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What I Learned From Rudy Gay

Don’t judge a book by its cover, or something.

Sacramento Kings v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

With news coming down over the last several days that Rudy Gay would be opting out of his contract for next season and entering unrestricted free agency this summer, I wanted to get something that has been rolling around in my head recently out into the world before he leaves Sacramento for good. First and foremost, here is my obligatory thank you, Rudy Gay. I definitely think it’s time for both parties to go their separate ways, but I have nothing negative to say about Gay’s tenure in Sacramento. He did everything you could reasonably expect him to do, on and off the court. I applaud him for that. It wasn’t a smooth ride, but he handled it with class.

When the Kings traded for Rudy Gay in December of 2013, I couldn’t have been less excited. I didn’t hate the trade, per se, because the Kings didn’t really give Toronto anyone that I was sad to see go, but I just didn’t want to watch Rudy Gay play basketball. I could avoid him in Toronto. I couldn’t avoid him in Sacramento.

His on-court reputation around the league couldn’t have been worse. You never really heard anything negative about him off the court, or in the locker room, or any of that stuff, but his game was... not beloved. There was a lot of iso ball, a lot of bad shot selection, a lot of average-to-below-average defense, etc. I don’t think any top-50 player had a worse on-court reputation at the time.

I’m not suggesting that reputation wasn’t earned, I didn’t watch him enough in Toronto to make that call myself, but NBA people I trust were not Rudy Gay fans, and I’m putting that lightly. His numbers certainly backed those opinions up.

The Rudy Gay I thought the Kings were getting, and the Rudy Gay the Kings got, were two completely different players. I was so wrong about that guy, and I’m happy to admit that now. Gay played some really good basketball in Sacramento, and because it’s Sacramento, and because the team wasn’t any good, I don’t know how much his time here actually fixed his reputation around the league, but it should have. He’s a good player, and an even better guy.

I’m glad he played here, and I learned a valuable lesson in not writing players off before giving them a chance to succeed. Rudy Gay was a bad fit in Toronto, and at times, he was a bad fit in Sacramento (the George Karl era didn’t do him any favors) but after watching his numbers improve in Sacramento, and then plateau into what resulted in an effective basketball player, I can say with confidence that he’s not a bad player. Not at all. He’s going to help someone, provided they don’t put too much of the scoring load on his shoulders.

Fit is so important. It’s an obvious statement, but something we overlook all the time despite how obvious it is. J.R. Smith’s NBA career was nearly over before Cleveland got their hands on him, and look at what he’s doing now. Marco Belinelli couldn’t have been worse in Sacramento last year, and he just turned in a pretty good season for the Hornets. It doesn’t always work out. The Kings took a chance on Rajon Rondo, and that didn’t work out. The Kings took a chance on Matt Barnes, and that didn’t work out, but you just can’t write guys off that have a decent history of success. Rudy Gay is a huge example of that. The same could be said about Ty Lawson. I’m going to try and remember this in free agency. When the Kings trade for Evan Turner, though, fair warning - I’m going to lose my mind.

Gay settled in to that second offensive option role quite nicely here. I don’t know how much he’s going to lose from his game after tearing his achilles, but I’m rooting for him. The level of professionalism he displayed while wasting the prime of his career in an organization going nowhere was extremely impressive, so good luck to Rudy Gay, and thank you for the lesson. I hope I can remember this for the Kings’ next reclamation project.