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NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan and Sacramento Kings Rudy Gay 2016 by Larry Millson

Is The Kings Rudy Gay Showcasing Himself For A Trade?

There have been lots of reports that the Kings Rudy Gay has subtly or not so subtly been hoping for a trade to a contender as the veteran forward recently turned 30-years-old and Sacramento has spent the past decade as a Lottery Team with no one giving them a chance to break the futility streak this season. However, he isn’t moaning or complaining directly, instead a better description of what Gay has been doing is showcasing himself by being on pace for the best shooting percentages (50 percent from the field, 45 percent from three), points scored (22.6 per game) and free throw attempts (6.6 per game) of his career.

“I don’t like talking about my personal goals,” Gay told Pro Bball Report. “I’m a team guy. I feel that nobody can win a game by himself, you got to win it together. Personal goals are B.S. to me. Obviously if you do the right things, you’ll get what you want.”

After a decade in the NBA and playing for three different organizations, Gay knows players are always being evaluated and scouted by the 29 other teams in the league you aren’t currently playing for. Everyone knows if you are doing the right things.

So after missing the front half of a back-to-back on Saturday in Milwaukee due to a painful rib cartilage strain, Gay dragged himself on to the court in Toronto on Sunday to showcase/prove he can play through pain and produce versus last year’s Eastern Conference Finalists. Gay went 9-19 (47.4 percent) from the field and 2-5 from three-point range to score a game-high (tied with DeMar DeRozan) 23 points in 35.4 minutes. The Kings were a team best +12 points with Gay in the game and pulled out a surprising 96-91 victory over the final three minutes.

An NBA career as a proven points producer, Gay is currently at the top of his game and other teams will have noticed.

Gay knows the Kings should improve as the season progresses, it just takes time after every significant change to figure out how to play as a team and Sacramento is on their ninth head coach in 11 seasons.  Gay himself has endured four different head coaches in his 3.7 seasons with the team. The obvious contrast is the tenure and success of the Raptors head coach Dwane Casey, now in his sixth season in Toronto, and the team’s core of DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross. Plus, Patrick Patterson who came to Toronto as part of the trade for Gay in 2013.

“We are one of those teams that has had a lot of change,” Gay said. “A lot of different scenarios we have to deal with, a lot of different teammates. Whereas you have Toronto where they have had their core for at least their third, fourth year? Maybe longer than that. Fifth year, it is Kyle Lowry’s fifth year here. We don’t have that luxury. So we are just trying to get better as quick as possible.”

Stability is often the hallmark of a good team, not only early in the season, but as the year progresses as well. Even the recent run of “super teams” have tended to struggle and underachieve until the players and coaches got to know each other better. The ever revolving door in Sacramento likely means their struggles will continue.

The speculation that Gay will opt out of the final year of his contract at the end of this season shouldn’t come as a surprise. He’s only slated to earn $14.2 million and as a 30-year-old player, this summer is likely his best chance at locking down his last lucrative long term deal. The Kings know this – actually everyone knows this. No speculation necessary.

Plus, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if his first choice in free agency is to play for a team that’s more stable and has a better chance at winning. Thus the speculation that the Kings should try to get something for Gay by the trade deadline rather than risk losing him for nothing in July. Money can only ease the pain of losing only so much and it remains uncertain if this version of the Kings can start winning enough to attract or keep players like Gay.

Is Rudy Gay showcasing himself in the hopes of promoting a trade? That would be a fair interpretation, but when he was in Toronto playing for a team that wasn’t enjoying much success at the time, he always came across as a team guy that tried to do the right thing.

A showcase of putting up career best numbers this season is the right thing for both Gay and the Sacramento Kings now. Someone will be watching, Boston? Indiana? Miami? Houston? OKC? Toronto?

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 


 

 

NBA Sacramento Kings Rudy Gay

How Badly Does The Kings Rudy Gay Want To Win?

It’s rumored the Sacramento Kings Rudy Gay wants to be traded and multiple sources confirm Gay, Ben McLemore and Kouta Koufos are all being shopped with the Pacers and Celtics supposedly showing some interest in Gay. However, the Kings aren’t exactly dealing from a position of strength and Gay’s value may hinge on just how badly he wants to win. Would Gay accept fewer minutes and a role off the bench in order to join a team with a chance of getting to the Conference Finals?

As Sactown Royalty’s Tony Xypteras says,

At any rate, it’s starting to feel like Rudy Gay’s relationship with the Kings has soured to the point of no return, and I’m sure now that Voisin (of the Sacramento Bee) has made Gay’s trade request public, it will only get worse.

Gay has been on the edge of stardom since his rookie season and perhaps the worst thing that happened to his career was the five year extension he signed after his rookie contract that paid him over $19 million in 2014-15. He never could live up to that salary.

Gay has always put up stats. His 10 year career average is 18.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.3 steals and 0.8 blocks. A combo forward that shoots 45.2 percent from the field and 34.4 percent from three-point range, but has only been to the playoffs once, lost in the first round and hasn’t been back for four seasons.

What has to hurt the most is the teams that traded him, the Grizzlies in 2012-13 and the Raptors 2013-14, have made the playoffs in every season after he was gone and both teams have since made an appearance in the Conference Finals.

Just maybe there’s a message here for the soon-to-be 30-year-old Gay. There are often sacrifices to be made if you are really willing to put winning first.

Last year was especially tough on Gay. The Kings had a better roster, but still couldn’t put it all together in a rare season when a .500 record earned you a spot in the Western Conference playoffs.

Sactown Royalty’s Blake Ellington reported in March,

A visibly exhausted Gay was asked if there has been a harder season for him than this one.

“No,” Gay said. “I don’t think any of us have been a part of something like this … It’s tough, it’s very tough. I’m not going to sit here and be like I’m happy with how we’re playing or what’s going on this season, because I’m not.”

Gay has looked disengaged on the floor for most of the season.

As the Kings inch toward closing the book on another failed season, Gay must be thinking about what the future holds for this franchise and his career.

At least Gay is on a much friendlier contract now. He’ll earn $13.3 million for 2016-17 and has a player option for $14.3 million in 2017-18. Based on how monies were being handed out this summer, that’s a decent deal for a proven veteran.

It isn’t hard to imagine how good the Celtic’s bench would look with Gay backing up Jae Crowder and soaking up minutes at the four spot in small(er) lineups. A Pacers rotation with Gay backing up Paul George and Thaddeus Young would be pretty scary as well.

However, the Raptors should be looking to get in on this action as well.

Forget the failed experiment using Gay as the focal point of the Raptors offense when he wilted under the pressure of being “the man” in Toronto. Look at Gay as DeMarre Carroll’s backup and a key depth piece in case of injury to any one of the forwards in head coach Dwane Casey’s rotation. In other words, a big upgrade over what James Johnson brought to the Raptors last year.

The question for Gay in any of these situations is, how badly do you want to win?

The issue for the Kings will be they aren’t getting back a player for Gay that can put up the same stat line from anybody. It might take a while, but they are going to have to lower their expectations on the trade of a player who could walk in free agency next summer.

