Over the past nine months, the question marks that usually surround the Toronto Raptors‘ franchise have, in a way, had an extra serving of uncertainty shoveled onto its already murky future.
With the acquisition of Rudy Gay at the end of January, the hope was that a fresh start would cure the inefficient exploits that Memphis Grizzlies fans had begun to tire of in the years, months and days leading up to the deal. As a Raptors fan, over the past 35 games that Gay has worn Canadian colors, the hope was that the inefficiency was merely because of a system that became catered to Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, that it was Lionel Hollins who somehow put Gay in positions and situations to fail on the court, or even that it was the blurry vision that became the talk of the town this past summer.
Unfortunately for the dedicated fans of the Raptors, all of these pie in the sky solutions to the problem have proven to be mirages to a Raptors franchise that has had its eye for winning dehydrated and distorted. With the resulting blurry vision that has plagued the franchise and led to terrible moves over the past half decade, whether we’re referring to Hedo Turkoglu, Andrea Bargnani or Jermaine O’Neal, the franchise has failed to see the root of the problem to the inefficiencies of Gay.
The problem is a simple one: Rudy Gay.
At 6-foot-8, the 27-year-old small forward possesses physical and athletic gifts that only a handful of players within the entire association possess, evident by the rivalry of Gay highlights to those of other high flyers such as LeBron James on ESPN over the years. Early on in his career, something seemed different in his game, as the percentages were higher, the jump shooting more consistent, and the prospects of shipping out a talent such as his was unthinkable.
Since those early years, something just has not been the same with Gay. Although he has made big plays down the stretch of games, his play leading up to those moments has left a lot to be desired. More importantly, it seems almost as though Gay has been driven to break so many of the fundamental rules of the game of basketball, the ones taught patiently to the young and screamed at to the old for ignoring. Whether it’s the notion to keep the ball moving, not forcing the issue, or keeping your balance on a jump shot, the commonality of all of these violations witnessed throughout the league from Gay has been nothing short of perplexing.
Furthermore, ignoring the small sample size thus far, Gay is a player that refuses get to the free throw line, despite having the kind of talent that should make double digit appearances an expectation, not a rarity. In seven seasons, he has managed only once to reach the 5.0 attempts per game threshold, something that even the perimeter oriented and soft Bargnani was able to do twice during his time with the Raptors, reaching 5.3 and 5.6 attempts in successive years beginning in 2010.
When he has it going, there are not too many players in the NBA that can produce and affect the game in such momentum sparking fashion the way that Gay can on a basketball court. The problem is that he is being paid the kind of money — $17.8 million this season and $19.3 million in 2014-15, if he chooses to exercise his player option — that is paid to someone who does those things each and every night, not once every handful of games on average.
So, what should the Raptors do with a player so talented but so flawed, so young yet so seemingly set on continuing to play the style that makes fans pull out their hair for the rest of his career? Do you build around a player that can help you squeak into the playoffs for a few seasons, or do you look throughout the league and realize that $73.6 million, the sixth highest payroll in the NBA, should net you more than just the stress that comes in April for a fan base that nervously scoreboard watches each game during their team’s battle for a low playoff seed?
Judgement day for the Raptors’ franchise is soon approaching. With decisions regarding the majority of their roster as a long-term piece to the puzzle just a few months away from being seriously debated, none is more important than Gay, the current crowning jewel north of the border.