take the leap to being a playoff club from a perennial lottery team, they need to upgrade at the 3 spot.

    Gay would fit in well alongside Curry and Thompson, who can push the tempo of a game as well as space the floor effectively and spread the ball around the court. Gay is an extremely athletic scorer and is lethal in the open court. The idea of him running fast breaks with Curry is certainly an exciting prospect for Golden State fans, and he could become the team's go-to crunch-time scorer and potentially their first option going into next season.

    Though Gay isn't an elite three-point shooter, connecting on 31.2 percent of his attempts last year, he can score much more consistently than Wright, whose streaky play is a major reason the Warriors have struggled lately. Gay can get to the rim more consistently and finish with authority, meaning his jump shot does not have to be falling for him to be a factor offensively.

    The Warriors showed they were committed to making high-profile moves to improve their team by shipping out veteran shooting guard Monta Ellis for gifted but injury-prone center Andrew Bogut. They have the kind of talented youth and potential that would be an ideal fit for a player like Gay.

    Though the team is still a ways away from contending for a championship, they have the pieces to make a play for a talent like Rudy Gay. He would be a very nice fit for Mark Jackson's ballclub heading into the 2012-2013 season.

No. 4: Boston Celtics

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    The Boston Celtics have not been considered a likely landing spot for Gay, but I believe it could be an excellent team for him to spend the next few years with.

    First of all, the expiring contracts of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen free up boatloads of cap room. Secondly, the team's biggest problem this season was their scoring droughts, which cost them a shot at the NBA Finals because of their inability to consistently generate offense.

    Though Gay would have to spend the bulk of his time out of position at either the 2-guard spot or the power forward spot, he has the size and speed to cover both spots and would spend time at small forward when Pierce was on the floor.

    Gay could truly play three positions for Boston, which is essential for a team looking to rebuild from so many injuries and bad breaks next season.

    The combination of Rudy Gay and Rajon Rondo would be absolutely devastating. A truly unselfish point guard like Rondo paired with a slasher and scorer like Gay could be a nightmare to cover. The two could run a very effective pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop, as well as allowing Gay to make his movements on the court while Rondo runs the offense.

    There would likely be no struggles, thanks to Rondo's knack for passing and Gay's ability to do some work on his end.

    With so many key free agents this summer, Boston desperately needs to add all the talent it can get. The team does not have a bevy of assets, but they do have the Nos. 21 and 22 picks in this year's draft, which are very valuable because people believe this draft class could really be a transcendent one.

    Memphis will be looking to rebuild with cheap, gifted players on rookie-scale contracts, while Boston has the space to absorb the significant financial commitment the Grizz made to Gay. The Celtics may need to sweeten the deal either through a sign-and-trade for someone like Allen or with one of their few young players, who Memphis may be looking to snag.

    Though Gay is not a great defensive player, he has the length, size and ability to read passing lanes, which means he could thrive in Doc Rivers' system. Rivers does not require every player to be stellar at one-on-one defense, but that they understand their role and react properly to the opponents' offense, something that Gay should be able to learn fairly quickly.

    The Celtics need to add another scorer if they want to continue contending for the playoffs, and they do have the beginnings of a very promising foundation in Rondo and Avery Bradley, along with the reassuring, veteran presence of Paul Pierce.

    Boston is a dark horse for Gay's services, but I believe he would be an excellent fit for the team if they can find a way to acquire him.

No. 3: Cleveland Cavaliers

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    The Cleveland Cavaliers have been linked to Gay in the past, as Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio reported last year, and it only makes sense that the team is still interested in acquiring the gifted small forward now.

    The Cavs have the fourth and 24th overall picks in the 2011 draft, which they could use to deal for Gay, as well as the cap space available to absorb Gay's sizable remaining contract.

    Cleveland traded for Omri Casspi last summer as a potential solution to their problem at the 3, but he did not have a particularly impressive season and would certainly be expendable if the team can bring in Rudy Gay. Casspi's 7.1 points and 3.5 boards per game weren't awful, but they pale in comparison to the 19 points and over six rebounds per game.

    Cleveland is a quickly improving team, thanks to the tremendous play of Rookie of the Year point guard Kyrie Irving and bruising, but undersized power forward Tristan Thompson.

    Gay and Irving would be an excellent guard/forward tandem; both are tremendous athletes who can play in transition and the half court as well as make their teams better. Irving's unselfishness and floor vision would help him deliver the ball to Gay in the spots where he can be most effective, and the attention that Rudy Gay commands on offense would create more space for Irving to work. Both play well with the ball in their hands and can create consistent offense for themselves and their teammates.

    Thompson and Gay would be a great frontcourt tandem who can make an impact on the glass and in the scoring column. Gay is more of a perimeter player with his ability to shoot from the perimeter, while Thompson's game is all predicated upon strength and hustle—he rarely strays far from the basket and is always willing to do the dirty work to help his team win.

