Parting Ways with Rudy Gay is Next Step to a Serious Raptors Rebuild

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 3, 2013

Apr 5, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Toronto Raptors small forward Rudy Gay (22) looks on in the first half against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Raptors spared no expense in bringing former Denver Nuggets general manager Masai Ujiri back across the International Boundary.

With barely enough time to settle into his new post, the reigning Executive of the Year now faces the daunting task of cleaning up Toronto's bloated financial books.

Ujiri took a lengthy step in the right direction by jettisoning former No. 1 pick Andrea Bargnani and the two years and $23 million left on his contract to the New York Knicks in a sign-and-trade deal that the Toronto Star's Doug Smith has been assured will go off without a hitch on July 10.

In order to get the Raptors back in favorable economic position, though, unloading Bargnani has to be the first of many dominoes to drop.

According to's Brian Windhorst, the Detroit Pistons have offered to take Rudy Gay's remaining two years and $37 million off of Ujiri's hands. The Pistons are reportedly dangling the expiring contracts of Rodney Stuckey and Charlie Villanueva (each worth $8.5 million) as a fast track to financial relief for the cash-strapped Raptors.

In terms of the potential talent swap, Detroit is aiming for something in between grand larceny and petty theft.

Stuckey is a serviceable scoring threat (career 13.4 points per game), but Villanueva has been an amnesty candidate since the final words were uttered in the league's last collective bargaining negotiations in 2011. He's been held to less than 7.5 points per game and under 40 percent field-goal shooting in each of the last two seasons.

Gay, meanwhile, looked re-energized after landing in Toronto in late January. He averaged 19.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.7 steals in 33 games for the Raptors, outperforming his career averages in each category.

Just like the Bargnani trade that will reportedly net Toronto perimeter specialist Steve Novak along with aging veterans Marcus Camby and Quentin Richardson and a trio of protected draft picks, this isn't about a simple talent exchange. Gay is a productive player, but his contract puts a severe burden on Ujiri's ability to put this team in position to add substantial talent in the future.

Gay fits the physical profile of a superstar-in-the-making with his lengthy 6'9" frame, and the incredible bounce in his step makes him a walking runway that's always cleared for take off.

But there's always been a cost-benefit approach to analyzing his skill set. Right now, those costs (not just the economic constraints, but also his questionable shot selection and wavering defensive focus) appear to be severely outpacing the benefits (or perhaps singular benefit, as the only constant presence on his stat sheet are the 19-plus points he produces on a nightly basis).

The Raptors don't have to move Gay now. In fact, Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun reports that Toronto has already dismissed Detroit's "low-ball offer" for Gay.

That doesn't mean that Gay will be a Raptor for life or even a Raptor at the start of the 2013-14 season. It just means that Ujiri needs more than a couple expiring contracts to whet his appetite.

So what would be the ideal package to pry Gay out of Toronto?

At least one expiring contract should be a must since those Landry Fields and DeMar DeRozan contracts are on the books for at least the next two seasons.

Beyond that, don't be surprised if Ujiri targets one (or more) high-upside player. The potential payoff would be two-fold.

For starters, it gives Toronto the potential star that years of mediocrity and some unfortunate bounces of the lottery ping-pong balls have denied it. Since the Raptors grabbed Bargnani at the top of the talent-deprived 2006 draft, they've had just one top-seven pick (Jonas Valanciunas, the fifth overall selection in 2011).

It also sets the stage for the Raptors to move into prime position for what's shaping up to be a loaded 2014 draft class. The player at the top of that class, Kansas freshman-to-be Andrew Wiggins, just so happens to hail from Ontario's capital city.

Ujiri faces some tough decisions ahead, but he knew what he was getting into when he signed on for the job.

As currently constructed, the Raptors aren't good enough to embark on a lengthy playoff run and they aren't bad enough to completely bottom out. They're stuck in that NBA wasteland better known as the middle of the pack, a painstakingly gripping area that has kept multiple franchises from cracking the ranks of the relevant.

Minor tweaks and mid-level additions aren't enough to shake the cycle of mediocrity. Wholesale changes are needed, and time is clearly of the essence.

It started with moving Bargnani. If this is going to be the drastic change that the Toronto brass envisioned when they smashed the piggy bank for Ujiri, though, it can't stop at shipping out Gay.