Here's how the seven-player swap shakes out for both Toronto and Sacramento.
Toronto Raptors: Grade A
Outgoing: Gay (two years, $37.2 million), Gray ($2.7 million expiring contract), Acy (minimum salary expiring contract)
Incoming: Vasquez ($2.1 million expiring contract), Patterson ($3.1 million expiring contract), Salmons ($7.6 million this season plus $1 million guarantee for 2014-15), Hayes (two years, $11.7 million)
There is never a bad time to trade Rudy Gay.
That new Raptors GM Masai Ujiri opted to move his much-maligned small forward so early in the season suggests a few things. First, that Gay wasn't giving Toronto the clear indication that he planned to opt out of a contract that pays him $17.9 million this season and includes a $19.3 million player option for next season. Second, that Ujiri rightly realized that the pairing of Gay and DeMar DeRozan was never going to work. Third, that Ujiri concluded that the offers weren't going to get any better for Gay, even though this package lacks a marquee piece or worthwhile draft asset. Fourth, that the Raptors are more interested in developing and featuring some of their younger pieces -- Jonas Valanciunas in particular -- than they are in squeaking into the bottom half of the Eastern Conference's weak playoff picture.
Some might latch on to that last point and assume that Toronto is rushing full speed ahead for the tank in hopes of landing Canadian Andrew Wiggins or one of the other 2014 draft studs. That could very well prove true, depending on what other deconstruction moves are to come, but reaching that conclusion based on this move would be giving too much credit to Gay.
The eight-year vet has posted a 15.9 Player Efficiency Rating (PER), he's shooting a career-low 38.8 percent from the field, he's jacking up a career-high 18.6 shots per game and he's having no impact at all on Toronto's defensive numbers (the Raptors have a 101.7 defensive rating when he's on the court and 101.6 when he's off the court). As if you could have possibly forgotten, he's the 14th highest-paid player in the league. It just doesn't hold logically that trading a player with Gay's warts -- shot selection, terrible shooting numbers, limited impact defensively, misguided disdain for box scores -- is solely a move to "lose now" and stack ping pong balls. The Grizzlies went 29-15 (.659) before they traded Gay last season and 27-11 (.711) following the trade, and we shouldn't assume that the Raptors -- if they continue to pursue victories with their rotation decisions -- are necessarily a worse team today than they were yesterday just because they parted with their biggest "name" player.
Moving Gay does ensure that Ujiri need not worry about Gay's contract option decision next summer and it trades one large problem (Gay's contract) into smaller, more manageable problems that are soon to be resolved. Salmons, a wing who hasn't been productive since 2011, is a no-brainer buyout candidate. Patterson, a 2010 lottery pick who is now on his third team, will get a look at the power forward spot as Ujiri continues to juggle. Hayes, an undersized big man who was once a darling of the advanced stats community, is likely going to be salary cap flotsam, but passing off a mid-level range contract like his is significantly easier than finding bidders for Gay's monstrosity.
The headlining piece is Vasquez, who was averaging 9.8 points and 5.3 assists as Sacramento's starting point guard. Regularly outplayed by Isaiah Thomas, his back-up, Vasquez is nevertheless a quality rotation player and a stand-in option if Ujiri elects to auction off Kyle Lowry for his next trick. The fourth-year floor general is also a piece that could be flipped again prior to the February trade deadline if a contending team is looking to patch a hole.
This isn't a "walk on water" move for Ujiri, but he was very smart to pull the trigger without delay. In doing so, he opened up $13 million of cap space and flexibility next summer if Gay picks up his option and all of the incoming pieces, save Hayes, are allowed to move on. Perhaps more important, he erased former executive Bryan Colangelo's last disastrous act of desperation, thereby giving Raptors fans a little hope that he will spend a bit more wisely than his predecessor. That less than a year of Gay's services cost the Raptors Ed Davis is lamentable, but such is the cost of bad management.
The bang-bang timing of Ujiri's summer trade of Bargnani and Gay indicate that we should probably expect more fireworks between now and the deadline. That said, the Raptors have already been transformed from having one of the league's worst dollar-per-win rosters at the end of last season to having meaningful flexibility next summer. Not bad for six months work.
Sacramento Kings: Grade D+
Outgoing: Vasquez ($2.1 million expiring contract), Patterson ($3.1 million expiring contract), Salmons ($7.6 million this season plus $1 million guarantee for 2014-15), Hayes (two years, $11.7 million)
Incoming: Gay (two years, $37.2 million), Gray ($2.7 million expiring contract), Acy (minimum salary expiring contract)
Trading for Gay at this juncture requires Sacramento bear the full risk of his remaining contract (this season plus next year's $19.3 million option) and for that reason alone this was a deal worth passing up, or at the very least negotiating until more favorable terms developed.
The Kings have agreed to take on one of the league's very worst contracts -- ranking among those of Amar'e Stoudemire, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, Bargnani, Deron Williams, etc. -- and their best-case scenario involves hoping that Gay decides to opt out for some reason. If Gay did opt out, and the Kings decided not to pursue him, Sacramento would have succeeded in dumping Hayes' $6 million 2014-15 salary and Salmons' $1 million guarantee at a cost of less than $3 million (the difference between the total outgoing and incoming salaries at work here). That's a cash-saving move worth doing for a team that's not going anywhere this season.
There's just no banking on Gay deciding to leave, though, and we must assume that the Kings traded for him because they actually sought out his services as an indisputable upgrade over the creaking Salmons.
Sacramento appears to be envisioning an "exciting on paper" starting lineup that includes Thomas, Ben McLemore, Gay, Derrick Williams (recently acquired from the Timberwolves) and DeMarcus Cousins. Ray McCallum, a 2013 second-round pick, likely steps into the reserve point guard minutes created by Vasquez's departure, and some of the frontcourt depth crunch has been alleviated by the departure of Patterson and Hayes, with Jason Thompson and Carl Landry (who is currently injured) figuring heavily in the new construction.
The resulting roster leaves all sorts of questions. How many basketballs do the Kings starters plan on playing with at one time? (They will need three or four.) How does this group plan to be competitive on defense? Why does a non-playoff team feel motivated to increase its salary gridlock by adding on Gay's money to a base that already includes long-term deals for Cousins, Landry and Thompson? Why should we expect another change of scenery to produce meaningful improvement in Gay's output? Why part with Vasquez, the only player that returned in exchange for Tyreke Evans? Why not simply re-sign Evans at two-thirds of the price that Gay represents? At least some of those questions don't have good answers. The appearance is that Sacramento, under first-year GM Pete D'Alessandro, chased a name player in a "change for change's sake" move following an underwhelming 5-13 start. If that is indeed the case, that decision will almost certainly carry negative repercussions throughout this season and next. Kings fans that patiently waited for a new era for the franchise were certainly hoping for something with a little bit more upside and logic than this.