What might get Toronto’s attention is a package of Gay and McLemore for Terrence Ross, Lucas Nogueira and Delon Wright. It’s somewhat of a lateral move, but the Kings would get a proven three-point threat under a favorable contract for three years and two prospects and the Raptors get a needed veteran forward for their push to repeat as Eastern Conference Finalists and a potential replacement for Ross in case Gay walks at the end of the season.

It will be very interesting to see how long the Kings are willing to leave Gay hanging out there on the trade market before they make a move.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

Featured image courtesy of Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini

 

 

 


 

NBA Sacramento Kings Rudy Gay

Could Rudy Gay Be The Raptors Fallback Trade Target?

The Toronto Raptors are central to numerous power forward/ combo forward rumors heading into the trade deadline. However, there is one big forward out there that hasn’t been linked to the Raptors yet and that’s the Kings Rudy Gay.

The East’s top scoring duo of Kyle Lowry (7th best at 21 ppg)) and DeMar DeRozan (2nd best at 23.4 ppg) are carrying the Raptors this season and are having career years, but to get out of the Eastern Conference, that may not be enough. While DeMarre Carroll is expected to return in time for the stretch drive to the postseason and provide a big boost to an already effective defense and contribute to a top 10 offense, he just hasn’t played enough this year to give everyone that warm fuzzy feeling.

President and general manager Masai Ujiri has acknowledged the remaining hole in his team’s rotation once Carroll returns is at power forward and he’s been working the phones to find an impactful deal that doesn’t screw up his second place team’s chemistry or continuity.  He has admitted to realizing the “window is open”, so this time around, he is a highly motivated buyer.

Names jumping to the top of the rumor mill for Toronto include Al Horford, Thaddeus Young, Markieff Morris and Ryan Anderson, but there are solid reasons why nothing could happen on any of these fronts.

  • The Hawks will want a boatload back for Horford. They know the impact he could have on a team – including how his loss could mean their slide out of a playoff spot. This isn’t going to be an easy trade for any team to pull off.
  • The Nets are in the process of hiring a new general manager. Determining what they’ll do at the trade deadline is impossible. Thaddeus Young does seem to fit what the Raptors are looking for though.
  • Morris has outstanding criminal charges and still shows signs of immaturity. Talented? Yes. The ideal guy for a playoff push right now? Who knows?
  • Ryan Anderson is a very good stretch-four and a very suspect defender. Not exactly the guy one would expect a defensive-minded Coach Casey would be pushing for.

In more recent “news,” the slip-sliding Bulls are rumored to have put both Taj Gibson and Pau Gasol on the block.

Gibson is just an older, better rebounding version of Patrick Patterson, but without any ability to stretch the floor. As rebounding hasn’t been an issue for Toronto this year and three-point shooting has been, it’s hard to see why Ujiri would be interested unless Gibson is being given away to save on luxury taxes.

If Gasol is available at a cost Ujiri can stomach, that would be a slam dunk move for Toronto. Keep your eyes on that thread.

However, there’s a reason for almost every proposed trade to fall apart or never even get into serious discussions over the next 24 hours and Ujiri is motivated. A fallback plan involving the Kings and Rudy Gay should be somewhere on board in the Raptors war room.

Gay has checkered past in the NBA, but the beef with Gay was never about effort or talent or off the court issues. What kept getting Gay bounced around was his humongous contract and now that’s he’s on a new deal at $12.4 million this season, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate the situation.

Gay bombed in Toronto in his brief time there because he was supposed to carry the team. In Sacramento, he has been expected to be a difference maker playing beside DeMarcus Cousins. Where Gay thrived was as the fourth best player in Memphis playing behind Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley. The problem being your fourth best player can’t be making as much or more money as your best player.

Basketball Insiders Alex Kennedy says Gay wants out of Sacramento badly,

“The two guys I’ve heard the Kings are looking to move, or at least are open to moving, are Rudy Gay and Darren Collison. I’ve been told those guys want out. Rudy Gay specifically I think he wants out, that’s what I’ve heard. So don’t be surprised if Rudy Gay gets traded before the deadline. I think he’s upset, I think he’s open to being traded and he’s pushing for that.”

On a dysfunctional team, that comment spells opportunity. There’s a deal to be made with the Kings (again) and it’s likely to be favorable for the team that makes it.

Gay would return to Toronto in a similar position to the one he left in Memphis. A team on the rise with a solid shot at making the Conference Finals where he’s third, fourth or even fifth maybe in terms of importance. No pressure to be the best guy or lead the team. Kyle Lowry owns that mantle in Toronto. No pressure to be the best scorer, that’s DeRozan. Not even any pressure to be the best forward once Carroll gets back. This could work.

A deal along the lines of Patrick Patterson, James Johnson, Norman Powell and the Raptors own 2016 first round draft pick for Gay and former Raptors fan favorite Quincy Acy might just do the trick depending on what other teams are willing to pony up for Gay’s services.

Gay was a good guy during his time in Toronto. He gave a full effort trying to be the Raptors leader and go-to-guy while he was there, but what was being asked of him just wasn’t within his ability. He had a solid relationship with Lowry prior to his arrival the first time and he should be able to re-integrate himself into Casey’s system and find his spot in the pecking order with Lowry and DeRozan easier than just about anyone else Ujiri could acquire at the trade deadline.

A below the radar move and possibly just a fallback position, but if Ujiri can’t get the guy he wants, Gay could be the guy he needs to boost his team’s chances in the postseason.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Rudy GayWas Rudy Gay Sabotaged In Toronto?

How Casey described Gay’s roles was accurate.  It wasn’t reasonable, but it was true.  The Raptors needed Gay to perform all of those roles, he just never had to before.  Gay didn’t shy away from trying either.

 

 

NBA Sacramento Kings Rudy Gay

Kings Rudy Gay Got A Fractured Jaw Vs. Lithuania

The Sacramento Kings Rudy Gay will be sidelined for Team USA’s Gold Medal game versus Serbia after receiving a fractured jaw in Thursday’s semifinal game against Lithuania according to USA TODAY Sport Sam Amick.
 

“I’ve got a fracture in my jaw, a broken tooth and am going to probably need a root canal,” Gay told USA TODAY Sports. “The top is where I got hit. It’s painful. It’s uncomfortable, and it still bleeds, so I’ve got to continuously gargle. It is what it is, man.”

 

Gay was hit in the mouth by one of the Lavrinovic twin brothers who have played a very physical FIBA brand of basketball for a long time.

“I don’t even remember,” Gay said. “I couldn’t tell them apart.”

The incident happened in the third quarter and was the likely cause of the typical basketball ‘scuffle’ between the two teams broken up by USA Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski.

“I just wanted to get in the middle and I figured they wouldn’t hit an old man,” Krzyzewski said. “I’m Polish, I knew the Lithuanians were friends. I could be somebody who – those two things – Polish and being old, I figure that’s a good separator.”

