Rudy Gay trade just the beginning for Raptors? | Basketball | CBC Sports

NBARudy Gay trade just the beginning for Raptors?

Posted: Monday, December 9, 2013 | 11:31 PM

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With the Toronto Raptors dealing small forward Rudy Gay, right, to the Sacramento Kings on Monday, rumours have swirled around Kyle Lowry's future as well. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press) With the Toronto Raptors dealing small forward Rudy Gay, right, to the Sacramento Kings on Monday, rumours have swirled around Kyle Lowry's future as well. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

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Toronto Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri has continued to reshape the roster for the future, and the trade sending Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings was likely just the beginning.
If you are a longtime observer of the Toronto Raptors it should feel familiar -- and, oddly, in a positive-vibe sort of way. 

A new, highly touted general manager comes in and seemingly miraculously erases the mistake of a much-maligned previous general manager.

It's apples and oranges and a higher calibre of player involved this time, but some of us remember the day in 2006 when then-GM Bryan Colangelo traded former first-round bust Rafael Araujo to the Utah Jazz for future Kim Kardashian husband/publicity stunt Kris Humphries and future prison inmate Robert Whaley.

Forget the return (or that Humphries was a reliable contributor to the Raptors' 2007 and 2008 playoff squads). The fact Colangelo got back two living, breathing humans for Araujo was enough to anoint the high-collared one the Raptors' saviour, spawning a short-lived internet message board sign-off, "In BC we trust."

Seven-and-a-half years later, Raptors fans are again ready to deify the team's new boss, Masai Ujiri, for shedding Rudy Gay -- the final act of Colangelo's desperation to add a scoring wing in his half-baked rebuild of the franchise.

Deification is a little much, but consider now that Ujiri has moved the two major obstacles in a true rebuild of the Raptors -- skilled players albeit in Gay and Andrea Bargnani, but deeply flawed ones whose trade value was universally believed to be non-existent.

According to Grantland's Zach Lowe, Ujiri canvassed most of the NBA in an attempt to drum up interest in Gay, and was rebuffed at every turn.

Yet the crazy thing about the NBA is somebody always seems willing to take a chance on a player like Gay, whose 38.8 field-goal percentage this season is the lowest of his career (and has dropped each of the last four years). That team was the Kings, many of whose fans are now left somewhat befuddled by the move.

Gay deal a win for Raptors

The deal itself -- Toronto getting back John Salmons, Chuck Hayes, Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez -- is a win for the Raptors. It may not ultimately lead to more wins this season, but it's still a win any way you want to shake it.

If you like cap space, it's a win. If you deplore moronic, ball-jamming basketball, it's a win. If you were tired of watching D.J. Augustin back up Kyle Lowry, it's a win (Augustin was cut Monday to make room for Vasquez, who is a more-than-capable backup point guard and a significant upgrade over Augustin and Dwight Buycks).

Only veteran forward Hayes has a guaranteed contract for next season, meaning the Raps can do as they please with Vasquez and 24-year-old power forward Patterson -- package them up prior to the February trade deadline, or consider them as parts going down the road.

Veteran swingman Salmons, who changed his mind about signing with the Raptors in 2006 by saying God told him to go to Sacramento, can be bought out after the season after discovering that the Almighty works in mysterious ways.

You can debate the merits of dealing away someone you traded Jose Calderon and Ed Davis for less than a year ago, but this is how the NBA works. If a new GM can correct an old GM's mistake, more power to him.

Gay more than likely would have picked up his contract option for next year given the current marketplace. The fact is that he is a declining player who could never become what Colangelo hoped he'd be: A true alpha dog.

Many observers (including yours truly) foresaw duplication issues with DeMar DeRozan's game the moment the Raptors acquired Gay 10 months ago, and it's been vividly proven this year as DeRozan has played well when Gay sat.

On the other side of the coin, consider the gong show in Houston on Nov. 11 when Gay shot 11-of-37 and DeRozan went 6-of-25 in the Raps' double-overtime loss.

Ujiri was slightly more diplomatic during Monday night's news conference that confirmed the Sacramento deal, praising Gay's contributions.

"He's a phenomenally talented player but it just wasn't working," said Ujiri. "On the court you could tell [Gay and DeRozan] weren't in sync."

Gay trade only the beginning

And that's not to mention how it opens things up more for Jonas Valanciunas (still the Raptors' only untouchable player) and Terrence Ross.

Yes, if you are a tanker, there is the reality that the Raptors very likely become a better team by losing Gay's near-19 shots a game and 30 per cent possession usage rate.

But logic indicates the Gay trade is only the beginning.

Ujiri used the words "future" and "long-term" several times Monday evening, reigniting the feeling that any big trade this season would be followed by a domino effect. Lowry is a good bet to go next, and perhaps Amir Johnson or even DeRozan.

In the season of the highest-touted draft since 2003, there is no room for mediocrity. And as Canadian Andrew Wiggins perhaps moves off from being the consensus No. 1 pick thanks to the play of Duke's Jabari Parker, that may be the case even moreso if you are looking to breathe new life into the Raptor brand.

You want to be in the meat of this lottery, not ninth or 10th in the East, just out of the playoffs.

"The one thing I can say is we will not be trapped in the middle," Ujiri said Monday. "I can honestly say we won't be stuck in no-man's land, that's for sure."

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