NBA Free Agency Watch: The Top Three Destinations for Rudy Gay

Joel C. Cordes@@bballJoelNBA Associate EditorMay 6, 2010

NEW ORLEANS - JANUARY 20:  Rudy Gay #22 of the Memphis Grizzlies goes up for a dunk against the New Orleans Hornets at the New Orleans Arena on January 20, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  The Hornets defeated the Grizzlies 113-111.  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 Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Much like Carlos Boozer, Rudy Gay stands to make a lot of money this year because of someone else.

It doesn't really matter that the chances of a LeBron James or Dwyane Wade departure seem to fluctuate like the tide; whether these icons move or not, they are

setting the table for those players who might be the headliners in any other offseason.

Rudy Gay is a bit of a value enigma for this coming summer.  He is an extremely talented scorer, who has blossomed on a slowly up-and-coming team. 

His 20 points per game are probably made more impressive by his young age (23), and many feel his defensive limitations might be improved with experience.  Either way, he has a number of teams that won't feel too bad about making him "Plan B" in their free agency plans.

But what is Rudy Gay's true ceiling?

This is where many GMs begin to balk a little bit.  Small forwards who can put up close to 20 points, six rebounds, and a pair of assists per game are actually one of the easier commodities to find. 

Some, like Luol Deng, Shawn Marion, and Corey Maggette, were paid once upon a time to carry teams as a franchise leader, only to disappoint as merely second-tier players.  Others, like Caron Butler and Richard Jefferson, have always been correctly perceived as supporting pieces.

Yet, for every question raised by an Andre Iguodala or Danny Granger, you find a Paul Pierce, Carmelo Anthony, or Joe Johnson who has definitively proved a small forward can lead a team to success—as long as an adequate supporting cast is also provided.

So where does Rudy Gay fit?

No one knows the answer yet, but as usual,

there will be a lot of teams lining up with a lot of dollars to find out.  Gay's chances to cash in before the Collective Bargaining Agreement cashes out are also heightened by the fact that a number of hyperventilating franchises may need him as either a consolation prize or co-star.

With most of the biggest names in free agency out of the way (archived here) , we now begin a destination tour for the less hyped, but still important, free agents of 2010. 

1. Memphis Grizzlies

To arrogantly quote myself from a previous look at Rudy and the Grizzlies (here)

"If he's honest with himself though, he'll realize that he's a second-tier guy, and that his greatest success will come with this lineup of young guns who have quickly complemented both his strengths and his weaknesses. 

"O.J. Mayo and Zach Randolph have both shaken off their turnstile reputations and have brought the complete product to the table all season long.  The value of Marc Gasol's physicality, efficiency, and unique skill set cannot be underestimated for this squad, and Mike Conley has effectively figured out where he fits on the totem pole.

"Ronnie Brewer, Hasheem Thabeet, Darrell Arthur, and Sam Young all could be productive rotation players, but they are definitely in need of some steady reinforcements in the second unit.  If they can maintain the course, and add the necessary supporting pieces, we'll be talking about Memphis' playoff exploits in the present tense instead of the future, awfully quick."

The long and short of it is that this Memphis team was initially built around Rudy Gay.  His strengths and weaknesses are best accounted for in this custom-built situation, where he can also play as a co-alpha with O.J. Mayo.  In any other city, Rudy Gay will either be asked to overachieve and carry a squad that's starting over, or he will become the supporting player to a bigger name.

Why give up a good thing for nearly identical money?

2. Atlanta Hawks

Of course, this is utterly dependent on a scenario where Joe Johnson departs for greener pastures and/or greener paychecks.

If that unfortunate event were to occur, Atlanta would need to find an efficient, high-volume scorer who could realistically defer to Josh Smith and Al Horford in a new Hawks' command structure. 

 As of now, John Salmons is currently rumored as the Atlanta fallback plan. I propose that Rudy Gay would provide much more bang for only slightly more bucks. 

While Salmons has recently shown flashes of aptitude in Milwaukee, he has been previously found wanting during stops in Philadelphia, Sacramento, and Chicago. It's not that he was an ineffective player in any of those places, but rather that his numbers were oftentimes more impressive than his actual influence.

Rudy Gay has higher upside, additional years in his prime, and is a more realistic closer.  While he's technically listed as a small forward, and Johnson's departure would open up a spot at shooting guard, Gay would easily fit into Atlanta's long-armed lineup at either swing spot.

If he's a shooting guard, then Marvin Williams stays in the lineup and Jamal Crawford continues his bench fireworks.  If Gay winds up as the small forward, then Crawford starts and the versatile Williams returns to a bench role he's filled before.

Rudy Gay is not currently the multidimensional star that Joe Johnson is, but Johnson developed into a complete player while in Atlanta, and Gay would be a great candidate to do the same.

3. New York Knicks

This is similar to the situation I described with Carlos Boozer (here ). 

New York fans will be greatly disappointed if Gay is their summer's prize catch.  However, if he lands along with a major headliner, like LeBron James or Dwyane Wade, he'll maximize his star power by playing in the shadow of another.

Of course, his arrival would create a logjam at the small forward spot along with Danillo Galinari.

Yet, Mike D'Antoni's offense can never have enough gunners.  Pairing Gay with LeBron James would be preferable, because James could realistically play at power forward with Rudy Gay filling the shooting guard position, thereby allowing Galinari to remain a starter. 

If Dwyane Wade arrives, Galinari most likely becomes the sixth man scorer in a New York edition of "Seven Seconds or Less."

If Gay can be signed for less than a maximum contract, it could also open the door to re-signing David Lee.

In the end, Rudy Gay could fit in with lots of teams.  As stated before, scoring swingmen are fairly interchangeable, yet sought after, commodities.  I encourage readers to pose additional scenarios as they see it.  I'm interested to hear what you have to say.

My reason for assigning Rudy Gay to New York is based on the reality that the Knicks do have a small chance to land James or Wade, but they have an infinitely minuscule chance to land them both.

Whether it's Carlos Boozer, Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson, or Rudy Gay, New York has to hope that they'll only need one from that list.
Trust me on this one.  After all, I am a doctor.
- "Dr. Trade"


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