In a seven player trade, the Sacramento Kings and Toronto Raptors have stated their intentions for the 2013-14 season and for the future. The Raptors, who currently sit at the 11th spot in the Eastern Conference with a 6-12 record, have decided to pull the plug early on the Rudy Gay experiment, sending him to the Kings along with Quincy Acy and Aaron Gray. Gay is averaging 19.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per game while shooting a career-low 39 percent from the field.
The Raptors will receive Grievis Vasquez, John Salmons, Patrick Patterson and Chuck Hayes in return. Patterson and Vasquez, the two most promising acquisitions form this trade, will be free agents after the 2013-14 season, giving Toronto plenty of freedom to either allow them to walk or resign them (which could be a possibility for Vasquez). So what does this trade do for each team?
For starters, it’s a blatant revelation of both team’s playoff aspirations this year. The Kings started the season in tank mode, but bringing in Gay is an attempt to help Sacramento win games now. The Raptors started the season with the hopes of contending for a playoff spot in the weak Eastern Conference, but this trade sends them spiraling into full-on tank mode.
For the Raptors, this move is about sacrificing some nightly thrills and highlights for the sake of rebuilding. Between moving Andrea Bargnani and this Rudy Gay trade, mastermind
wizard general manager Masai Ujiri has cleared out more than $20 million of cap space for the Raptors next season. It’s no surprise that Ujiri decided to pull the trigger on a Rudy Gay trade; after all, this is the man who built a 57-win Denver Nuggets team without a single All-Star. Gay’s “shoot first, don’t ask questions ever” approach is the exact kind of “superstar” pedigree that Ujiri’s teams have avoided, as evidenced by magically convincing the New York Knicks to take Bargs this year and even getting a sweet return for the Denver Nuggets on Carmelo Anthony back in 2011.
None of the players Toronto added to its roster will have too much of an impact this season. It won’t be long before there’s a starting point guard controversy between the helpful Vasquez and the decent Kyle Lowry. Vasquez struggled with the Kings this year, averaging just 9.8 points and 5.3 assists per game after posting career-bests with the New Orleans Hornets last season (13.9 points and 9.0 assists per game). For reference, Lowry is averaging 14.3 points and 6.6 assists per game this season.
As for the other players Ujiri added to the roster, Patterson averaged just 6.9 points per game despite playing 24 minutes per game. John Salmons is even worse, averaging 5.8 points in the same amount of minutes per game. And Chuck Hayes’ minutes (11 per game) have been completely insignificant this season with the Kings. So the Raptors will be doling out big minutes to a couple of prospects that will likely be auditioning for their next team.
The obvious impact of the Rudy Gay trade for the Raptors has to be turning the reins over to DeMar DeRozan, who is leading Toronto in scoring this season with 21.3 points per game on 43 percent shooting. DeRozan and Gay have been fighting each other for shots (36.3 field goal attempts per game between the two of them), relegating poor Jonas Valanciunas to clean-up duty on the offensive glass. More freedom and offensive touches for Valanciunas is the hidden impact of this trade, who was expected to have a breakout season but has mostly been mediocre to this point (9.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game).
As for the Kings, Gray and Acy average a combined 14 minutes per game and have scored a combined 24 points on the season, so this is really all about Rudy Gay. Bringing in Gay gives Sacramento an entertaining, if not highly volatile starting lineup. The Kings, who currently sit at 5-13 and hold the second-to-last spot in the West, have been weak at the small forward spot for years and this move will likely excite a lot of Sacramento fans. Drafting Ben McLemore helps at the shooting guard position and trading for Derrick Williams could give the Kings a better option at power forward than Jason Thompson, but Luc Richard Mbah a Moute was a defense-only, zero offense kind of player. Rudy Gay is no such player.
Gay will help the Kings put the ball in the hole and provide excitement to a Kings team that seems to have a much sexier roster now. Without Vasquez plodding along and sucking up minutes at the point, the energetic Isaiah Thomas will finally get his starting job back (and he’s more than earned it). Thomas leads the NBA in points off the bench this season, averaging 17.8 points and 4.9 assists per game. This is particularly impressive since Thomas has only logged 28 minutes per game to this point, so moving Vasquez will give Thomas a big opportunity to post some impressive numbers. Thomas-McLemore-Gay-Williams-Cousins isn’t a playoff lock lineup by any means, but it is somewhat exciting to ponder over.
Unfortunately, there’s just one problem with this trade: team chemistry. And maybe that’s always going to be the case for the Kings as long as DeMarcus Cousins is the face of the franchise in Sacramento, but bringing in a guy who needs to shoot almost 19 times a game to play with someone who pouts, and sometimes even screams at teammates, when he doesn’t get the ball isn’t exactly a recipe for success.
Furthermore, this trade might actually affect how well Boogie Cousins has been playing this season. After deciding to reward him with a four-year, $62 million contract, Cousins has been playing some of the best basketball of his career. I thought Cousins was a Boogie that needed to be picked, but he’s absolutely proven me wrong this season to the tune of 22 points, 9.9 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. He’s shooting 48.6 percent from the floor and although he’s still prone to hissy fits, ejections and technicals, he’s done almost everything Sacramento could ask of him (thankfully, they’ve never asked him to play great defense).
Cousins will put on his happy face and he may even be genuinely excited to have an offensively capable small forward on the wing. But I don’t expect those happy feelings to last long when Cousins is demanding the ball in the post and Gay is bricking 25-footers. Neither one of those guys have particularly great attitudes when things aren’t going well, and when you can say that about your two best players, that’s never a good sign. Actually, now that I think about it, maybe the Kings are still trying to tank after all.