Rudy Gay is incognito now – disguised as a genuine star player who had to go north of the border to take his rightful place center stage. In his Toronto Raptors debut, Gay came off the bench and scored 20 points on 8-of-16 shooting, 3-of-6 from 3-point range, in a dominating victory over the L.A. Clippers (albeit, without Chris Paul). In his first start, a loss to the Miami Heat, Rudy scored 29 points on 11-of-23 shooting.
It’s enough to give you pause, even when you understand what he does in Canada has little or nothing to do with what he had done in Memphis or would have done for the Grizzlies going forward.
Now, the underlying motivation for the trade to Toronto is well-documented: At $16 million-plus this year, and with his salary going up the next two seasons, Rudy was overpaid for his production – a luxury/burden this small-market team under new controlling owner Robert Pera was not willing to bear.
Still, it’s natural to wonder about the other side of the equation: Did we all take him for granted? I wrote a column about Rudy at the start of the season. Here’s what I said four months ago:
“We agree, and accept, he can get you 20 or more points on a given night and do so with uncommon grace. We also understand why he was a strong candidate for the U.S. Olympic Team but ultimately left off it. He doesn’t do enough beyond scoring to make a significant contribution. Won’t often change a game with his defense, won’t play chameleon the way, say, LeBron James will, and fill up the assists column.”
That, I must say, seems like a bull’s-eye. But for the remainder of this season, as Rudy has nights where he goes off for 25 or more points while the Grizzlies play offense in the mud, we’ll be tempted to say everything would be going better if only the Grizzlies hadn’t traded Rudy. It’s human nature. It’s also dead-wrong.
In some ways, Rudy reminds of a car I had in my foolish youth (and yes, that’s a redundancy). A sleek and fast Camaro, my car looked fantastic sitting in the driveway or at a stoplight, where it earned me the occasional unsolicited compliment from another driver: “Hey man, nice wheels.”
But that Camaro also spent a lot of time in the shop and in my wallet. The moving parts always seemed to be slightly out of sync – sort of like the Grizzlies’ offense with Rudy, who had a tendency to stop ball movement and repeat his favorite mistakes: shooting contested jump shots and dribbling into defenders and turning the ball over.
After the Grizzlies beat Washington in Tayshaun Prince’s Grizzlies debut, the Wizards’ Trevor Ariza summed up Rudy in two words: “isolation player.” Of Prince, Ariza said: “Tayshaun is a person that fits great with what they have. He can do a little bit of everything.”
Make no mistake: Rudy will put up much bigger numbers in an offense geared around him and DeMar DeRozan than will Tayshaun Prince in an offense geared around Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. But over the course of this season, Prince will be the better fit (just like Ariza said) and the more valuable player for the Grizzlies.
The more we see Prince, the more we will appreciate all that he does. The more Raptors followers see Rudy, the more he’ll look like my old Camaro: shiny and sporty, but only occasionally able to take you where you want to go.
Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. He and Jon Albright host the “Jon & Don Show” on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays.