Anyone who reads my tweets or knows me from the Grizz Nation Facebook Group knows that I hold back no punches when it comes to Rudy Gay. I wanted him traded well before it was popular, and I make an effort to retweet and unapologetically relish anything that pokes fun at his failures. I think that the team is much better now without him and yes I will be the first one and the loudest one to boo him at the game tonight when he returns to the Grindhouse for the second time, and coincidentally with his second team this season. But, what many don’t know is that there is another side of me that some may be shocked to see concerning Rudy.
This edition of Noise From The Sain Asylum takes a kinder gentler viewpoint of everyone’s favorite All-Most Star Small Forward. After Rudy Gay was acquired during the summer of 2006 in a draft night trade that sent out Shane Battier, I immediately took to YouTube to see some highlight reels of the 6’8″ wing that I didn’t know much about outside of that he was said to have number one overall pick potential, but often lacked the desire to play at a high level. I didn’t have a home computer or a smart phone at the time, but I probably looked at YouTube videos of Rudy as often as possible. I saw him dunking on people and playing with passion. I saw freakish athleticism in a package that reminded me of a young Dominique Wilkins. I wondered what made the experts give him a thumbs down and question his effort on the court. I wondered why the now-deceased Rick Majerus was not a big Gay fan?
As Rudy’s career progressed, his game continued to improve even though the original perception of him not giving max effort revealed itself more often than wanted. He was always good for a highlight reel dunk and just had the look of a guy who could one day be a dominant player. There was no question about his potential, it was all a matter of him deciding that he wanted to live up to both fan and franchise expectations. Even though Rudy had his limitations, he still was a young, up and coming talent at small forward and our closet thing to a star level talent. And then it happened.
The summer after the 2008-2009 season, Rudy Gay was heading into his last season of his rookie contract before becoming a restricted free agent. Rudy had just came off a big year and he was really coming into his own and his coveted “potential” was still alive and well. It was rumored that Rudy had wanted an $11-12 million deal and that then own Michael Heisley was only willing to pay him $10 million. The sides decided to end talks and Heisley and company unwisely and more than likely stubbornly thought it would be best to offer Rudy a deal after the next season had ended. We all know the rest as Rudy Gay was then immediately signed to a 5-year, $80 million dollar deal which was substantially more than Rudy had asked for that summer. The worst part about the deal is that it had more than a 10% increase each season and is currently in the $18 million range and will be nearly $19.5 million in its final year. A young up-and-coming player with a limited game was handed a contract that to this day is more than that of LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
And then, the criticism came. Fans expected that our newly signed, max-money player would start having max-money production. You would hear things like “He’s our LeBron” or “He’s our Melo” or “OK, you have LeBron, Durant, Melo, and then who? Rudy!” Unfortunately, none of those statements were true. Rudy was not then and still isn’t on the level of any of those players, and the most unfortunate part of all of it is that he was expected to be because of his contract. Hefty expectations come with a contract of that size in a small market. You can’t be a semi star, you have to be a superstar. Rudy was actually progressing well and having some very promising seasons, but when fans were seeing that the same things that frustrated them from the beginning such as lack of effort and the desire to take over games, the first thing that would come from fans is that he is not living up to his contract. And the sad thing is that he shouldn’t have had to.
Rudy never had the mentality to be an alpha dog on a winning team, let alone a max-money player on a team with championship aspirations. He’s just not wired that way. He will spend the rest of this contract for whatever team he plays for trying to score 30 ppg and be this awesome, well-rounded player when he never really wanted to or asked to be that at all. He asked for $12 million and because of poor management, he got an offer that no man could refuse, but honestly wasn’t prepared for responsibility that would come with it. Would I like a young, talented, athletic small forward on this team now that STILL has upside? Of course I would. The player that Rudy was panning out to be would be the ultimate trump card on a team anchored by Mike Conley, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. But that’s not who Rudy Gay is now. His whole mentality changed after he got his contract because quite frankly it HAD to change. It was like giving a teenager with a learners permit a Ferrari and telling him not to wreck it. It was like living a kid in a candy store and expected him not to pig out.
Rudy’s last years here were a prime example of this as we saw his game often go against the grain and resemble a man who had his own agenda that wanted no part of the Grit ‘n Grind mentality that our team and fanbase had adopted. It was all hero ball and isolation plays. Missed mid-range jumpshots and no ability or effort to get to the basket became the norm. There was sometimes even a look of indifference about winning unless he had a big game in addition to the win. It was a union that ended on a sour note with Rudy stating that he missed nothing about Memphis and also rumors that he and his agent forced the issue for his trade to happen as soon as possible.
Yes, I laughed when he took 30 shots to score 30 points in Toronto but inside I always wished things had played out differently. A kid that we drafted young and that literally grew into a man here is gone now because he was crowned a king when all he probably ever wanted to be was another knight in the king’s court. He was never our LeBron, or our Melo, or our Durant. He won’t ever even be our Paul George. I just wish that the powers that be and decisions makers at the time back in 2009 would have done a better job just letting him be our Rudy Gay.