Rudy Gay Trade Has Failed to Make Raptors Better, But Toronto Has More Serious Image Problem


Rudy GayRudy Gay might not play again this season for the Raptors, and if you subscribe to a certain school of thought, that is not necessarily a bad thing. Since Gay’s days as the nominal go-to guy for the Memphis Grizzlies, skeptics have wondered just how valuable a high-scoring, poor-shooting wing player was to one of the rising contenders in the Western Conference.

Now Gay, who went to Toronto in January as part of a pre-emptive strike by Memphis against the luxury tax, is close to being shut down with back trouble and the reaction is a resounding, “meh.” This should be instructive for the Raptors front office, which have justified their desire to sign Gay to an extension by claiming the franchise’s alleged need “star power.” When that “star” is possibly done for the year and nobody outside the organization seems to care, maybe his “power” is not quite as powerful as you believed.

Just how much better the Raptors have gotten with Gay, if at all, is almost beside the point. The Raptors are 9-12 with Gay in the lineup since the trade, which is better from a win percentage standpoint than their 16-30 mark prior to the deal, so there is that. When general manager Bryan Colangelo made the unusual step of opening up his front office’s system of analyzing advanced statistics to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, the attempt to show the team’s progressiveness backfired. Rather than being portrayed as forward-thinking, the Raptors were questioned for giving away their trade secrets.

This struck me as nitpicking. No matter how limited the Raptors’ methods may appear, it is doubtful that any opponent could glean deep secrets of Toronto’s game plans from the eight screengrabs included in Lowe’s article. Dwane Casey has lost more than 60 percent of his games as an NBA head coach, but I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt in that respect. He did help formulate the defensive game plan in Dallas that set loose Tyson Chandler and contributed to the Mavericks’ championship run in 2011, so clearly he has more in his playbook than a few two-dimensional slides will reveal. But this was the Raptors, who are easy to make fun of, so naturally allowing a member of the media to observe their procedures must have been a boneheaded move.

Still, it is tough to see similar criticism arising if Lowe had spent his time with the brain trust in Houston, Oklahoma City or San Antonio. Replace every reference to the Raptors with “Rockets” in the ESPN piece and every stathead from MIT to Caltech would have been fawning over Daryl Morey‘s expanding genius. Heck, they might have called an emergency Sloan Sports Analytics Conference just to discuss the brilliance of Houston’s approach and their refreshingly open attitude about teaching the rest of the world the “right way” to analyze the game.

The point of all this is not that the Raptors were wise to give their SportVU system its day in the sun, or that the Rockets are doing something fundamentally wrong. Morey certainly knows what he is doing in constructing the Rockets’ roster. Colangelo, judging by the results, does not.

Morey has earned the benefit of the doubt in some instances, such as last month’s trade for Thomas Robinson, who did not finish well at the rim and took more long 2-pointers than he should have with the Kings. There was faith that the Rockets could rebuild the rookie out of Kansas, and in his first dozen games with his new team Robinson, shot has shot well within five feet (in a small sample size, but still) and substantially cut down on his long jump shots. The faith in Houston’s system has — so far — been rewarded.

Meanwhile, the Raptors have given fans plenty of reasons to be critical, even dismissive, of their moves — even moves as mundane as spending a few days with a reporter. Their acquisition of Gay (with the Grizzlies’ subsequent improvement at both ends of the floor) might top the list of their mistakes if they did not have Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan already locked up to lucrative, long-term contracts. To repurpose former Raptors coach Kevin O’Neill‘s infamous quote for our purposes, Toronto is selling neither wins nor hope at this point. They are simply selling punch lines, even unfair ones, and that is when they are not being overlooked altogether.

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