The question to Rudy Gay was why he saw himself as a franchise player.
“I was born for it,” he said.
True enough. For the 26-year-old Gay, the better word might be reborn for it.
The Raptors unveiled their new best player, Friday in a press conference that centered on the impossible; how to project the future from the past.
The present Rudy Gay is very, very good.
In Gay the Raptors have landed the dynamic wing player they have long coveted. Just 26, the six-foot-eight 230-pound Gay has averaged just under 18 points and six rebounds over his six-and-a-half seasons in Memphis. He is the Grizzlies career leader in games.
The Raptors finally have their final shot guy. Gay shared that role with Zach Randolph in Memphis. Without a bruising inside presence, the Raptors must garner more offence from the perimeter. That’s where Gay comes in.
He can defend the best perimeter player regardless of his opponents, be they LeBron James, Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant.
“He’s got the reputation of not being a defender but Rudy can defend,” said Raptors coach Dwane Casey. “He’s going to have to do that because of the makeup of our team. He’s going to be challenged to guard guys like Carmello (Anthony) and LeBron in our conference.”
Gay’s game isn’t perfect. His career field goal percentage is a meager .408 and his shot from the arc and beyond is a slight .344. By his standards he is enduring a poor season. Gay’s .408 field goal percentage and .310 clip from beyond the arc are career lows.
But it’s not a reach to link that decline in production to his name being a mainstay in trade talks.
“I’d like to sit here and say no it didn’t’ wear on me but of course it does,” said Gay. “It’s my livelihood. Professionally I tried to block it out and be the best professional I can be but it was a lot to leave.”
What the Raptors are gambling on is the notion that Gay needs a change. He is the high scorer on a 29-16 team with 17.2 ppg.
“It’s almost like another draft,” said Gay the eighth-overall pick in 2006. General Manager Bryan Colangelo passed on Gay in favor of Andrea Bargnani, the first overall pick in that same draft. “I just want to come here and try to be the hard-working veteran this team needs,” he said.
Casey can deliver a list of players whose game was recharged with a change of venue.
“Ray Allen came to Seattle and he had a change of scenery and kind of took off again after he left Milwaukee,” Casey said. “We got Vin Baker from Milwaukee back in Seattle. He took off there. In Dallas we had Shawn Marion. Tyson Chandler kind of got remade in Dallas. He became known as a defensive stopper.”
“Rudy raises the talent level on our team,” said Colangelo. “We feel we’re on our way. We have been building slowly which is always the case. This certainly accelerates the process.”