Rudy Gay Trade Is One Massive Gamble Toronto Raptors Have to Make

Dan FavaleFeatured ColumnistJanuary 30, 2013

PHOENIX, AZ - DECEMBER 12:  Rudy Gay #22 of the Memphis Grizzlies walks off the court after being defeated 82-80 to the Phoenix Suns following the NBA game at US Airways Center on December 12, 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Lost in the assumption that Rudy Gay is an overpriced, overrated and inefficient small forward is the reality there are teams that actually need him. Like the Toronto Raptors.

Toronto has long been a rumored destination for Gay since Zach Lowe of ESPN's Grantland first reported the Memphis Grizzlies were shopping him. Following a deal that saw Memphis ship out Marreese Speights and others to shed more than $6 million in payroll, Gay's departure went from inevitable to unlikely.

Or so we thought.

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, not only are the Grizzlies still hell-bent on moving Gay, but the Raptors remain at the forefront of the pursuit:

The final hurdle for the salary dump of Memphis Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay to the Toronto Raptors hinges on finding a third team to absorb the expiring contract of Raptors guard Jose Calderon, league sources told Yahoo! Sports.

The Grizzlies have inquired with multiple teams over the past several days, searching for a willing partner to facilitate a three-team deal, sources said.

Despite organizational proclamations to the contrary, new Memphis ownership and management is determined to unload Gay and the $37 million owed him as soon as possible, league sources told Yahoo! Sports.

Potential pitfalls of pulling the trigger on such a deal in mind, this is an accord the Raptors must continue to pursue.

Though I agree with Toronto in making Terrence Ross untouchable and understand the difficulties behind finding a team willing to take on Jose Calderon, Gay's acquisition is a risk the Raptors have to take.


Because Toronto needs him.

While Gay is shooting just 40.8 percent from the floor overall and 31 percent from deep, he's the proven scorer the Raptors so sorely lack.

DeMar DeRozan's 17.3 points per game have been a nice surprise, but outside of him, just four other players are scoring in double figures a night, two of whom are the oft-injured Kyle Lowry and the still-sidelined Andrea Bargnani. Plus, for all the offensive weapons Toronto supposedly has, it's just 13th in points scored (97.9) per contest.

Gay is the type of player who could come onto the Raptors and immediately average 20-plus points points a night. Not only is he posting nearly as much on a Grizzlies team with three other star-caliber scorers, but in each of the last five seasons (not including this one) he's averaged at least 18.9 points per game.

On the surface, Toronto's most pressing need isn't offense. Its 27th in the league in points allowed per 100 possessions (108.9) and its opponents are posting an effective field-goal percentage of 50.2 (20th in the league).

Given the Raptors' deficiencies behind their defensive execution, however, only increases the importance of a potent offensive attack. Right now, they're in the middle of the pack and Gay's presence could help propel them to the top-eight or better; he can help them make up the 2.1 points per bout opponents are currently outscoring them by.

And yet, just because the Raptors are chasing him doesn't mean they have to ignore their defensive ineptitude. Gay can help strengthen their sets on that end of the floor as well.

Much is made of Gay's offensive puissance, but not nearly enough is made of his defensive conscience. Not only is he athletic enough to get back in transition, but he's great at making the sharp lateral movements necessary to defend agile ball-handlers and his off-ball defense (1.3 steals a night) is stellar as well.

The Grizzlies are currently tied for first with the Indiana Pacers in points allowed per 100 possessions (99.9) and are allowing fewer points (99.6) when Gay is on the floor. He himself is also holding opposing small forwards to a PER of 13.4 per 48 minutes, well below the league average of 15.

Knowing Gay can make a substantial impact on either end of the floor, landing him by any (or most) means necessary is a no-brainer for the Raptors, right?

Well, it is and it isn't.

Gay certainly stands to boost the clout (or lack thereof) Toronto holds on both sides of the ball, but he presents risks that stem well-beyond his sub par shooting touch. Like his contract.

Between this season and next, Gay is owed nearly $35 million, which the Raptors can and will gladly pay. They also wouldn't think twice about committing roughly $20 million extra to him should he exercise his player option for 2014-15. The problem is banking on Gay to pick up that option.

Forget about mincing words, Toronto isn't what you would call a market of appeal. Chris Bosh couldn't wait to leave and the team has lacked a bona fide star ever since. 

Given this season is but a lost cause, that leaves the Raptors with one year to make the playoffs and convince Gay Toronto is where he belongs. Any trepidation at mortgaging part of the future for what could essentially become a one year rental is more than understandable.

But that shouldn't matter. Not here; not with Gay.

Memphis' star forward doesn't turn 27 until August, meaning he'll still be 27 in the onset of the 2014 free agency frenzy. While he could opt to decline his player option for a longer term deal in a fancier setting, he'll still be young enough to the point where waiting one more year and collecting an easy $20 million is actually better for him.

More importantly, change has to start somewhere in Toronto.

If the Raptors are going to build a contender, they're going to have to entice marquee talents, and we know they're aware of this. They're unrelenting pursuit of Steve Nash last summer told us that much.

So, why not start with Gay? Why not attempt snag him, buckle down heading into next season and show both him and prospective free agents that Toronto can be a place to win?

Of course it's risky, but contenders aren't built, championships aren't won without taking risks. Although Gay wouldn't make the Raptors an instant powerhouse, he's a legitimate star to build one around.

Which makes balking at the opportunity to acquire him a far greater risk than rolling the dice on his future in Toronto ever would be.


*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports and unless otherwise noted.