North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

The Rudy Gay Trade, Continued

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It’s been a while since I weighed in on the Rudy Gay trade and I’ve had time to give it sober second thought. And after a surprising win over Indiana and an impressive win over New Orleans, the time seems right to touch on the trade once again.

The trade can be broken down into a few different aspects: individual, team and future. Or, more specifically:

  • What has Gay brought to the Raptors?
  • What does that mean for their short-term success?
  • What about the team’s future?

Let’s look at these in order.

What has Gay brought to the Raptors?

When the Raptors traded for Gay, his Per 36 Minutes stats were among his worst ever: 16.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists. His PER had dipped to 14.1 and both his True Shooting and Effective Field Goal percentages were down. In the seven games he’s played in Toronto, he’s improved. His scoring’s up (19.6 points per 36), so is his PER (to 17.7), although shooting stats have taken a drop, after a poor shooting night against the Knicks Wednesday night.

All in all, he’s looking like a better player, maybe one that needed a change of scenery to shake things up (as per my Sportswriting Cliche Handbook). After all, going by Basketball Reference’s Game Score, three of his ten best games this year.

But remember: this is s hell of a small sample size: just seven games. True, they’ve been against some pretty good teams (Miami, Indiana, the LA Clippers, among others) but making a judgement call after so few games seems a little preemptive. Maybe we should all wait until CP Style lets me use numerals when referring to how many times he’s played.

Also of note: his rebounding and assist rate haven’t changed really at all. His scoring might fall back to Earth soon, if it hasn’t already, but I wouldn’t expect him to start posting double-doubles every night either.

What Does This Mean For the Raptors Short-Term Future?

So far, Toronto’s looked quite good with Gay in the lineup. They’ve not only won five of the seven games where Gay suited up, but they’ve had two of their best wins all season: they beat the Clippers by 25 points and narrowly squeaked out a win over Indiana. I’m impressed by both wins: one for the way they dominated LA on the offensive glass and scored efficiently and for the way the ball dropped against Indiana.

Remember, Toronto was having horrible luck in close games this season. Of the seven games where they’ve gone to overtime, they’ve lost five. Of games decided by three points or less, they’ve lost five of ten. I hate to use terms like closer, but with Gay they look better in tight games. Against Denver, he was the go-to guy for what turned out as the game winner. Against Indiana, he stole the ball leading to the game-tying possession; in OT he hit the game-winner. They didn’t have someone who made these shots before. Late in close games, it felt like whoever had the ball took the last shot. Essentially, this comes from Gay’s ability to create his own shot, a skill DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry or Andrea Bargnani don’t have. For one, I feel a little more confidence when the game goes to the wire with Gay on the floor.

More than this confidence is the excitement Gay’s brought to the team. In the past little while, the Raptors have become an exciting team to watch. There isn’t the same chemistry that Ed Davis brought, but his absence (as well as Jose Calderon) means more minutes for Terrence Ross, DeRozan and Lowry. I wonder if a slam as tremendous as DeRozan’s would’ve happened before the trade.

There isn’t much to play for this season, too.Toronto doesn’t have a draft pick, unless they somehow wind up with a high pick (and good luck getting that against bottom-dwellers like Charlotte or Phoenix). While they aren’t exactly contender material, the onus is on to make a push. Sure it’s got a lot to do with Bryan Colangelo’s job, but there isn’t much to lose. They can lose the pick now and even if they fall a bit short of the playoffs, the pieces here will more or less still be around in 2014. If they do make the playoffs, they’ll be the fist Toronto team to do so in a few years.

That, plus  Gay, Lowry and DeRozan’s collective wow-factor, should keep some positive buzz around this team. Never a bad thing, given how Leafs-Centric this town is (like when they skip Raptors post-game on 590 to cut to Leafs post-game, even though the Leafs game is still in the second period). A little positive buzz never hurt anyone.

But what about long-term?

This is where things get a little tricky for the Raptors. They still have nine players under contract next season, plus a few more who have either player or team options. In 2014-15, Gay has a player option worth $19 million, Bargnani is getting $12 million and DeRozan is getting $9.5 million. Oh, and Landry Fields is getting $8.5, too. In all, Toronto has $49 million locked up that season. That’s not much wiggle room should things go wrong.

And what if they do? Toronto traded a first-round pick to Houston, a 2014 second-round pick to Sacramento and a future second to Memphis. They’ve leveraged their picks and a share of their cap space to make soon postseason runs. It could be hard to get out from Gay’s contract if his play slumps. DeRozan’s on the books long-term with a large deal. And it’s already hard to get out of Bargnani’s deal, if the trade rumours are true. The Raptors are fun now, and getting better, but I don’t know if they’ll be able to get really good. In an Eastern Conference that’s stacked, they probably don’t have a playoff run with this roster. And long-term, their roster probably won’t go through another overhaul.

That’s still my major problem with the trade: they’ve banked on being good enough now to sneak into the playoffs and maybe stop being one of the more maligned teams in the NBA. But they don’t have a lot of room to grow from here: they’re not likely to draft anyone of consequence until at least 2015 and with so much of their cap space already tied up, they probably don’t have room to land a top-tier free agent.

There are worse fates. With Gay, the Raptors are a much more competent team. And they’re more fun to watch, too. I was probably a little rash in freaking out over the trade: on the whole, it’s been fun thus far.

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Written by M.

February 14, 2013 at 4:00 pm

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