For the Toronto Raptors, trading for Rudy Gay has meant a plethora of different things. It meant the departure of Jose Calderon and the cementing of Kyle Lowry in the starting point guard slot. It meant the end of the short-lived Ed Davis era, inspiring cries for what could have been.
Most of all, it’s meant that the Toronto Raptors, for the first time since Chris Bosh took his talents to South Beach, have someone who is simultaneously their best player and doesn’t induce fans to vomit. I mean, aside from his contract.
While the trade was initially met with vehement opposition, the logic behind the deal is becoming more and more solidified with every time Rudy finds a way to get the ball in the basket. It’s a skill that is greatly appreciated as Toronto’s roster isn’t exactly filled with players that can get their own shot.
In his debut at the Air Canada Centre, Gay came off the bench and scored 20 points to help the Raptors fend off the Clippers. Tonight, he managed to one-up his earlier performance with a season-high 29 points, albeit taking a loss to the Miami Heat.
In a short sample size, the 6’8″ small forward is looking like a transformed version of the Rudy Gay that had been the subject of a million different trade rumors in Memphis. This can be attributed partially to the Grizzlies spacing, or lack thereof and partially to their front-court focused offensive schemes.
That’s no knock on the Grizzlies, by the way. If you’ve got Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph at the helm, you’d better be going inside. At the same time, while Lionel Hollins’ strategy played to the strengths of the team, it cast a shadow on Gay’s ability as a player for the past few seasons.
After all, Rudy has spent his entire career being known as an athletic, lengthy forward with a high release point and as Matt Devlin likes to put it, a “silky, smooth” jump shot. In a vacuum – and under the right circumstances, those are recipes for success.
Toronto may be close to the bottom of the league in the standings, but their average margin of points is much closer to the middle. For Raptors fans, it’s a tale as old as time, they stay within striking distance for the majority of the game, compile a late run that eventually gives them the lead but somewhere along the lines, they Raptor it all up and the opponent comes out victorious. While Jose Calderon late three-pointers were met with varied success, Rudy Gay is an experienced closer that will undoubtedly add to the Raptors fourth-quarter arsenal.
Rudy Gay, to the rest of the NBA, is a freak of nature that never quite lived up to his potential. On the Raptors though, he’s a man among boys. There’s a difference between him and the plethora of inefficient players the Raptors’ have to offer: he’s easily the best one.
For fans, that may be the problem. It’s been beyond annoying that for the past few years, Toronto has been on the mediocre side of terrible.
It’s the the worst kind of NBA hell.
So when Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo pulled the trigger for this deal, fans had to wonder if he could see the forest through the trees.
The thing this year though, is that they wouldn’t even benefit from tanking as the Oklahoma City Thunder own the Raptors 2013 first round draft pick. With protection only in the top-3, it can be considered an insurance policy to save Colangelo from himself.
Sure, now that they have a sporting chance, this trade will probably ironically give the Raptors a boost that leaves them one game behind of a playoff spot come the end of April. But why watch a team lose just for the sake of losing?
At the same time, this doesn’t erase the frustration with the Colangelo. There’s really no way around it anymore. He’s a nearsighted GM looking to save his job, so he’d rather patch bandages over holes rather than allow the team to build a steady foundation.
However, let’s not mince words here: the Toronto Raptors, in the foreseeable future, are never going to be contenders. It’s a sad truth, but truth it is. So why not have some fun along the way? Some might say I’m playing fast and loose with the word “fun” but nevertheless, a line-up of Lowry, Derozan, Gay, Bargs and Valancunias should at least spell them a 2014 playoff spot in the East.
Until the Toronto Raptors go through a complete overhaul in management, a run at the Finals is out of the cards for them. That’s something that puts them in the same boat as 24 out of 30 teams in this league. For now, the team is grossly mismanaged so in the meantime, why not enjoy a few wins and try to get to the upper echelon of mediocrity?
This may not be the most inspiring silver lining, but unfortunately it’s all Raptors fans have got.