 

 

 

Note: Sportando reports Gay will play against Serbia in the Gold Medal game, but it seems unnecessary and very unlikely his club team would support such a decision.

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

Display photo credit Paul Saini, Fylmm.com

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Rudy Gay

Kings Rudy Gay To Join Team USA Tryouts

The Sacramento Kings Rudy Gay has been traded twice in two seasons with up then down and back up results, however, he has been with Team USA before and with the withdrawal of Kevin Durant and the loss of Paul George to injury, Gay brings scoring and size to the the small forward position if he can make the team.

Before Gay was traded by the Toronto Raptors last December, it looked liked his game was in free fall. Gay was taking an inordinate number of shots and bricking his way towards a career worst 38.8 percent shooting from the field. Post trade he found his stroke and averaged 48.2 percent shooting with the Kings.

Over his 8 NBA seasons, Gay has averaged 18.2 points and 5.8 rebounds and shot 45.1 percent from the field. He has a very legitimate chance of making the USA team heading to Spain for the World Cup on August 30th.

Gay joins the 15 other players trying to make the 12 man roster.

NBA Toronto Raptors Rudy Gay

Was Rudy Gay Sabotaged In Toronto?

If a coach and an organization are supposed to put their players into situations where they are most likely to succeed, the former Raptors forward Rudy Gay could perceive, in hindsight, his 10 months in Toronto as an attempt to sabotage his reputation and career.

The Raptors knew who they traded for when then President and General Manager Bryan Colangelo acquired Gay in January and the team did little or even nothing to replicate the situations where Gay had been most successful in Memphis.

Almost from the beginning, Head Coach Dwane Casey put Gay into situations where the forward had little experience.  The Raptors went small – a lot, playing Gay significant minutes at power forward.  Gay struggled in that role last season and he struggled even more in his new role this season.

Last season in Toronto, at small forward Gay had a 52.2 effective field goal percentage and a 21.2 PER. At power forward, he had a 37.9 effective field goal percentage and an 11.0 PER.  More minutes at power forward only meant worsening numbers and a perception Gay was failing this year.

Gay went into the summer looking to add weight and change his game to be more effective in the paint, but the Raptors small ball experiment continued even after it had become obvious the change in roles was a failure.

“I try to use my strength and quickness to get around and get to the ball,” Gay said early in the season. “I just want to help the team. It hasn’t been by shooting lately, so I have to get down there and get our team extra possessions.”

“I think it is mostly mental.”

It was less mental than physical.  As the star player on the Raptors, Gay saw more double-teams in Toronto every game than he would have seen playing beside Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol in a month with Memphis.  Defenses collapsed around Gay and those ‘easy’ shots at the rim were almost always through traffic and over multiple defenders.

With three ‘star’ players used to finishing plays rather than creating for others in Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Gay, plus big men that needed to be setup in order to score, the Raptors offense often stagnated – the ball appearing to stick – a lot.  As the team’s assist totals sank to the bottom of the league, Casey demanded Gay to take on another role he was unfamiliar with – that of point forward or facilitator.

“He is our star player,” Casey said. “So he is going to have to have a lot of roles. Leader, point forward, rebounder, defender, in the end, he’s our guy and we have to roll with him.”

How Casey described Gay’s roles was accurate.  It wasn’t reasonable, but it was true.  The Raptors needed Gay to perform all of those roles, he just never had to before.  Gay didn’t shy away from trying either.

“It is a lot different,” Gay said. “(It is) just adding a new dynamic to my game. I welcome the challenge.”

“There is no reason (I can’t do this), but obviously this team needs to score too and that is something I have been doing for a long time.  It is not like Coach is trying to change my game, he is just trying to help me get better.”

Unfortunately, putting the ball into the hands of a player to initiate the offense, who has always been asked to score, only made the ‘sticking’ issue seem even more obvious.  In the past, Gay’s wasn’t expected to be looking to move the ball along or find the better option or make the pass that would lead to the pass for an easy bucket.  It would have been a shock if Gay had morphed his game quickly and easily into that of a point forward.

It was never reasonable to expect Gay to become a power forward, point forward or perhaps even a team’s star player based on the role he was most successful at in Memphis.  Gay had his best seasons as the second or third scoring option on a team with two All-Star big men that kept the attention off of him, big men that defenders did not leave to double or triple team Gay in the paint or on the perimeter.

However, the experiment being run by the Raptors using Gay wasn’t intended to sabotage his image.  Gay is being paid first option All-Star money.  The Raptors new President and General Manager, Basket Operations Masai Ujiri had to find out if Gay was worth his contract and he didn’t have a lot of time to figure it out.  The Raptors did not want to be laying out $19.3 million next season for a scoring small forward that wasn’t, as Casey described, ‘Leader, point forward, rebounder, defender’ plus a reasonably efficient scorer.

Gay is still a supremely talented player and playing as a second option behind the Kings star big man DeMarcus Cousins should help bring his numbers back towards his career averages.  The Kings are taking a lot of flak for taking on Gay’s contract after it was dumped by the Grizzlies and dumped again by the Raptors, but give Kings General Manager Pete D’Alessandro some credit for knowing who he just acquired.  If he puts Gay into situations where he is most likely to succeed, Gay should produce like he did in Memphis.  Then the only issue is the size of Gay’s contract and it should be pointed out, it’s not our money.

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

NBA Toronto Raptors Rudy Gay

Are Raptors Joining Tank Nation Trading Rudy Gay?

The Toronto Raptors may have joined the long list of teams tanking the 2013-2014 season by shipping Rudy Gay and friends to the Kings in an 7 player deal.

The key player coming back is point guard Greivis Vasquez who had a big season with New Orleans last year.

More to come.

NBA Toronto Raptors Rudy Gay

Raptors Demanding Still More From Rudy Gay

It has been a roller coaster kind of season for the Raptors star forward Rudy Gay. The demands on his talents have never been higher as this team’s success or failure will largely fall his shoulders this year.

In many ways Gay left a much more comfortable situation in Memphis where the roles were clearly defined and both the offense and the defense revolved around 2 supremely talented big men. It was pretty obvious the Raptors did not have the same talent level as the Grizzlies when he arrived in Toronto last January. The Raptors need more from Gay, much more in fact as the fan base is playoff starved and the new ownership and management group is promising a brighter future than the previous years of futility would suggest is likely.

Earlier this season, Gay found himself in the unusual position of playing a lot of small ball. Often moving up to the power forward spot and being required to provide more of a big man presence with rebounding and blocks. As the season progressed and the Raptors fell to dead last in assists across the league, Head Coach Dwane Casey asked Gay to add facilitator to his list of duties.

“He is our star player,” Casey said. “So he is going to have to have a lot of roles. Leader, point forward, rebounder, defender, in the end, he’s our guy and we have to roll with him. He has done a heck of job doing that.”

Assuming multi-role star player duties has come with mixed results. Gay is rebounding and blocking shots at a career best rate by a fairly big margin and his scoring is also on a career best pace as well. However, Gay is taking 4 more shots per game than his career average and he is shooting at below 40 percent from the field for the first time in his career. He is feeling pressure to produce points and he is often being asked to do it playing a position – power forward – that is new to him. Add in new duties as a facilitator at the offensive end and maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise that something was going to give – at least temporarily.

