Rudy Gay's stint in Toronto has come to an unceremonious close. Less than a year after being acquired by the Raptors, Gay served as the centerpiece of a seven-player trade between Toronto and Sacramento, as first reported by Yahoo! Sports. The Raptors will also ship out Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy in the transaction while the Kings, in exchange, will part with Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, John Salmons and Chuck Hayes. The trade was made official on Monday, with Toronto waiving D.J. Augustin in order to clear out the necessary room on its roster.
The acquisition of Gay back in January was less a play for the Raptors than it was for former GM Bryan Colangelo, who aimed to make a splashy move in an attempt to save his job. That particular trade didn't do the job; Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) assigned Colangelo elsewhere within the organization before he ultimately resigned, and the post of general manager was later filled by the razor-sharp Masai Ujiri. The decision to hire Ujiri -- a more analytical decision maker with a better understanding of how to navigate the salary cap -- all but telegraphed the Raptors' interest in moving Gay, though the sheer amount of salary loaded on Gay's contract ($17.9 million this season, $19.3 million on a player option next season) served as prohibitive factor.
That apparently wasn't as much of an issue for the Kings, who are also under new management (and ownership) this season. Sacramento reportedly sees Gay as an option at either forward position, fit for rotation between the two spots along with the recently acquired Derrick Williams. In trading away Vasquez as well, Sacramento has cleared a path for 24-year-old point guard Isaiah Thomas to assume the majority of the minutes at the position.
There are less talented combinations to build around than Gay, Thomas, and DeMarcus Cousins, but in the final balance Sacramento has subjected itself to an all-too-familiar glut of similarly independent players. Neither Gay nor Cousins (nor Williams or rookie Ben McLemore, for that matter) has had all that much success working in the context of a five-man offense. Thomas, too, is just getting a feel for running a team, and is at his best when looking to score for himself off a high screen. There's no immediate synergy between the three, nor much proof of defensive aptitude. If the Gay-infused Kings are to make anything of themselves at all, it will come in stark contrast to the existing precedent.
Further thoughts on this strange, unexpected deal:
• Let's not pretend that there is any great debate worth having in regard to the value of Rudy Gay these days. This is not a matter of analytics vs. conventional wisdom; Gay has been so underwhelming of late by every test and measure that it seems silly to limit criticism to solely "advanced" stats. In 18 games this season, Gay has shot 38.8 percent from the field on 18.6 unapologetic field goal attempts per game. His defense over the past two seasons has ranged from uninspired to passable -- good enough at his best only to avoid becoming a more serious problem. Gay doesn't score at the rim, doesn't get to the free throw line, and doesn't create scoring opportunities for others. In no way could Gay be classified as a contributor worth sopping up $17.9 million in salary or cap room, no matter his overinflated reputation. He's an upgrade for the Kings (as bad as Gay has been, he'd have to really collapse to limbo the bar set by John Salmons) all the same, but one that comes at the expense of the team's 2014 cap room and could become an imposition to the development of both Thomas and Cousins.
• In addition to clearing $2.8 million in salary this season and $12.4 million (assuming Gay accepts his player option and Toronto waives John Salmons) next season, Toronto managed to clear away the redundancy between its core wing players. It's too early to tell if DeMar DeRozan will be a Raptor for the long haul, but for the moment he's rightly won a bit more room to operate without Gay vying for the same on-court real estate.
• Consider this a send-off to Cousins' league-high usage rate. Sacramento's prized big man has been dominating the ball and putting together a monster season, but the arrival of Gay (who used the same percentage of his team's possessions in Toronto as Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City) and bigger minutes for Thomas (who uses a greater percentage of his team's possessions than Stephen Curry) should derail the all-Boogie era. It's hard to say whether fewer touches for the Kings' most engaging player will make them less entertaining, or if fewer touches for their most temperamental player will make them more so.
• On a related note: Where, exactly, does this deal leave Carl Landry -- the injured, $26-million man who has yet to play a game for the Kings? Once healthy, Landry would add another shoot-first player to Sacramento's rotation, whether as a starter or reserve.
• As well as the Raptors did to clear cap and save money by dumping Gay's contract, this was not a constructive deal for Toronto. Vasquez and Patterson won't likely be in town beyond this season. Salmons will surely be waived in due time to capitalize on the fact that just $1 million of his $7 million 2014-15 salary is guaranteed. Hayes acted as logistics incarnate, included to make the salaries and interests on both sides align with no basketball repercussion. Ujiri made a tremendous play to clear a load off his team's cap sheet, but he hasn't yet made any moves to make the Raptors a better basketball team. Hopefully, those come next. Toronto will now be in a position to make signings outright using their cap space next summer (or beyond), facilitate deals between other teams to land a few draft picks or complete trades with lopsided salary to alleviate some other franchise's financial burden. All could help the Raps, but are hypothetical, in the works, and down the line. This was a purge and a purge alone. That doesn't take anything away from what Ujiri accomplished in this transaction, but it serves to illustrate how far he and the Raptors have yet to go.