Rudy Gay had already dressed and was ready to exit the arena when the media entered the locker room following Sunday's loss to the Utah Jazz. Gay, who regularly speaks to the media after games, had just finished scoring 6 points in 30 minutes. When a player is dressed and out of the locker room that quickly it typically means either the team lost and/or said player had a bad night. For Gay, it was both, but it wasn't just that. He is frustrated, and so are the rest of the players. The rookie Willie Cauley-Stein is speaking out about George Karl's rotations, the ever-positive Omri Casspi looks distraught, Darren Collison is running out of ways to explain the team's problems and DeMarcus Cousins is saying that in the midst of all the chaos the team is playing with frustration, not without energy.
Not many of the players on the Kings roster look more frustrated, distant and jaded this season than Rudy Gay.
When Gay arrived in Sacramento in the 2013-14 season, he turned his career around, proving that he can be an efficient scorer if he is in the right spot. Being paired with a dominant big man like DeMarcus Cousins seemed to be what he needed, just as Marc Gasol was to him in Memphis. The situation looked so positive, in fact, that he signed an extension with the Kings. Less than a month later, Michael Malone was fired and the first signs of frustration began to appear. Gay admitted that Malone factored in a lot with his decision to stay in Sacramento and by the end of last season he declared that his offseason goal was to figure out what the organization wanted from him.
Over the summer, George Karl and general manager Vlade Divac threw around the "stretch 4" tag when it came to Gay. This is mainly out of necessity as the roster wasn't built to include anyone else who could play that role. Gay said he would not try to play like a "traditional 4" when placed at that position. The high hopes of this season spread through the fans, front office and players. On opening night, Gay declared that "We want to be great. It's not an option to be bad, not anymore, not for us." The troubles of the past were behind them, right?
The losing streak began. By early November, the Kings were 1-7 and Gay admitted to being in the worst slump of his career. Rajon Rondo had entered the starting lineup and Karl continued his efforts to speed up the pace. Gay has often looked lost in a system that features Rondo and Cousins dominating the ball.
This year Rudy Gay has finished just 6% of possessions as the pnr ball handler shooting 60% - last year it was 21% of possessions— David Locke (@Lockedonsports) March 13, 2016
Gay shot 3-9 from the field Sunday as the Kings were handed their 40th loss. He went 2-9 from the field for 12 points against the Orlando Magic on Friday.
Following Magic game, 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. But it's tough and it's a growing experience. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger and I have to take this, share it with my children, or my nieces and nephews, or the next young player that comes up, share this experience with them."
The season has become so bad that he is going to share the experience with future generations as an example of how to overcome. Yikes.
Gay, who is making $12.4 million this season, is scoring 17.3 points per game, which his third lowest total of his 10 years in the NBA (ahead of his rookie season and his last season in Memphis). His 14.3 shots per game are the lowest since his rookie season and his assists are at 1.7 per game, the lowest since 2008-09. To his credit, he is still shooting 47 percent from the field and rebounding at a high rate (6.6 per game).
The stats, as usual, don't tell the whole story though. Gay has looked disengaged on the floor for most of the season. The free-flowing, Rondo-driven system doesn't complement Gay's skillset and the regular lineup changes haven't helped either. When asked if he has thought about trying to pick up his scoring, Gay responded with, "I try every game, but sometimes it's just not how it pans out, not how they want you to do it. So obviously, I'm trying to be the best teammate I can be, not cause too much of a disturbance about it, but just make myself a better player."
Gay admitted the team is tired and that there is some mental fatigue creeping in. The Kings problems go far beyond the guy who finally filled a persistent void at the small forward position a few seasons ago, but 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.
But then again, the same probably goes for every player in the Kings locker room.