“It is not like (Casey) is trying to change my game or anything,” Gay said. “He is trying to add something to it. That is what we need, that is what he sees this team needs, so that is what I have to do.”

To add to Gay’s challenge, Casey is asking him to change roles throughout the course of each game as well, depending on the team’s needs. In the recent win over Washington, Gay played small forward, power forward, facilitator and finisher.

“He changed roles a couple of times (last game),” Casey said. “One, we had him in there as a facilitator with D.J. (Augustin) – a ball handler – and we spotted up D.J. and (D.J.) got the corner three. Then when Kyle (Lowry) came back in, he became the finisher. So, he changed roles a couple of times and that is what he has got to do. Being a facilitator is a new role for him – he will swear to you he is a point forward, but he is learning that role and he is doing a heck of a job for us because he is so big and tall that when they are blitzing, he can see over the traps.”

Throughout most of his NBA career, Gay has been a scorer and a finisher, someone who is particularly effective in the final moments of a close game. He filled that role again against the Wizards, scoring the Raptors final 9 points over the last 2.5 minutes and looked more comfortable doing that than at any point earlier in the game.

“There is no reason (I can’t do this), but obviously this team needs to score too and that is something I have been doing for a long time,” Gay said. “It is not like Coach is trying to change my game, he is just trying to help me get better.”

It is going to take time for Gay to adapt to all of the new roles Casey is demanding he fill on the Raptors this season and the results will be mixed, especially early on. Gay didn’t have to do all of this in Memphis. However, if Gay can figure it out, Casey’s demands will make him a better player and possibly help him reach the potential the Grizzlies saw in him when they signed Gay to that max contract back in 2010. It is worth it for Gay and the Raptors to find out.

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

Toronto Raptors Have 4 All-Star Ballot Players

The Toronto Raptors have 4 players on the 2014 NBA All-Star Ballot. Guards DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, plus forward Rudy Gay and centre Jonas Valanciunas can be voted onto the 2014 NBA Eastern Conference All-Star team by the fans.

NBA All-Star Balloting 2014 gives fans around the world the opportunity to vote daily for their favorite players as starters for the 2014 NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans via social media networks, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Fans can use Instagram to vote by posting an original photo, using #NBABallot and the player’s first and last name in the photo caption. Twitter voting allows fans to tweet a vote using the player’s first and last name, along with hash tag #NBABallot. Facebook voting allows fans to comment on official league, team, or international NBA All-Star Facebook pages by commenting below the post with #NBABallot and the player’s first and last name.

NBA fans can also access the ballot and vote through the NBA Game Time applications, available on Android and iOS. Other ways fans can cast their votes are on NBA.com/asb, through SMS voting by texting the player’s last name to 6-9-6-2-2 (“MYNBA”) or by visiting NBA.com/asb on any wireless device. (Message and data rates may apply.)

DeRozan web

This is DeRozan’s fourth appearance on the All-Star Ballot. He has represented Toronto twice in the Sprite Slam Dunk at NBA All-Star in 2010 and 2011 and started for the Sophomore Team in the 2011 Rookie Challenge & Youth Jam.

Kyle Lowry 1

Lowry is on the ballot for the third time in his career.

Rudy Gay 1

 

Gay is on the ballot for the seventh time. He was selected for the 2007 and 2008 Rising Stars Challenge and competed in the Sprite Slam Dunk during the 2008 All-Star Weekend in New Orleans.

Jonas Valanciunas in scrum

Valanciunas is making his first appearance on the All-Star Ballot.

The NBA All-Star ballot features 120 players, 60 each from the Eastern and Western conferences. There are 36 frontcourt players and 24 backcourt players from each conference to choose from. Fans can vote for up to three frontcourt players and two backcourt players from each conference per day.

Balloting concludes on Monday, Jan. 20, 2014 and the starters will be announced live on TNT on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014.

All the players on the NBA Eastern Conference and Western Conference All-Star Ballot are listed below.

2014 NBA ALL-STAR EASTERN CONFERENCE BALLOT

EAST BACKCOURT (24)
Arron Afflalo, Orlando
Ray Allen, Miami
Bradley Beal, Washington
Mario Chalmers, Miami
Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan
Raymond Felton, New York
Gerald Henderson, Charlotte
George Hill, Indiana
Kyrie Irving, Cleveland
Brandon Jennings, Detroit
Joe Johnson, Brooklyn
Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry
O.J. Mayo, Milwaukee
Victor Oladipo, Orlando
Rajon Rondo, Boston
Derrick Rose, Chicago
J.R. Smith, New York
Lance Stephenson, Indiana
Jeff Teague, Atlanta
Evan Turner, Philadelphia
Dwyane Wade, Miami
Kemba Walker, Charlotte
John Wall, Washington
Deron Williams, Brooklyn

EAST FRONTCOURT (36)
Carmelo Anthony, New York
Carlos Boozer, Chicago
Chris Bosh, Miami
Andrew Bynum, Cleveland
Tyson Chandler, New York
Luol Deng, Chicago
Andre Drummond, Detroit
Kevin Garnett, Brooklyn
Toronto Raptors Rudy Gay
Paul George, Indiana
Marcin Gortat, Washington
Danny Granger, Indiana
Jeff Green, Boston
Tobias Harris, Orlando
Spencer Hawes, Philadelphia
Roy Hibbert, Indiana
Al Horford, Atlanta
Ersan Ilyasova, Milwaukee
LeBron James, Miami
Al Jefferson, Charlotte
Brook Lopez, Brooklyn
Paul Millsap, Atlanta
Greg Monroe, Detroit
Nene, Washington
Joakim Noah, Chicago
Paul Pierce, Brooklyn
Larry Sanders, Milwaukee
Josh Smith, Detroit
Amar’e Stoudemire, New York
Tristan Thompson, Cleveland
Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas
Anderson Varejao, Cleveland
Nikola Vucevic, Orlando
Gerald Wallace, Boston
David West, Indiana
Thaddeus Young, Philadelphia

2014 NBA ALL-STAR WESTERN CONFERENCE BALLOT

WEST BACKCOURT (24)
Eric Bledsoe, Phoenix
Kobe Bryant, LA Lakers
Mike Conley, Memphis
Jamal Crawford, LA Clippers
Stephen Curry, Golden State
Goran Dragic, Phoenix
Monta Ellis, Dallas
Manu Ginobili, San Antonio
Eric Gordon, New Orleans
James Harden, Houston
Jrue Holiday, New Orleans
Ty Lawson, Denver
Damian Lillard, Portland
Jeremy Lin, Houston
Kevin Martin, Minnesota
Steve Nash, LA Lakers
Tony Parker, San Antonio
Chris Paul, LA Clippers
J.J. Redick, LA Clippers
Ricky Rubio, Minnesota
Isaiah Thomas, Sacramento
Klay Thompson, Golden State
Greivis Vasquez, Sacramento
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City

