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Rudy Gay Would Be Wrong Star for Phoenix Suns to Pursue in 2014 Free Agency

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Rudy Gay Would Be Wrong Star for Phoenix Suns to Pursue in 2014 Free Agency
Bill Baptist/Getty Images

The Phoenix Suns appear to be one star player away from once again becoming a legitimate championship contender in the NBA. Sacramento Kings forward Rudy Gay, however, is the wrong player to target.

According to USA Today’s Sam Amick, “The Sacramento Kings small forward has a player option for next season worth $19.3 million, and the Suns are expected to have serious interest if he decides to opt out.”

The upstart Suns have surprised the NBA community by posting a 30-20 record through 50 games—placing them as the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference.

Despite the success, Purple and Orange still needs a bona fide All-Star-caliber player to slot beside the backcourt tandem of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. Gay—who has never been named an All-Star in his eight-year career—isn’t an ideal option if the goal is winning titles.

Phoenix will reportedly be interested in the veteran swingman if he opts out of his $19.3 million player option for 2014-15. He may do so for the security of a multiyear deal, but $19.3 million is a lot of money to leave on the table.

Again, Gay has never been named an All-Star, which fails to justify his standing as someone worthy of a max (or near max) contract. As a result, it may be fruitful for the 27-year-old to re-up with that huge annual salary and test free agency the following summer in 2015.

With that said, he might pursue the Andre Iguodala route.

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Iggy opted out of his $16.2 million contract with the Denver Nuggets and signed a four-year, $48 million deal with the Golden State Warriors. The approximate $12.8 million salary for 2013-14 (per ShamSports) is significantly less than he would have received in Denver, but the security of a long-term deal sweetened the pot.

Gay could be looking at a similar deal, so it will be interesting to see whether he decides to stay with the Kings via the player option.

If he opts for free agency, though, the Suns may want to re-think their “serious interest” in Gay for a few reasons.

 

Ewing Theory

For those that have never heard of it, Dave Cirilli—a friend of Grantland’s Bill Simmons—created the “Ewing Theory” as a means of explaining the phenomenon when teams play inexplicably better when a big-name player misses time for one reason or another (injuries, foul trouble, etc.).

It stemmed from Patrick Ewing’s teams—the New York Knicks and Georgetown University—playing at a higher level without their star.

Over the years, this theory has applied to Gay in various situations.

After the Memphis Grizzlies decided to trade him to the Toronto Raptors, they went 25-11 during the regular season without him and made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals. That was the farthest the franchise had ever gone in the postseason in its history.

Joe Murphy/Getty Images
Marc Gasol's Memphis Grizzlies fell 4-0 to the San Antonio Spurs in the 2013 playoffs.

The Raptors, meanwhile, posted an 18-18 mark following the trade.

Since dealing Gay to the Sacramento Kings in December, Toronto has notched a 19-12 record and climbed all the way up to the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.

With the new addition in the lineup, Sacramento is 11-13 and has fallen to last place in the Western Conference.

Obviously Gay is just one variable in this equation, but it’s significant that the two teams he’s left in the past two seasons have played far better without him than they did with him. That detail is merely exemplified by the fact that his new squad in both situations hasn’t shown huge improvement after acquiring his services.

So is Gay truly the answer the Suns are looking for, provided that two NBA teams have instantly improved after dealing him elsewhere?

 

What Option Is He?

During his final days with the Grizzlies, Gay was arguably the third offensive option behind the two-headed interior monster of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. He thrived at times in Memphis, but in 2012-13 his production plummeted.

In 42 games for the Grizz before getting dealt to Toronto, the former No. 8 overall pick shot 40.8 percent from the field and 31 percent from three-point range (both career lows).

As the No. 1 option in the Raptors’ offense, the former UConn standout shot 42.5 percent from the field in 33 games for the Raps in 2012-13 and 38.8 percent in 18 games before getting traded to the west coast.

With the Kings, Gay has returned to being the No. 2 or 3 option behind DeMarcus Cousins and Isaiah Thomas. He’s shooting an impressive 51.5 percent from the field for Sac-Town, but he doesn’t have the pressure of being an alpha dog as his team’s best player.

The Suns may not need Gay to be the No. 1 or even No. 2 option within the offense, considering Phoenix has Dragic and Bledsoe. But the idea behind getting a “star” means adding a go-to guy the point guards can defer to, not a glorified third wheel who has displayed inconsistent shooting efficiency.

At this point, it’s hard to envision Gay being the second-or-third-best player on a championship-caliber team.

Is a core of Dragic, Bledsoe and Gay going to perform any better than the foundation of Gay, Gasol and Randolph?

 

We’ve Been Here Before

In January 2013, the Suns and Grizzlies were reportedly engaged in trade talks centering around, you guessed it, Rudy Gay.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports wrote that Memphis wanted a package that included veteran swingman Jared Dudley as well as first-round draft picks (plural).

I wrote at the time that trading for Gay would be a poor decision.

As it turns out, the Grizz traded him to the Raptors instead, which allowed the Suns to flip Dudley and a second-round pick six months later for Bledsoe.

While the point guard they call “Mini-LeBron” has labored through an injury-riddled 2013-14 season, his numbers have been better than Gay’s and he’s contributed to team success.

Eric Bledsoe vs. Rudy Gay (2013-14 stats as of Feb. 10)
Eric Bledsoe: 48.6% FG 35% 3P 58.7% TS 18 PPG 4.3 RPG 5.8 APG 1.5 SPG 102.1 DefRtg
Rudy Gay: 45.7% FG 35.8% 3P 53.9% TS 19.9 PPG 6.1 RPG 2.8 APG 1.4 SPG 104.9 DefRtg

Basketball Reference and NBA.com/Stats

Had former general manager Lance Blanks worked out a deal to send Dudley and first-round picks to Memphis, the Suns likely wouldn’t have landed Bledsoe and they wouldn’t have as many first-rounders to package for a star player.

I think it’s fair to say that sequence of events worked out for Planet Orange.

Gay is a solid player in his own right, but he may simply be a complementary piece if added to the Suns.

The ultimate goal in the NBA is to win championships and Gay hasn’t shown the ability to carry a team to the Promised Land even with All-Star talents around him in Memphis—if he was ever carrying that team in the first place. That doesn’t bode well for a Phoenix team without a Defensive Player of the Year like Gasol or any All-Stars (although Dragic deserves to be one in 2014).

Should the Phoenix Suns target Rudy Gay in 2014 free agency?

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Should the Suns package picks to move up in the 2014 draft? Wait for Kevin Love to become a free agent in 2015? Or perhaps even sneak in as a dark horse candidate for potential big-name free agents like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh?

Dragic told CBS Sports’ Matt Moore earlier this year, “The best thing is all the players have a great relationship with the coaching staff. We really believe in Jeff (Hornacek). Jeff is unbelievable; he played in this league for many years and was one of the best shooting guards. He knows how to play this game.”

That’s a ringing endorsement marquee talents should take note of when they decide where they want to play this summer. If the Suns are going to set their sights on anyone, it should be a name that can bring the franchise its first-ever title.

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