What to make of Rudy Gay?

DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay have a conversation at the free throw line. (Photo: Steven Chea)

For the second time in less than a month, the Sacramento Kings are on their way to making a significant trade that shakes up their roster.  This time, general manager Pete D’Alessandro has reportedly pulled the trigger on a seven-player deal that addresses the Kings’ long-standing hole at small forward.  Rudy Gay is the centerpiece of D’Alessandro’s latest move and adds more talent to a talent-deprived roster.

What can the Kings expect from the 27-year-old small forward?  We decided to catch up with someone who has a pretty good idea of what Gay might bring to Sacramento.  James Herbert, who covers the NBA from Toronto for SB Nation and the TrueHoop Network, joined us for a brief question-and-answer session on last night’s blockbuster transaction.

CK: So, did you see a huge deal like this coming anytime soon for the Raptors?  Or like many people, were you caught off-guard?

JH: I was caught off-guard that it happened last night but I wasn’t at all shocked that it happened. The Raptors’ front office reportedly set a mid-December deadline for the team to prove it shouldn’t be dismantled. With the underwhelming way Toronto started the season, it was a matter of when, not if, a major move would be made.

CK: For the Raptors to make a deal like this, Sacramento has to make sense, right? They’ve had a hole at small forward for such a long time and Pete D’Alessandro and Masai Ujiri have a working relationship that dates back to their days in Denver.

JH: Yeah, the Kings were a logical trading partner. Not only because of the small forward hole and the Ujiri-D’Alessandro relationship, but because it’s a new front office trying to make a big splash with no problem taking on Gay’s enormous contract for the next couple of seasons.

CK: Based on what you’ve seen out of Gay in Toronto, what do you think that he can bring to the Kings?

JH: He’ll be an upgrade at small forward. He’ll attract lots of defensive attention when he has the ball. He can create and make shots in crunch time. Gay obviously has elite physical tools and athleticism. It’ll be up to the Kings to figure out how he fits with what they want to do, though. They already have lots of scorers.

CK: Gay, as mentioned, does fill a need for the Kings.  However, he does have a reputation for being a volume-scoring wing.  Playing next to other scorers like Isaiah Thomas and DeMarcus Cousins, do you think he can adapt to being a complementary piece in Michael Malone’s system?

JH: Here’s the problem: I don’t see anyone in Sacramento’s rotation who is pass-first. Gay makes the Kings a more talented team, but he might get in the way of them becoming a more cohesive one. Sure, Gay can be a complementary player — he was forced to be one at the end of his Memphis tenure — but he is used to having the ball in his hands and creating his own shot. He’s been a poor spot-up three-point shooter for a few years now, and if you want your offense to run through Isaiah Thomas and DeMarcus Cousins, you ideally want marksmen on the wing to stretch the floor. That said, it isn’t all Gay’s fault that he shot almost 19 times per game this year in Toronto. A lot of that is on the Raptors’ offense. I’ll be interested to see how Malone uses him.

CK: After being traded to the Raptors from the Grizzlies last season, Gay lasted less than a year in Toronto.  During his brief time with the Raptors, what was some of the good, as well as some of the bad that you saw out of him?

JH: The bad has been documented exhaustively: Too many long jumpers, too much dribbling, some lackluster defensive performances and lots of losing. The good? He worked his butt off last summer, came into camp stronger and was genuinely motivated to turn Toronto around. He’s had huge alley-oops and game-winning shots wearing a Raptors uniform. It was cool that he grew so close to DeMar DeRozan off the court, making it that much more of a shame that things didn’t work out on it.

CK: To close things out, what are your overall thoughts on the trade?  Do you like the deal more for the Kings, the Raptors or both?

JH: For the Kings, I love the fact that Thomas will get a chance to run the team as a full-time starter. He’s earned it. I also like that I can imagine a fun running and gunning team with Ben McLemore, Gay and Derrick Williams on the floor at the same time, if Sacramento elects to try to push the pace now. I just fear that the halfcourt offense will be Cousins and Gay taking turns dominating the ball. That would not be aesthetically pleasing, and it could be plain bad.

The Kings got the most gifted player in the deal, but I like it more for the Raptors. The way Gay has been producing, there wasn’t a better deal to be made. The move cleans up Toronto’s cap situation considerably, and it starts the rebuilding project in earnest. There’s likely more to come.

Rudy Gay is the big name, but let’s not forget about the other guys coming your way. Regardless of how much playing time he gets, you’ll love Quincy Acy in Sacramento. Pay attention to how he cheers his teammates along and celebrates on the bench. Aaron Gray is a professional who will prepare as if he’ll be playing every night, even though he won’t be. They’ll be missed here.

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About: Jonathan Santiago

Jonathan Santiago serves Cowbell Kingdom as senior editor specializing in writing, podcasting and video production. He also handles the majority of CK’s day-to-day beat coverage of the Kings.