WEST FRONTCOURT (36)
LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland
Ryan Anderson, New Orleans
Omer Asik, Houston
Harrison Barnes, Golden State
Nicolas Batum, Portland
Andrew Bogut, Golden State
Wilson Chandler, Denver
DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento
Anthony Davis, New Orleans
Tim Duncan, San Antonio
Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City
Tyreke Evans, New Orleans
Kenneth Faried, Denver
Derrick Favors, Utah
Danilo Gallinari, Denver
Marc Gasol, Memphis
Pau Gasol, LA Lakers
Blake Griffin, LA Clippers
Gordon Hayward, Utah
Dwight Howard, Houston
Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City
Andre Iguodala, Golden State
DeAndre Jordan, LA Clippers
Enes Kanter, Utah
David Lee, Golden State
Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio
Kevin Love, Minnesota
Shawn Marion, Dallas
JaVale McGee, Denver
Markieff Morris, Phoenix
Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas
Chandler Parsons, Houston
Nikola Pekovic, Minnesota
Zach Randolph, Memphis
Tiago Splitter, San Antonio
Derrick Williams, Minnesota

Indiana Lesson: Raptors Rudy Gay Is A Small Forward

Rudy Gay 2The Toronto Raptors Rudy Gay has been struggling in his new role in Toronto of a starting small forward who switches to power forward for extended stretches of each game. It a role that seemed to work for the Raptors late last season, but it’s a role that has never really worked for Gay. After watching Gay’s performance in Indiana on Friday night, maybe it’s time to consider building the team’s rotation around what their best player is most successful at instead of trying to compensate for a lack of scoring with the team’s big men and forcing Gay to play out of position at power forward.

The Indiana Pacers are on another level when compared to the Raptors. The Pacers went to the NBA Eastern Conferences Finals and took the Miami HEAT to 7 games last year. They are legitimate contenders to represent the East in the NBA Finals this time around. The Raptors would be happy just to be in the running for a playoff spot in April.

All the rage in Indiana and around the league has been the emergence of Paul George as an All-Star and leader of his team. The young wing has improved his game each season and is one of the NBA’s leading scorers and better defensive players. The Raptors own broadcast crew couldn’t help themselves from gushing over him last night (get a room already).

However, last night, Rudy Gay out performed George offensively, held George to just 33 percent shooting and made key stops on George at critical points in the game. Unfortunately, Gay individual efforts were lost because the depth of talent on the Pacers won out at every other position – although, not really by all that much overall.

Gay had a great start to this game, George, not so much. The Raptors ran out to a 32-22 first quarter lead behind 14 points and 5-7 shooting by Gay. (See the full game story here.) The Pacers closed the gap in the second quarter with a 9-2 run when Head Coach Dwane Casey made the mistake (in hindsight) of putting 5 reserves on the floor together at the same time. When Gay returns, he blocks Ian Mahinmi in the paint, blocks George’s layup attempt and scores 8 more points to help the Raptors hold onto their now merger lead.

The third quarter started out bad for Toronto. The Pacers turned it up a notch. Starting at the end of the first half, the Pacers run up a 13-0 run before Gay stopped it by blocking a George layup attempt, drawing a foul on George to get to the free throw line for the Raptors first 2 points of the quarter and then stealing the ball from George on the next play. About the only thing that went right for the Raptors in the third quarter was when Gay stepped up his game to stop the Pacers run. Unfortunately, no one else followed suit.

The third was George’s quarter to score. George put in 17 of his 23 points in that quarter.

The 2 free throws were Gay’s only points in the third quarter, but Gay didn’t stop playing and scored 6 more in the fourth. A stepped up Pacers defense and the fact Gay was the Raptors only real scoring threat in this game meant things got a lot tougher on Gay after the first half. Playing almost 10 minutes in the fourth quarter, George somewhat disappeared and scored only 1 more point on a meaningless free throw with 11 seconds left.

The tail of the tape between these two small forwards with similar size, build and style of play was:

George had 23 points on 7-21 shooting, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals and 3 turnovers in 39 minutes.

Gay had 30 points on 12-26 shooting, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, 3 blocks and 2 turnovers in 35 minutes.

The Pacers were -3 points with George on the court. The Raptors were +3 points with Gay in the game.

The lesson in Indiana isn’t about which young small forward had the better game or might be the better player. The lesson is that Rudy Gay is a very good small forward who can score and defend against other very good small forwards. Perhaps Coach Casey should let his best player play the position he will be most successful at most of the time.

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

Raptors Rudy Gay Struggling In New Role

Rudy Gay 1It is only 5 games into the new NBA season, but the Raptors Rudy Gay is definitely struggling in his new role of combo forward in Toronto. Head Coach Dwane Casey may be correct that the best rotation he can put out there includes Gay putting in a lot of time at power forward, but so far Gay’s play has been headed in the wrong direction.

It has become obvious that the ball seems to stick when it reaches Gay’s hands, he is turning it over too often and his shot isn’t falling. Currently Gay’s turnover rate is one-third higher than his career average, his assist rate is less than half of what it was last year and his effective field goal percentage is 36 percent versus a career average of 48.2. About the only thing going right is his rebounding rate at 54 percent higher than his career average.

Gay knew the Raptors plans for him heading into the summer and he put a lot of time into his strength and conditioning so he would be ready for a full season playing his new role.

“That was one of the things I wanted to do going into this off season knowing I would have to play against different guys and bigger guys,” Gay said.

Gay knew what was coming, but maybe no one should be surprised by his early struggle trying to play more minutes at power forward. In Memphis Gay played behind two of the best big men in the game today, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, so small ball lineups never happened. In Toronto, Casey used him in this role for 33 games last season and the player stats provided by 82 games illustrate it didn’t go well.

Last season in Toronto, at small forward Gay had a 52.2 effective field goal percentage and a 21.2 PER. At power forward, he had a 37.9 effective field goal percentage and an 11.0 PER.

“I think it is mostly mental,” Gay said. “There are going to be times when I am not going to make shots – we are still going to have to find ways to win. I don’t think I’ve hit a shot in 5 games.”

The one area Gay has an advantage in early on has been rebounding. Gay has size, he is a legit 6’8 in shoes with a 7’3 wingspan. He’s quicker than the typical power forward and his skill level and athleticism is higher than most of the guys trying to cover him. Missing shots only seems to add to his desire to grab rebounds.

“I try to use my strength and quickness to get around and get to the ball,” Gay said. “I just want to help the team. It hasn’t been by shooting lately, so I have to get down there and get our team extra possessions.”

Gay is still the Raptors best player, even if it isn’t obvious some nights and it is going to take time for him to be successful in this new role, assuming he can adjust to it. Gay is at least embracing the challenge for now.

“It is a lot different,” Gay said. “(It is) just adding a new dynamic to my game. I welcome the challenge.”