    Having two forwards who play very distinct styles of ball is essential for a team's success; there is very little redundancy in the games of Rudy Gay and Tristan Thompson.

    The Cavaliers, like many of the teams on this list, are not yet title contenders but do have a bevy of young talent that will only improve as time goes on. Gay may not be the first-billed star because of Irving's sensational play, but he would be instrumental in the success of the team and would be free to play his game and take on a leadership role.

No. 2: Houston Rockets

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    For yet another season, the Houston Rockets fell short of making the playoffs despite finishing above .500. Looking to move into the postseason after three straight years in the ninth spot, the Rockets have plenty of young talent and a pair of first-round selections at the 14th and 16th spots, which could easily entice Memphis to part ways with Gay.

    Houston has Kyle Lowry at point guard, and though he expressed his displeasure with coach Kevin McHale via a Houston Chronicle interview, he is an incredibly versatile guard who can make plays in the half court, defend and attack the basket when necessary.

    They have Kevin Martin, an underrated volume scorer who can stroke it from the perimeter and use his athleticism to attack the basket, as well as young, high-upside forwards like Chandler Parsons and Patrick Patterson.

    Marcus Camby, who is a free agent but has expressed a desire to return to the team, Luis Scola and Samuel Dalembert have provided some veteran presence up front, although the team could certainly use more front-line athleticism.

    What the team needs to take the leap to true playoff contender is an upper-echelon small forward, and Rudy Gay perfectly fits that description. Chase Budinger provided some nice moments with his hops and three-point shooting, and Chandler Parsons can play the 3 in stretches, but that is not enough for a team to make the postseason in a highly competitive Western Conference.

    Houston has Martin, but they need a second scoring option, a role that Gay would fit well. They would be an excellent scoring tandem and could provide the Rockets with the most offensive firepower they've had since the Tracy McGrady days. Gay's ability to beat his defender off the dribble as well as pull up and hit perimeter shots would make him a great addition to the team.

    In addition, Gay's ability to impact the game in more ways than just scoring would help a Houston team that is simply looking for overall help and could use a player with a presence beyond just hitting his shots. At 6'9", Gay is a solid rebounder, thanks to his long arms and athleticism, averaging 6.4 per game last season. He is not a stellar defender, but can handle his own and actually guard multiple positions thanks to his lateral quickness and speed on the court.

    The Rockets need to be looking to acquire the best players available, and Gay is someone well within the realm of possibility. They do not necessarily need more inexperienced youth, and bringing an established player like Gay into the organization would be a major step in the right direction.

No. 1: Utah Jazz

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    The Utah Jazz have not really been discussed as a potential suitor Gay's services, but I believe they would be an absolutely perfect fit for him. Utah made the playoffs this season with a roster that has many holes, and one of them was production from the small forward spot.

    Josh Howard—healthy for the first time in years—played well, but for a Utah team looking to make some serious noise next season, they need a more consistent, younger option to lean on at the 3.

    Utah has plenty of gifted big men—Derrick Favors, Paul Millsap, Enes Kanter and Al Jefferson are all quality players, but they desperately need to get more consistency from the perimeter. Bringing Rudy Gay aboard would go a long way towards fixing that issue.

    The team could deal Millsap to Memphis along with a draft pick or whatever is necessary to make the deal work and be left with Devin Harris, Alec Burks/Raja Bell, Gay, Favors and Jefferson. That is definitely a playoff-caliber team, particularly if Burks, Favors and Kanter continue to improve during their time in the league.

    Utah's biggest problem last season was generating perimeter offense. They have very few players who can stroke shots from the outside, and teams were able to simply pack the paint against them and dare the team to launch perimeter shots.

    Gay can hit those 18- to 20-footers with more regularity, and he can even step out to hit the three-ball when necessary. Gay can bring the ball up the court, attack his defender off the dribble and cut without the ball while waiting to receive a pass.

    Though not a huge-market franchise, the Jazz have an extremely loyal following that would undoubtedly appreciate the team bringing Rudy Gay aboard. With Utah, he can be the team's crunch-time scorer, taking the biggest shots of the game and also making attempts to get at the rim seemingly at will.

    The Jazz still need to carve out an identity—as all title contenders do—and the team simply cannot make that leap without adding an impact player like Rudy Gay through a trade.

    The Jazz have plenty of athleticism on their roster, and adding one more lethal transition player would allow them to get baskets more easily and control the tempo of the game better. The team needs to do so because of the poor shooting of Harris and Burks, and though Gay can occasionally hit a shot, he is excellent at helping to dictate the pace of a game. 

    Utah needs to make one more significant move before it is ready to declare itself a bona fide contender, and the team should certainly be looking to deal one of its young bigs for the multi-talented small forward.