On Saturday night, Team USA beat Brazil with a final tally of 95-78 in an exhibition game in Chicago. After an MRI on DeMarcus Cousins knee revealed no structural damage, the center sat out of the contest as a precaution – while Sacramento Kings small forward Rudy Gay made a case for inclusion on the final Team USA roster.
There are no leadership seminars in the NBA; this is it. Playing against some of the best competition the league has to give is the perfect summer course for Gay and Cousins. Two of the most talented players in the Sacramento have yet to find their place as leaders on the floor – and while the Kings may be willing to wait around for Cousins, the same amount of patience isn’t available for Gay.
Both Cousins and Gay take their opportunity seriously, and the enthusiasm that landed Gay on the USA squad for a second time as a possible permanent role player shows his thirst for basketball is more alive than it’s ever been. When Kevin Durant withdrew from the U.S. team, Gay contacted USA Basketball director Jerry Colangelo and said he’s interested in playing.
Ten days later, Gay was praised by teammates and coach. “We threw him right into the fire in playing one of the best teams in the world in Brazil,” U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said. Although Gay was first off the bench in the second half, his stat line shouldn’t be of any concern for the Kings organization. Gay is participating in what could be considered an extended All-Star break. He’s playing against the best of what the league has to offer, while taking instruction from one of the greatest coaches in basketball - and he’ll be better for it. Better yet, the Sacramento Kings will be better for it.
Although Saturday’s game didn’t feature the final 12-man roster, the confidence and leadership skills acquired in training and team solidarity of this sort are invaluable. It comes in a time where the Kings severely need it, and more so will be desperate to find an answer to the burning question of whether to keep Gay in uniform or let him walk.
However, Kings coach Michael Malone should be encouraged by Gay’s versatility in performing at both forward positions, specifically battling at both positions against supreme competition. It’s what will make him a serious candidate for the World Cup team, and a serious centerpiece of the Kings long-term plans.
Gay will make over $19 million this year and is considered to be one the most overpaid players in the game. Despite his athleticism, streaky shooting, rebounding, defensive ability and quickness when driving the ball to the hole, Gay’s been on three teams in 10 seasons. The Toronto Raptors weren’t a great fit for Gay alongside DeMar DeRozan, but he’s a perfect complement to DeMarcus Cousins.
Gay’s tenure in the NBA has bee often perceived as not enough to push his team over the proverbial hump. He’s the player that’ll put up 20 points per game all season long and disappear in the most pivotal postseason contests. As they’re attempting to build something special in Sacramento, the Kings need consistency. If they’re to throw major bucks at Gay next summer, they’ll need it from him the most.
The Kings need Gay to be immersed in this process. They’ll seek to enjoy all of the attitude, confidence and skills obtained by a player fresh off a Team USA campaign. With only four players Gay’s age or older, a veteran leader that’s still capable of greatness on the floor is sorely lacking. The Kings are on the verge of filling that void.
Gay’s not a shoe-in for his second World Cup yet. Team USA will continue camp in New York where they’ll play two more exhibitions against the Dominican Republic (Aug. 20) and Puerto Rico (Aug. 22). Both games will be played at Madison Square Garden. It’s likely during that stretch the team roster will be shrink from 16 down to 12.
Although still a valuable experience, an early departure for Gay would be a missed opportunity for the Kings. Should he make the cut, Kings fans should expect to see a rejuvenated Gay. A player that leads his team in the huddle and gathers his teammates for battle every night. For a young team like the Kings, positive attitude from their leaders are of utmost importance. Coming from a talent like Gay, it’s immeasurable.