A two-game sample size of the Rudy Gay era with the Toronto Raptors has shown some very positive results. In Friday's big win over the Los Angeles Clippers and Sunday's loss to the Miami Heat, Gay and DeMar DeRozan did their best to put to bed any concerns that duplication in their perceived shortcomings (neither are effective three-point shooters or facilitators) would be a hindrance to the team.
With DeRozan throwing up alley-oops for Gay and the two combining for 95 points over both games, the Air Canada Centre has been given a jolt of energy not felt in years.
Make no mistake: Rudy Gay is now the Raptors' best player. He has length and athleticism on a level higher than DeRozan and he's automatically the best small forward Toronto has had since Vince Carter went soft. Gay will, on occasion, attract extra defenders and maybe, just maybe, get the calls from the refs that the Raptors never get.
Looking closer through the negatives and to increase the positive spin, if you are going to pair Gay with a similar wing player, it might as well be DeRozan. The Raptors' first-round pick in the 2009 draft is not an egotistical player. His development, while not spectacular, has been consistent and bringing in somebody that instantly takes pressure off him and opens up his other abilities -- like passing -- is a good thing.
"Rudy is probably what I needed," DeRozan told reporters Saturday.
As usual for Dwane Casey, the head coach is more interested in what Gay can bring in defensively. While nobody will mistake him for a shutdown defender like former Memphis Grizzlies teammate Tony Allen, Casey highlights the fact that Gay's coming from a defensive environment.
While the Grizzlies are clearly more of a post team, "they are the system we want to be defensively," Casey told NBA-TV Canada.
Yet this trade isn't an alley-oop dunk and its short-term benefits may ultimately be outweighed by its long-term ramifications.
We know Bryan Colangelo isn't done trying to deal yet. In a somewhat surprising move, the Raptors president and general manager went on public record last week with the poorly-kept secret that Andrea Bargnani is on the block.
What Colangelo can pull off remains to be seen. But if you assume Bargnani is traded, the Raptors will still have more than $40 million in contracts next season alone tied up in four players -- Gay, DeRozan, Amir Johnson and Landry Fields -- who have never played in an NBA all-star game. And that's not factoring in the money that has to come back to Toronto in a Bargnani trade.
Colangelo is banking that Gay and DeRozan can turn each other into all-star calibre players, with Jonas Valanciunas in the middle.
Colangelo has some wiggle room with the ability to use the new collective bargaining agreement's amnesty provision (clearly on Linas Kleiza). But beyond that, there is limited flexibility. Needs now include a reliable backup point guard, three-point shooting consistency and more size depth. It's obvious that Colangelo has chosen to accelerate the team's development and, in his position, he has no choice. With his contract up at the end of the season and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment holding an option, he knows upper management wants
playoff dates sooner rather than later.
For that to happen this year, the Raptors are going to have to go on a notable win streak. Playing .500 basketball in Toronto's last 34 games is attainable. Yet that would only get them to 34 wins and eighth in the Eastern Conference is currently on pace for about 40-41. And the time is now. If they want a true test, it's Wednesday against the very Rajon Rondo-less Boston Celtics that they are chasing.
So yes, the eggs are in that basket.
Last week, I threw out a very hypothetical question about whether the Raptors should consider tanking next year for a shot at drafting Canadian phenom Andrew Wiggins. I got a lot of feedback on it and I want to stress yet again that I do not endorse it -- throwing a season for just a 25 per cent chance at best of landing the No. 1 pick in the lottery is an insane risk, even if it worked for the Cleveland Cavaliers (LeBron James). The question merely exists because Wiggins could well represent an unprecedented moment in the history of Canadian basketball, if not Canadian sports in general.
Not that it matters anyways. The events of the past week have ensured that is not a direction the Raptors plan on going in.
If you do want to see Wiggins play for what is very likely the last time in Canada before he visits as a member of the Charlotte Bobcats or the new Seattle Sonics, his Huntington Prep squad takes on the United Leadership Academy in the Burridge Gymnasium at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont, on Sunday, Feb. 17.
Follow John Chick on Twitter @roofthatpeach
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