Rudy Gay's arrival in Toronto was almost like being drafted — six-and-a-half years late.
"I like when players call me out occasionally," Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo said, grinning. "When I first spoke with Rudy the other night after the trade had been consummated, he asked me point blank: 'Why didn't you just draft me in the first place?'
"Well, we got you. One way or the other, we got you."
The new Raptor was introduced to the media at a packed news conference Friday, two days after the trade that sent point guard Jose Calderon to Detroit and forward Ed Davis to Memphis for the explosive small forward that Colangelo has long coveted. Gay was slated to be in the Raptors' lineup Friday evening when they played host to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Dressed in a crisp grey suit — he'll wear No. 22 for Toronto — the 26-year-old was at ease with the media and the 100 or so Air Canada Centre employees who showed up for the event, held just a couple of hours after he had landed in the city.
Bright neon signs throughout the arena concourse read: "The Toronto Raptors Welcome Rudy Gay."
"It's just good to be wanted and to start over in an organization where they reached out, to try to get you," Gay said. "I feel like I've been drafted again. I get on [Colangelo] because he didn't draft me but it's almost like another draft. Almost."
'I'm not coming here to score a lot of points, I'm coming here to make my teammates better, I'm not coming here to lessen anybody's role, I'm here to make this team better.'—Raptors forward Rudy Gay
Gay, a University of Connecticut product, was taken eighth overall in the 2006 draft to the Houston Rockets, seven spots after the Raptors selected Andrea Bargnani instead.
The Maryland native was asked about whether he's ready to be a franchise player coming from a Grizzlies team where he was often the fourth or fifth option on offence.
"I think more than anything, a franchise person needs to understand it's a team game," Gay said, as Colangelo and coach Dwane Casey nodded in approval — they clearly liked the answer.
"I'm not coming here to score a lot of points, I'm coming here to make my teammates better, I'm not coming here to lessen anybody's role, I'm here to make this team better. Some nights it might be scoring a lot of points, some nights it might be assisting, some nights it might be rebounding. As long as those Ws keep happening."
He also praised Calderon — a fan favourite during his eight seasons in Toronto — and says he hopes to do half of things the Spanish guard did for the city.
Gay, the Grizzlies leading scorer before being traded and a dynamic wing, is averaging 17.2 points and 5.9 rebounds per game in what hasn't been his strongest season. He's been the subject of trade rumours for quite some time as Memphis looked to unload his hefty max contract. The six-foot-eight player is due $16.5 million US this season with $37 million more over the next two years.
Jonas Valanciunas was scheduled to return to the Toronto Raptors' lineup Friday against the visiting Los Angeles Clippers after missing 18 games with a broken finger.
The rookie forward broke his right ring finger Dec. 26 against the Orlando Magic, when he got tangled up when battling for a loose ball under the basket.
The 20-year-old Lithuanian, whom the Raptors selected with their No. 5 pick 2011 draft, was averaging 8.1 points and 5.4 rebounds a game.
He started all 28 of his appearances for Toronto.
— The Canadian Press
Colangelo said perhaps the stress of the trade speculation led to his lower performance level this season.
Gay admitted the uncertainty hasn't been easy.
"Of course it [wears on you]," he said. "It's my livelihood, it's basketball, it's what I do for a living. Professionally I tried to go out there and be the best professional I could be but it is a lot of relief that comes with being here, talking to [Colangelo], and talking to coach Casey and them reassuring me that they're going to make sure I'm comfortable here, and that means a lot to me."
Playing alongside his best friend Kyle Lowry makes for an even easier transition to Toronto.
'This kid is fast'
Lowry grew up in Philadelphia, a 90-minute drive from Gay. They first played against each other in Grade 8.
"I was looking at him like 'This kid is fast,' and he was looking at me like, 'This kid is tall,"' Gay said.
Over the numerous tournaments the two young players attended together, they eventually became best friends "by default," Gay laughed.
No surprise, Lowry was the first person Gay called when the deal went down.
"He said that if you come here, we can do some big things," Gay said. "It's going to help so much. Me and Kyle are like brothers. Just as much as I want to see him succeed, he wants to see me succeed, so [it's good] to have someone in your corner like that."
Casey is excited to have a player who can score in the dying minutes with the game on the line, as Toronto has given away too many games in the fourth quarter this season.
"Rudy has broke my heart so many times over the years," Casey said. "I know what he can do offensively and defensively. He's a unique talent as far as being able to score the basketball. But his versatility is going to be huge for us, especially down the stretch of games, he gives us another option to go to in closing out games."
There has been concerns about Gay's defence, and the Raptors lost one of their best defenders in Davis. But Gay said that criticism isn't a fair one.
"If you look back and see at the end of the games I guard the best players, so I take that challenge," Gay said. "None of that [criticism] really mattered to me, what people said, because at the end of the day, I want to win, whatever it takes, whether its stopping or taking the last shot, I'll be the person doing it."
The Raptors also acquired Hamed Haddadi from Memphis in the deal, but are expected to waive the centre.