|The Raptors have parted ways with Rudy Gay, but what lies next at the Air Canada Centre?|
On Sunday evening, the Toronto Raptors sent swingman Rudy Gay, center Aaron Gray, and forward Quincy Acy to the Sacramento Kings in exchange for Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, Chuck Hayes, and John Salmons. This represents the second trade that new GM Masai Ujiri has executed after replacing Bryan Colangelo this summer, previously shipping Andrea Bargnani to the New York Knicks for a 2016 first rounder and second round picks in 2014 and 2017.
Acting without hesitation, Ujiri is turning overpriced multi-year deals into expiring contracts. Patterson and Vasquez are both expiring and could be flipped again before the trade deadline, while Salmons' contract is non-guaranteed next season. Assuming Gay opts in, Acy’s option is picked up, and Salmons is released, the Raptors free up a little over $14 million in this swap for next season, and about $8 million from the Bargnani deal.
Flipping Gay for anything was a must in an effort to properly rebuild and turn this team around. Gay has simply been atrocious this season, posting a career-low true shooting percentage (46.8%) and shooting just 38.8% from the field. Despite this ridiculously low percentage, Gay remains chucking, reaching a career-high in usage rate (30.3%), and this combination is probably the reason he banned the use of stat sheets in the locker room. As Sacramento continues to rush their rebuild process by adding another shoot-first player, Toronto was able to take advantage and free up some future cap space.
Toronto certainly isn’t done dealing either. With movable pieces like Vasquez, Patterson, Kyle Lowry (on an expiring contract), and DeMar DerRoan, the Raptors could enter a full-fledged tank mode in an effort to land hometown product Andrew Wiggins. We’ve certainly seen it happen before with LeBron in Cleveland and Derrick Rose in Chicago.
Lowry and Vasquez are both capable of starting, so at least one of them seems likely to go. However, the market for point guards could be full of sellers as the deadline approaches, with names like Jameer Nelson likely arising, and potentially better options like Rajon Rondo and Goran Dragic. Lowry isn’t shooting particularly well either (40.7%) but could still serve as an above-average three-point shooter on a contending team capable of running the second unit effectively. Vasquez’s assist numbers have dipped, but he still remains a consistent passer despite his defensive lapses. The Raptors could ultimately decide to flip one, or both, of their pair of point guards.
The real question with the Raptors now becomes whether the team will hang onto DeMar DeRozan, who could blossom without Gay taking so many bad shots. DeRozan hasn’t been terribly efficient himself, and often settles for long midrange shots. At the same time,however, he has finally shown some range, posting a career-high in three-point percentage (35.7%). Although DeRozan did sign a four-year $40 million deal last season and remains pricy, the Raptors might want to hold onto him and see if the twenty-four year old can continue to elevate his game.
Whether the team decides to trade DeRozan or not, Toronto must now focus on player development. Young center Jonas Valanciunas has shown flashes of promise as a consistent double-double threat with a promising offensive game and rebounding ability, but often got lost when DeRozan and Gay shared the floor. Hopefully with the departure of Gay, Valanciunas will see an increased role on the offensive end and continue to refine his post moves. The reigning Las Vegas Summer League MVP certainly has potential, and hopefully now will get a better opportunity to succeed. Amir Johnson should also see an increased role with more minutes available at the wing, and he did have an impressive game against the Lakers last night in their first game without Gay and is shooting an astounding 58.9% from the floor this season. Perhaps with more shot attempts available now that Gay and his 18.6 field goal attempts per game are in Sacramento, Johnson and Valanciunas can develop with DeRozan and build a solid foundation for Toronto.
By stockpiling picks and hoarding cap space, the Raptors are acquiring more flexibility by finding takers on bloated contracts. They definitely have a couple more moves up their sleeve, so it will be interesting to see if they can continue to obtain draft picks. It would have been nice if they had landed a young player like Jimmer Fredette from the Kings and taken a gamble on someone with promise in a bad situation, but instead the Raptors will continue to seek cap space and reshape their roster.