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As many of you may or may not know, I spent years covering the Memphis Grizzlies and running the site Straight Outta Vancouver, the Grizzlies blog on SB Nation. So, I have some close connections with the team and have seen my fair share of Marc Gasol pick-and-rolls, Tony Allen steals and Zach Randolph "why the heck did he just... oh, wow" three-point makes.
I know a lot of Nets fans want to dish on Rudy Gay, who it seems is always on the trading block and is likely a player the Nets are at least interested in pursuing. So, I figured I'd share with you what I know and what I've seen from Rudy over the years of covering the Grizzlies.
Let me first give you my perspective on Gay and (dun-dun-dun) the money. Yes, he's grossly over-paid. Owed $54 million over the next three years, Gay is the 20th highest paid player in the NBA, and when you consider he'd be only the third highest paid player on the Brooklyn Nets, it's a wonder if the investment ($$$) is worth the "hassle" -- but that's a whole other story. The one thing you have to remember, though, Memphis is a small market. In fact it is the smallest market in the NBA, in terms of television market, at least. So, the reality is, when you want to get/maintain a star basketball player in a market like Memphis, you really have to open up the checkbook. And the Grizzlies did, which to be honest was somewhat of a surprise, considering Michael Heisley and his unwillingness to "spend, spend, spend."
Make no mistake, though, Gay is a star player in this league. He's not a superstar, but I would call him an All-Star talent. Look, there aren't many players in this league who can average 18/6/2 with over a steal, block and three per game. Again, we're not talking Kevin Durant-level here, but what you have in Gay is a long, athletic wing who can score in multiple ways, get out in the open court and who is a fairly underrated defender.
The main concern with Rudy is that he tends to take too many long, contested jumpers, and he oftentimes becomes married to playing too many ISO sets. Essentially, he's a young Joe Johnson without the range. When he's working the baseline and slashing, that's where he's most effective. Not when he's stepping 16-23 feet from the basket.
Overall, the main issue with Gay is that he'll be making over $19 million in the final year of his contract. That's far too much money for a player who has never made an All-Star team, let alone won a playoff series, and he's certainly heard it all before.
Up until two years ago, as a franchise the Grizzlies had never won a playoff series, and when they won in 2011, beating the top-ranked San Antonio Spurs and bringing the Oklahoma City Thunder to the 7th game of the second round of the playoffs, they did so without Rudy Gay, who was injured. And last season, with Gay, they lost to the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of the playoffs, after having fought their way into a home-court advantage. There are plenty of ways to explain away both cases, which would result in a book -- the Spurs weren't as good as their record indicated, with Manu injured, and the Grizzlies had a 70-percent Z-Bo last year when they lost to the Clips -- but the fact is, they haven't won a playoff series with a healthy Rudy Gay.
I know, it does sound like I'm making the case as for why Gay shouldn't per pursued. I mean, after all, he's a max-contract player who has never won a playoff series. However, I do think you have to take the Grizzlies roster and offense into consideration when evaluating Gay. First, they've never had point guard as skilled as Deron Williams. No offense to Mike Conley or... Jamaal Tinsley? Secondly, they've never had a shooter as gifted as Joe Johnson (or Mirza Teletovic or MarShon Brooks or Keith Bogans or... you see where I'm going with this?). The Grizzlies, in the recent years, have never been a stretch offense, which hurts a player like Gay who needs the spacing on the basketball floor. Not even when they had O.J. Mayo, who was lauded as the best 3-point shooter on the team and who never once shot above 38 percent from the 3-point line in his four years with the team.
Rudy Gay in Memphis, under this offense, as currently constructed, just doesn't "fit." And I say that in the sense that, he's reached his ceiling in Memphis, albeit one that could conceivably put him on an All-Star squad one year. And I still consider the Grizzlies to be a legitimate contender to at the very least make it to the Western Conference Finals -- so that you know where I'm coming from.
Part of the problem is with Lionel Hollins and part of it is on Gay, for not adapting. He tends to think that he needs to be a stretch-three, because the Grizzlies don't have anyone to open up the offense. And that's where he doesn't fit. His perception of what he needs to be versus what he should/can be. Whereas Hollins hasn't had a flawless record in making adjustments -- just ask O.J. Mayo and Greivis Vasquez.
The most beautifully run plays are when either Gasol or Randolph set high screens for Conley, play off the pick-and-roll, take a few dribbles to collapse the defense and then hit a cutting Gay along the baseline for an easy bucket. Sure, you can't run that set every time down the court, but it's more effective than a clear-out, two-dribble jab that results in a 17-foot jumper -- which happens 4-plus times per game, on average.
Again, a lot of that is on Coach Hollins, but also on Rudy.
And I can't say for certain that P.J. Carlesimo would "fix" Rudy's game/mindset, but with Williams (as a better ball distributor than Conely), Lopez (as an equally skilled big, with improved range to draw out the defense) and Johnson (as the stretch 'two'), Gay would fit in nicely in Brooklyn.
Look, Rudy Gay is a star. An overpaid one, yes, but there's no question that he'd make the Nets a better team.
The main question is, do the Nets have the assets to get him, and what would be a reasonable give in order to make this deal worthwhile for both teams? You need to make the money work, first of all, but you don't want to give up Williams, Johnson or Lopez, right? You also can't expect the Grizzlies to get excited about a package built around Kris Humphries.
Fact: The Grizzlies would love to clear cap space, but they're also a win-now team, which means it's not all about cap space. They will want something usable in return.
They need shooters, they need scorers, they need picks and they need cap space.
So, what would that deal look like?
I hate to speculate on deals, but I imagine Brooks, Toko and picks are in there somewhere. Now, how do we make the money work? And does a third team need to be pulled in? It seems likely.
The Nets could do much, much worse than adding Rudy Gay to their roster. It's not a certain they will, nor is is given that they can, but he's not the over-hyped player that far too many people are calling him. Nor is he worth $54 million.
But, then again, you and I aren't the ones paying his salary, so what do we care? As long as he's helping your team win basketball games, right?