Toronto is in a very tough stretch of games for the first two months of the season and it isn’t going to be easy to learn a new position going up against this level of talent on a regular basis. It might not even be easy to figure this out against some of the weaker teams. However, the Raptors seem to be committed to small ball and Gay seems to be accepting of his new challenge. Hopefully this very skilled forward can figure out how to switch back and forth between the two positions before the Raptors slip too far in the standings.

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

Raptors Season: Does Rudy Gay Have To Go?

Rudy Gay 1As constructed, the Toronto Raptors are a playoff team in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. Much of the media agrees and the rationale is obvious. A .500 club with Rudy Gay playing with a sore back and Andrea Bargnani dragging this team backwards with his own injury and conditioning issues enters this season with Gay healthy and Tyler Hansbrough and Steve Novak replacing Bargnani. This isn’t a hard argument to make. Our own prediction has the Raptors in 7th with a plus .500 record and lists six reasons the Raptors make the playoffs.

However, there is a fly in this positive ointment to coin a phrase. The Raptors season hangs on the production and game closing ability of Gay to move them out of the 9-12 slot and into the realm of 5-8. Fifth only because the brittle Knicks are pretty much the most suspect sure-fire playoff team in living memory and have their own issues with the possibility Carmelo Anthony opts for free agency next summer.

As everyone is aware, Gay can opt out of his contract after this season and while Raptors President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri has an easy decision to make if the Raptors season begins tanking on its own, he has a much tougher decision if the Raptors perform as expected right around the .500 mark or significantly overachieve early.

MLSE President and CEO Tim Leiweke hired Ujiri because of his track record of successfully dealing with just such difficult decisions in Denver as few general managers ever seem to handle this type of problem well – and certainly not in Toronto’s history.

Sometime this season Ujiri is going to address the elephant in the room. Does Gay want to stay in Toronto and will he prove it by either picking up his option for next season or signing an extension? Ujiri saved, nay improved the Denver Nuggets by sending Anthony to the Knicks for a boatload of assets when Anthony wanted to test free agency and someone who has done this before will not be afraid to do it again if push comes to shove.

Veteran journalist Frank McLean said recently, “Rudy Gay seems interested. He seems enthused. He is shooting free. I wonder if he is hoping that he gets traded at the deadline or if he actually likes it here. I hope he really likes it here and would like to stay.”

If a move has to be made to keep/make the Raptors franchise relevant in time for the 2016 NBA All-Star game to be hosted in Toronto for the first time there and the first time outside of the United States, Ujiri has to create an impact in Toronto similar to what he accomplished in Denver and he will have dance partners interested in Gay.

The Lakers, Mavericks, Wizards, Cavaliers and possibly even the Knicks could be among a long list of teams that could use and want to acquire Gay’s talents. Gay is the player who can push the Raptors into a playoff spot and he could have the same impact elsewhere. However, Leiweke and Ujiri have been dropping hints about the type of talent they would like to add and the word local – read Canadian – gets tossed around a lot.

The Lakers have Steve Nash and Robert Sacre, but neither of these Canadians would entice Ujiri on their own and the Lakers have very few other assets that provide anything but a salary dump opportunity. If a third team were to get involved, a deal could be possible. Ujiri doesn’t shy away from complicated transactions.

The more interesting opportunity lies directly across Lake Erie in Cleveland where there is an owner promising playoffs and a roster loaded with young talent that is likely still a year or two away on their own. If Andrew Bynum’s knees hold up as expected – his non-guaranteed contract makes him waive-able in January – Bynum becomes the filler owner Dan Gilbert could use to parlay a couple of young Canadians into a playoff roster with oomph.

Tristan Thompson looks like a solid player after 2 seasons, but not a star and Anthony Bennett was the first overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft, but if 5 different teams had held that pick, there would have been 5 different players selected first. This past draft resembled the Andrea Bargnani draft class and being taken first overall last June is likely to become more of a curse than a blessing. However, both of these players meet the Raptors organizational goals. They will both be solid NBA players or better and could be the first Canadians to be impact players on the NBA’s only Canadian team.

A deal with Cleveland could look something like Bynum, Thompson and Bennett for Gay, Hansbrough and Acy with the possibility of a first round draft pick headed one way or the other.

A starting line-up of Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Rudy Gay, Tyler Hansbrough and Anderson Varejao would be good enough to grab a lot of attention come playoff time. The arrival of Thompson and Bennett in Toronto would probably be enough to placate the fans and together with next year’s draft pick and some other savvy moves could end the rebuild in Toronto fairly quickly.

At this point, Gay is playing this situation like Ujiri with a wait-and-see approach, but this is not something the Raptors can ignore past the trade deadline and end up stuck in the worst of all possible worlds like in 2010 with Chris Bosh. A decision one way or the other is in the cards this season. A lot of people are hoping Gay really does want to stay in Toronto.

However, Ujiri’s wait-and-see approach is the right way to go for now. December 15 is the date most free agents signed during the summer become available to trade and after 6 weeks, teams are starting to face the reality of where their 2013-14 season is actually headed. Ujiri is hoping for the best that the Raptors are overachieving and Gay wants to stay, but he has to be preparing for every eventuality – it’s his job!

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

Big Weekend for Raptors Rudy Gay In Toronto

It’s been a big weekend for the Toronto Raptors Rudy Gay. Gay was named ambassador for the Kids, Cops and Computers program on Friday and he donated 22 laptops to the program. Then Gay followed it up with a fun event for his fans on a perfect Saturday in Toronto. Rudy was one of the first Toronto athletes to host a bike ride and ride his with fans along the path at Lake Shore and Ontario Place.

Gay invited his followers on social media a few days prior for a bike ride along Toronto’s Waterfront and brought special guests DeMar DeRozan, Amir Johnson, Aaron Gray, Quincy Acy, Dwight Buycks and Chris Wright. Hundreds of fans came out to enjoy this special opportunity. Canadian Tire donated the bikes the Raptors players rode.

As the Raptors players arrived they were greeted by their fans. Johnson said that it was great to see his teammates contributing their time and effort to give back to the city.

“I am happy that Rudy is organizing this bike event and being able to interact with the fans before the start of our Raptors’ season,” Johnson said.

It was quite interesting to see the 7-footer Aaron Gray trying on his bike. His massive long legs were touching the ground no matter how much he bent his knees. Gray talked about the odds of him surviving the bike route.

“Well, I don’t know, but this bike should be ok,” Gray said while examining his bike carefully.

Gay suggested Gray was the most at risk of falling off his bike during the ride. Bike riding was an activity Gay hadn’t done for a while, but he got the idea for this event when he picked up the activity again since coming to Toronto.

“Well I was riding my bike around the city of Toronto and I enjoyed this city and I thought it would be a great idea to ride the bike together with the fans,” Gay said.

It was a perfect weather for a bike ride, sunny with good breeze. After the ride, Gay treated the fans to popsicles and ice cream sponsored by Nestle and the Raptors signed autographs and took photos with the fans. It was a great event to get everyone hyped up and ready for the upcoming season!

MoVernie (Vernon Chang) has been covering events in Toronto, including the Toronto Raptors, since 2007. You can contact MoVernie on Facebook or read MoVernie on the BLOG.

