But could Gay really help this team, or would the Suns just be making a trade for the sake of making a trade?
With a 13-26 record, many Suns fans are already tired of this rebuilding process that Phoenix is going through. Some are impatient, and even after just half a season they already want the Suns to scrap the current plan and make a trip back to the playoffs sooner rather than later by acquiring a star like Gay.
At first glance, this doesn't seem like such a bad idea. In fact, acquiring Gay for a package of just Jared Dudley and draft picks seems like a steal for the Suns. But dig a little deeper and it becomes clear that making this trade would do more harm than good for Phoenix in the long term. It might please some fans who are embarrassed by the current roster, but this deal definitely wouldn't help the Suns regain contender status anytime soon.
Here are just a few reasons why the Suns should stay away from Rudy Gay.
The Suns Won't Contend With or Without Gay
The Suns are one of the bottom five teams in the NBA right now, and it would take a miracle for them to make the playoffs. To put it simply: Gay is not that miracle.
Gay is a good player, and he would definitely improve the team, but he just doesn't have enough talent to lead Phoenix anywhere close to a championship because he isn't a superstar. He might bring them close to a playoff spot this year, and he could take them to the playoffs in the future, but Phoenix could never win it all with Gay as the go-to option.
Additionally, what's so alarming about Gay right now is his recent drop in production. He is averaging 17.8 points and 5.7 rebounds a game this season, both down from his numbers last year. His field goal percentage is also way down, and he's scoring less despite actually taking more shots per game this season.
This graph fully shows Gay's drop in shooting efficiency over the years, and it isn't pretty. Right now, he is putting up lows in field goal percentage, three-point percentage and effective field goal percentage. His best shooting season was two years ago, when he averaged a high 19.8 points per game. Since then, he has regressed. This appears to be more proof that Gay has reached his ceiling and has no further room for improvement.
One would think that poor shooting would lead to a decrease in shots attempted, but that isn't the case in Memphis. Gay still has the green light to shoot whenever he pleases, and because of that he is taking 16.6 shots a game, the highest since his sophomore season. From that combination of shooting more and scoring less, Gay has become a very inefficient scorer, which is also expressed through this shot chart.
This bad shooting hasn't helped his team, either. Memphis is just 1-4 in games where Gay attempts more than 20 shots, but they are 6-3 in games where he attempts 13 or fewer shots, which shows that they usually do fine without his inefficient shooting.
Gay's declining production is the main reason he is on the trade block in the first place. He isn't able to significantly improve Memphis, and he wouldn't be able to lead the Suns to victory either. Phoenix might need to find a go-to scorer, but that doesn't mean they need someone who has to take 20+ shots to score 20+ points.
Trading for Gay Hurts the Team's Rebuilding Plan
Gay is not a superstar, but he would definitely improve the Suns. A playoff seed is a lost cause at this point, but the Suns could probably improve enough in the second half of the season to come within just a few games of a playoff spot.
That's exactly what you don't want to happen.
Finishing the season as the 9th or 10th seed in a conference is the worst place to be in the NBA. The team doesn't see any playoff action, but they it also doesn't receive a high draft pick. This is where the Suns have been for the past couple seasons in a row, and it's where they would probably end up again if the team acquired Gay.
Receiving another 13th pick isn't the end of the world, but it significantly slows the rebuilding process. It's possible to draft a star in the late lottery, but in the past two years the Suns have received Markieff Morris and Kendall Marshall with the 13th pick, and neither of them are franchise players, just as another 13th pick probably wouldn't be a franchise player either.
As awful as it is to watch your favorite team lose again and again, the Suns could benefit from having a top five pick in this year's draft. The 2013 draft class isn't extremely deep, but it does contain several great prospects, which is why it's so important to get a top five pick rather than just a lottery pick.
Among top prospects the Suns could draft are Ben McLemore and Shabazz Muhammad. While neither one is a sure bet, the Suns need a go-to scorer and potential future superstar, and either one of those players could eventually be the face of the franchise. If Phoenix traded for Gay however, the chances of drafting one of those two top prospects would become extremely slim.
Another issue that has to be considered in this deal is the issue of cap space. Right now, the Suns have about $6.4 million in cap space, which is a lot for a team to have mid-season. However, Gay makes almost $16.5 million this season, and that number will only continue to go up. That is quite a lot of money for a player that has never even made an All-Star appearance, and with so much money committed to Gay, the Suns would find themselves financially strapped.
It might be important to sign top picks, but it's equally as important to sign role players, starters and occasionally even stars through free agency in order to rebuild. If Gay is on the roster, the Suns would not have the cap space to bid for any top free agents, and although Gay is a quality player himself, the Suns could easily get equal or greater value by giving a free agent $10 million rather than giving Gay almost $18 million next year.
Phoenix is Giving Away Too Much
Alright, now I'm just being crazy, right? How are a few draft picks and Jared Dudley more valuable than Rudy Gay? Well, you have to consider it through the lens of a rebuilding team.
For a rebuilding team from a smaller market, cap space and draft picks are everything. Prospects and the resources to sign free agents are both infinitely more valuable than taking on bad, veteran contracts.
The Suns should cling on to any draft picks, because you never know which ones will turn out to be a superstar. The Suns might only be giving away a couple picks from the Lakers and not their own, but the players from those lost picks could still be better than Gay down the road.
Also, cap space has to be considered again. Jared Dudley is not Rudy Gay, and Jared Dudley is not a viable primary scoring option. However, Dudley is a more efficient shooter than Gay. Dudley averages 14.1 points per 36 minutes, not much less than Gay's 17.5 points. Dudley also has a higher PER, and he has contributed more win shares than Gay. So no, Dudley is not Rudy Gay. But is he that much worse?
After considering that, think about this question. Would you rather have Jared Dudley for $4.25 million a year, or Gay for almost quadruple that amount? It's the type of question you might hear Billy Beane ask if this were a baseball movie, but it's an interesting question. Is Gay really four times as valuable as Dudley?
In short, no. Dudley is no go-to scorer, but he shows flashes of greatness here and there. Dudley had a 36-point performance earlier this season against the Knicks, whereas Gay has yet to score more than 30 points this season. Even more impressive is the fact that Dudley scored 36 points on just 17 shots. With Gay, it might have taken 30 attempts.
Let it be clear, I am not saying Dudley is better than Gay. But instead of trading for Rudy, the Suns could keep Dudley and sign a great free agent with the remaining cap space. Throw in the extra draft picks that are kept, and the brighter future the team will have because of extra prospects and better draft positioning, and you might as well just laugh and hang up the phone if Memphis tries to call again.