Yesterday, trade rumors involving the Phoenix Suns and Rudy Gay began to surface. And ever since then, I’ve been asking myself: Would he make that much of a difference?
To put it simply, absolutely.
But before we get to how Gay could help an underachieving Suns team with an abysmal 12-24 record, we need to take a look at the proposed deal and examine why it makes sense for both sides. The rumor circulating throughout Twitter yesterday reported the Grizzlies would ship Gay in exchange for Jared Dudley and one or two future first round picks. On paper, this seems like a pretty sweet deal for the Suns and a pretty questionable one for the Grizzlies. So why would Memphis ship off one of their best players — and arguably their most dynamic scorer — for a guy who hasn’t even been in Phoenix’s starting rotation all season?
Well, as in life sometimes, so it is in the NBA: It’s all about the money. The Grizzlies are aggressively shopping one of the best players of a Western Conference-contending team because they want to avoid the luxury tax next year. Gay is one of the league’s most dazzling, high-flying athletic players, but his contract is an obese chunk of lard that is keeping the Grizzlies firmly rooted in the ground. Gay is owed $16.4 million this season, $17.8 million next season and $19.3 million in the season after that. The Grizzlies are looking to acquire an efficient role player on the wing in Jared Dudley, but they also won’t mind absorbing his incredibly sweet contract ($4.25 million) on top of that. In addition to money, there’s the matter of team chemistry. Rudy Gay has struggled at times with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, two elite big men who have shown their capability of dominating other teams in the paint. At times, Gay can be a perfect complement to these two forces in the paint as an electric and often unstoppable scorer on the wing. But his success often comes at the price of Randolph and/or Gasol’s efficiency, which usually ends with the Grizzlies underachieving. Dudley is a team player who doesn’t demand a lot of shots and would happily fill a spot on the wing with a winning team after playing with the struggling Suns for so long. And because Gay hasn’t been very efficient from beyond the 3-point line, Dudley has a chance to step in and fulfill the Grizzlies’ need for a perimeter shooter. In addition to Dudley, future first-round picks would ensure a higher chance at success in the future for an already impressive defensive core composed of Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Dudley, Randolph and Gasol.
For the Suns, the deal seems like a no-brainer. Trading a former reserve, albeit a lovable one, for a potential superstar in Rudy Gay? Absolutely! But again, this is about more than talent. As the Los Angeles Lakers will tell you, trading for All-Stars doesn’t necessarily equate with success; if anything, it can create chemistry problems. And as the Brooklyn Nets will tell you, spending money to keep players happy doesn’t guarantee success; if anything, it means paying extra for the luxury tax and dealing with fans complaining about overpaid, underachieving athletes. Picking up Gay would be huge for Phoenix, but he also poses a few problems in addition to the obvious benefits.
For all the minor chemistry issues he’s created at times in Memphis, Gay is still a dynamic scorer who would undoubtedly see some of his career-low numbers this season spike by being “the man” in Phoenix. However, his contract is a pretty hefty one to take on. Picking up Gay really endangers the Suns’ proximity to that nasty luxury tax. Then there’s the future draft pick to consider. No fan wants to hear that their team should settle on rebuilding with good draft picks, but the Suns currently own the Lakers’ first-round lottery pick provided LA misses the playoffs. At the beginning of the season, that concept was laughable, but considering their poor record and unhealthy frontcourt, it’s not out of the question now. This would mean a first-round lottery pick for Phoenix in addition to another first round pick the Suns would likely earn for missing the playoffs. The Suns currently have the fifth-worst record in the league, so assuming the draft stays true to form, that’s a top-five pick. Next year’s draft is admittedly weak, but is trading two lottery picks for a great player the right move to make?
Overall, this trade presents a lot of problems for both sides, but the Grizzlies would recover quickly. The Suns would only be giving up a fan favorite who doesn’t have a lot of room for potential and they’d receive a dynamic scorer, but they’d be dealing with some salary issues for sure. When all is said and done though, Phoenix could really use Gay, and not just because of his talent that would shine through were he “the man” in Phoenix. Gay is a big name that could draw in much-needed fans, attention and excitement for a team that’s had its lowest home attendance in history this season.
There are just a couple of things to make note of, Suns fans. First, don’t expect Rudy Gay to turn this team around if Phoenix does make the trade. There are definitely worse attitudes in the NBA, but Gay seems to relish beating down the Suns every time Memphis comes to town, so don’t expect him to be overly excited about having to carry the load for the second-to-last team in the West. He’ll have his moments and the Suns will start winning more games with him on the roster, but the playoffs are still a long way away. Second, a lot of talk on Twitter was about whom the Suns would end up trading Rudy Gay for. While I personally would love nothing more than seeing Michael Beasley and Channing Frye shipped off, the fact that John Hollinger is now involved with Grizzlies management tells me a trade involving Beasley, Shannon Brown or Sebastian Telfair (the kind of trade we want) won’t happen. It’ll likely be Dudley and draft picks or nothing at all. Dudley has gained my respect over the years for his defense, his hard work and his great personality, but if the Suns have an opportunity to trade him for Rudy Gay, they have to do it. At the very least, it’ll put people in the stands and give fans a jersey they may actually want to buy.