Ujiri Leiweke web

Six Reasons The Raptors Make The Playoffs

Tim LeiwekeToronto fans have the right to be cynical about their team. The Raptors have missed the postseason for five years in a row and in what has become a theme in recent years, the players who were supposed to get the job done last year missed a significant number of games to injury – again. However, as new MLSE President and CEO Tim Leiweke explained on his introduction to Toronto, he inherited this situation, he didn’t create it. It is, however, his job to fix it.

Real change in any organization starts at the top and Leiweke didn’t waste any time putting his personal stamp on the team. The main reason the Raptors will make the playoffs this year goes all the way back to what Leiweke did before a single player move was made.

Ujiri basketball web1. President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri

Before the end of May, Leiweke reached out to the 2013 NBA Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri and offered him a lucrative 5 year deal to run the Toronto Raptors. Where former Raptors President Bryan Colangelo was burned when All-Star Chris Bosh became a free agent, Ujiri had made his team better by trading All-Star Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks. Where Colangelo was hesitant go after All-Star Andre Iguodala who had just one year left on his contract, Ujiri made the move and last season, the Nuggets had the most wins since they joined the NBA in 1976.

Colangelo is a highly respected basketball icon and top-ranked administrator, but where Colangelo is hands-on and was noticeably involved in how his teams were coached, Ujiri has a different approach. Ujiri believes it’s his job to acquire players that fit with his coach and based on how Coach George Karl was allowed to use the talent provided, Ujiri doesn’t stick his nose in his coach’s job.

A new GM is hired for the long term, so the biggest reason to expect the Raptors to make the postseason this year is Ujiri’s decision to stick with Dwane Casey, Rudy Gay, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan instead of blowing this roster up and starting over from scratch.

2. Head Coach Dwane Casey

To everyone’s surprise, Coach Casey got a group of offensive-minded players to defend in his first season with the Raptors and while there was some slippage defensively last year when Casey tried to generate more offense, that defense-first philosophy will be back front and center this season.

There was a lot of speculation about Casey’s future when Ujiri was hired, but Casey and Ujiri go way back and have seemed to be on the same page from day one. Where most of the coaching, scouting and executive staff has been replaced, Casey remains to provide some much needed continuity with the players.

Casey provides leadership and direction to this team as they wait to see if Rudy Gay, Kyle Lowry or possibly Jonas Valanciunas will emerge to fill that role. In the meantime, Casey has the respect of the players and he has their buy-in to his philosophy and the roles assigned. Even the somewhat stubborn Lowry changed his approach to match what Casey was looking for over the course of last season.

3. Rudy Gay

Rudy Gay has been filling up the stats sheet since he was a rookie in 2006-2007 with Memphis. For the past 6 seasons, Gay has averaged 18-20 points, 5.5-6.5 rebounds, 1.9-2.7 assists, 0.7-1.1 blocks and 1.2-1.7 steals every year and except for last season when he was the subject of trade rumors that started in training camp, he has shot 45-47 percent from the field.

Gay got a maximum contract extension from the Grizzlies in 2010 because it reflected his production and the current complaints about his salary are simply ignoring the realities in the NBA, even if the new CBA may have temporarily tamped down expectations. However, the Paul George contract extension says that’s over already.

Now the number one option again, Gay has a chance to recreate his impressive 2010-2011 stats and as a player who could become a free agent at the end of this season, Gay has every incentive to accomplish that.

Gay impressed Casey with his summer workout routine and the corrective eye surgery (it’s about time) that will improve his court vision and view of the rim. If a young veteran that should score 20 points per game can have a breakout season, it’s Gay.

4. Kyle Lowry

Last year Kyle Lowry got off to as fast a start with Toronto as was humanly possible. In his first 3 games he averaged 23.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 7 assists and 3.7 steals. He shot 57.5 percent from the field and 50 percent from deep. However, the Raptors went 1 win and 2 losses over that stretch and Lowry was playing with reckless abandon. That recklessness led to a bruised bone in his foot in his fourth game, a sore shoulder later on and those injuries eventually cost him his starting job to a more mature and reliable Jose Calderon.

This less than desirable start to his career in Toronto led to the inevitable speculation about problems between Lowry and Coach Casey, but it was Lowry that played a more controlled game in the second half of the season and his effectiveness improved because of it.

Post All-Star game, Lowry averaged 10 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists and 1.4 steals. He took fewer chances and got fewer steals, but he played Casey’s style of defense and the team was better for it. Lowry didn’t shoot as well in the second half, but shooting is something that should bounce back fairly quickly with a fresh start this season.

Casey reported Lowry was in great shape, not surprising as Lowry will be a free agent after this season. This is a very proud individual that has an edge to his game and wants to succeed. There should be little doubt Lowry will have a career year.

Jonas Valanciunas by Robertas Dačkus with permission (2)5. Jonas Valanciunas

A lot will be expected from the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month in March and NBA Summer League MVP Jonas Valanciunas. While many of the Raptors scoring plays will end up in the hands of Gay or DeMar DeRozan, Casey has stated his half court offense will run through his young center this season and there were plenty of examples of how that might work in Summer League.

Valanciunas has great hands and footwork around the basket to run an effective pick-and-roll or post-up and he has shown the court vision necessary to pass out of the double team to cutters or shooters. It’s a lot of responsibility for a 21-year-old, but Valanciunas looked like he was ready to take another step at the end of last season. In Summer League, it looked like he had spent a lot of time in the weight room.

Bargnani web6. Andrea Bargnani

Andrea Bargnani took an inordinate amount of fan abuse last season as he returned from a summer of not being to train properly as he rehabbed a calf injury and then suffered two separate elbow injuries that trashed the rest of his season. While it might not have been his fault, Bargnani became an anchor around the neck of the Raptors’ season punctuated by a 2-19 shooting performance against the Spurs on November 25. His problems, combined with the team’s other injuries, were almost totally to blame for the team’s 4-19 start.

In July, Ujiri managed to trade his anchor for a couple of draft picks, some badly needed salary cap space, two players to be waived later and the veteran three-point specialist Steve Novak. If Bargnani is healthy, he will help the Knicks, but there should be no doubt that Novak will give the Raptors more this season than Bargnani gave them last season. Casey had been stuck using Bargnani to spread the floor even though his big man was shooting just 30.9 percent from deep. Novak is a career 43.3 percent three-point shooter.

Where Novak gives Coach Casey the three-point specialist he had been requesting, Ujiri immediately used some of that salary cap space to sign free agent tough guy Tyler Hansbrough. Last year Casey was forced to use Bargnani to defend other skilled big men in the post as Valanciunas was a rookie and he didn’t have many options. This year Hansbrough provides a big strong physical force Casey can pair with Amir Johnson or this year’s bigger Valanciunas. The Raptors just got a lot tougher to push around.

Raptor MascotAre the Raptors better than last season?

After the acquisition of Gay, Toronto was a .500 club and that included a stretch where Gay’s effectiveness was impaired by a sore back. The current roster is deeper, tougher and has more three-point shooting last season.

Both Lowry and Gay should be expected to impress from day one and Valanciunas is ready to take another step. DeMar DeRozan is probably the third option in the starting lineup, but the 24-year-old shooting guard should be better than last year and he played well beside Gay last season. However, the most obvious improvement will likely come at the defensive end as Coach Casey implements his system in training camp with a group of players that are better suited to his style of play thanks to Ujiri.

This team should easily make the playoffs, but based on their past history, no one should be blamed for playing the show-me card.

Stephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre. A member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association, Stephen is the editor and publisher of Pro Bball Report. You can follow Stephen on twitter @stevesraptors

The Myth Rudy Gay Can’t Shoot Straight

There is myth making the rounds in the media and on NBA fan bulletin boards that Rudy Gay is a volume scorer, someone that can’t shoot straight and is one of the most inefficient players in the NBA.  A myth that is more based on Gay’s salary and the statistics of one tumultuous season than facts or reason can support.  What Gay did last year and the max contract the Grizzlies signed him to in July 2010 is how Gay is most often being evaluated this summer.  However, Steve von Horn in SB Nation quoted Rudy Gay’s former Head Coach Lionel Hollins about what Gay meant to the Memphis Grizzlies just before he was traded and in hindsight what Gay is bringing to Toronto.

“There are a lot of expectations that go with that (max) contract,” Hollins said.  “But as I’ve told all the players that sign a new contract, ‘you are still the same player.’  You can’t knock players for getting contracts because they have leverage. That’s what negotiating is all about.

“The reality is that we have a very versatile small forward that is 6’9.  There aren’t many guys out there like that.  He can post up, shoot from the perimeter [and] he can attack the basket.  He defends LeBron James, he defends Kevin Durant and all these guys that are tall and strong, and quick and athletic.  We don’t have another player on our roster with that versatility and most teams don’t.  That’s the bottom line.”

Rudy Gay has averaged 45 percent from the field and has a career true shooting percentage of 52.5 over his 7 NBA seasons.  While those are not exceptional shooting percentages, they are not in the chucker category either and as Coach Hollins has described, Gay can score from anywhere on the court and in a variety of ways.  Gay is one of those rare players a team can give the ball to in pressure situations and let him create.

Gay can also have an impact at the other end of the court.  In his second game with Toronto playing against Miami, Gay kept pace with LeBron James on a drive from the three-point line into the paint and blocked James’ layup attempt without fouling.  That kind of timing and athleticism on defense is rare.  Over his career, Gay has averaged 5.8 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 0.9 blocks.  Gay can do more than just score.

When Gay was drafted in 2006, Memphis was a very different team.  The Grizzlies won 22, 22, and 24 games during his first three seasons, but with the arrival of Marc Gasol in 2008, Coach Hollins later that season and Zach Randolph in the summer of 2009, things were about to get a lot better.  Randolph was an All-Star in his first season with Memphis and Gasol developed quickly as a strong post presence, so the 6’ 9 Gay found the paint a lot more crowded than he was used to.  However, he adapted quickly and Gay had the best season of his career going in 2010-2011 when it was cut short by a shoulder separation injury.

“Sometimes, circumstances dictate the kinds of shots you get,” Hollins said.  “When we have Marc and Zach on the inside, it’s hard to find a spot to put them when we want to post Rudy more.  Rudy’s adjusted to that from day one.”

Gay’s personal success that season was largely ignored and even downplayed after the Grizzlies unexpected run in the Conference semi-finals.  The next season was a transition year because of the lockout and the team was also in the process of being sold.  Gay’s personal stats were down slightly, but the team didn’t seem to be the same despite a solid regular season record.  New majority owner Robert Pera took over at the start of last season and things were about to change.

Gay was inconsistent at the start of last season and by the time he left Memphis; his shooting percentages were at a career low.  Maybe it was the back spasms reported in early December that derailed his season or the hiring of the advanced statistics prophet John Hollinger to advise the team, but hearing his name in trade rumors with the Bobcats, Wizards, Cavaliers, Raptors, Celtics, Timberwolves, Kings, Warriors and Suns probably had some effect, especially since those rumors seemed to be coming out of Memphis.  The louder the rumors got, the worse Gay seemed to play, right up until he was traded to Toronto.  Hollins, however, made it clear how he felt about too much reliance on statistics.

“We get hung up on statistics a little too much, and I think that’s a bad trait all over the league that’s taken place,” Hollins said.  “And the media has done it because it’s easy to go to the stats to make a point or to build up a player or tear down a player.  When it comes down to big shots, there’s only a few guys that will take those shots, want to take those shots, have the bravery and courage to take them because there’s a lot of criticism when you miss a shot. You have to be mentally tough and courageous to take those shots at the end of the game.  Analytics has a place. It can’t be the be all end all.  I’m still trying to figure out when the Oakland Athletics won a championship with all the analytics they have.  It takes talent.”

The Grizzlies missed Gay when they were swept in the Western Conference Finals at the end of May.

Toronto had 16 wins and 30 losses when Gay arrived and went 18-18 the rest of the way.  For a while it looked like Gay might actually help Toronto make the playoffs, but the team fell 4 games short.  A sore arm at the end of February and then back spasms at the beginning of March that turned into a stiff sore back for most of the month conspired against Gay leading the Raptors all the way back.  However, despite the setbacks, Gay was playing better than he had in Memphis.  In April, Gay shot 48.2 percent from the field and hit half of his 38 three-point attempts.

The big change for Gay in Toronto is the offense once again runs through him.  Gay is the Raptors go-to-guy and the team’s offense will be built around him this season. Raptors President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri wants to see what his team can do with Gay as their centerpiece and the small forward has his own incentive for performing at a high level.  Gay has a player option available at the end of this season.

Gay, who has refused to wear contact lens or glasses despite needing them for distance vision, finally had corrective eye surgery this summer.  Corrective eye surgery after years of needing glasses is an enlightening experience.  Gay will head into this season seeing the entire world – but more importantly the rim – clearly for the first time.  At Head Coach Dwane Casey’s insistence, Gay also added 10-15 good pounds to better enable him to take the physical beating he’ll experience as the Raptors number one option.  The difference in how the Raptors played when Gay was feeling good compared to when he was hurting was stark last season.  Casey needs a healthy Gay to win games.

Gay will show up at Raptors training camp motivated with his vision corrected and in good shape.  Last season’s trade rumors and sore back will be behind him.  The offense will run through him and as such, expectations for this season should be high once again.  Gay averaged close to 20 points on 47.1 percent shooting and 39.6 percent from three-point range, 6.2 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.1 blocks in 2010-2011.  This season, he is going to be given every opportunity to match or exceed that production.  The myth Gay can’t shoot straight is not supported by the numbers over his career and this summer, he has taken the steps necessary to play better than his best so far.

Stephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre.  A member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association, Stephen is the editor and publisher of Pro Bball Report.  You can follow Stephen on twitter @stevesraptors