By Brian Robb, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Rudy Gay is approaching the back nine of his NBA career and it appears he does not want to spend what’s left of it in Sacramento. Trade rumors have swirled around the 30-year-old small forward all offseason and Gay has fueled them once again after telling the franchise that he will opt out of the final year of contract for the 2017-18 season, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of the Vertical.
The former UConn star is set to earn $13.3 million next season and will reportedly be opting out of $14.3 million player option for 2017-18 campaign if he follows through on his vow to hit the open market next summer.
The move is a power play by Gay to force the Kings into finding a change of scenery for him sooner rather than later, instead of risking letting him walk away for nothing. Wojnarowski also indicates that the Kings asking price via trade has been too high for the forward in recent weeks but that it could come down as Gay increases his leverage.
Would making a run at a player like Gay make sense for the Celtics front office if the Kings’ trade demands diminish? Let’s take a closer look at the player and the two team’s rosters to see if there is a fit for either side:
How much would Gay actually help the Celtics?
There’s been a bit of stigma that’s followed Gay around the league in recent years and that comes for good reason. He’s only played in one postseason over the course of his 10-year career and teams have performed better following his departure in multiple destinations (Toronto, Memphis).
With that said, the Celtics are a team that still could use offensive upgrades and Gay would certainly provide that. He’s averaged 18.4 points per game in his career, including 17.4 ppg in his last season with the Kings. He’s been a below-average 3-point shooter in his career (34 percent) but he’s got the ability to create his own shot, a trait Boston’s offense lacked last season outside of Isaiah Thomas.
Other positives to his game include his efficiency at the free throw line (79 percent career) and being a solid rebounder for a small forward (5.9 boards per game over his career). There are some pitfalls as well (he has a reputation for being a ball stopper and he’s subpar defensively) but he’s never really had a coach like Brad Stevens that has the acumen to put him in the best situations to succeed. For a veteran who’s hungry to help a team, he’s a guy that could undoubtedly help Boston.
The bigger problem for the Celtics though is whether there would actually be enough minutes available here to keep Gay happy. With Jae Crowder penciled in at small forward and a 19-year-old Jaylen Brown waiting to be groomed behind him, Boston’s wing spot looks pretty settled for the long term. Gay would certainly be a strong bench asset behind Crowder and a small-ball option at the 4, but Gay has not come off the pine regularly since his rookie season. It’s unclear whether he’d be willing to make that sacrifice in Boston, especially during a contract year.
Is there a trade package that makes sense for both sides?
Boston’s superb roster management actually works against them in potential bigger deals like this, since it’s hard to find the salaries needed on their roster to match Gay’s $13 million price tag. The Celtics could throw one of their own future first round picks (a likely starting point for any deal for Sacramento) but those are likely to fall in the 20s, giving them limited value.
Players must be added from Boston’s end to make the money match (and add value to the deal). However, there are no clear names that the Celtics would be looking to move that match that criteria. Amir Johnson’s $12 million salary works, but he’s a likely starter for Boston and subtracting him for Gay doesn’t necessarily help the team. Tyler Zeller is another candidate, but he can’t be dealt until January 15th anyway after re-signing this offseason with the team.
Additionally, Sacramento already has a logjam in their frontcourt thanks to an influx of big men taken in the 2016 NBA Draft, limiting the value of a player like Zeller to them.
Boston could offer a collection of their numerous young prospects as well, but their salaries aren’t substantial enough to reach the $10 million needed to make a trade work. The Kings also don’t have the roster space necessary anyway to take on 3-4 additional players in an uneven trade. All of these factors demonstrate there is no clear path to a deal, unless it became a blockbuster with a bigger name (DeMarcus Cousins?) involved. At this point, Sacramento has shown no indication they want to go down that road with a new coach in place and a new arena opening up as well.
While Gay does fit the Celtics’ criteria for a deal in a few aspects (expiring contract keeps open future cap room, offensive upgrade), there’s no incentive to make such a big move for the franchise at this juncture since Gay isn’t considered a game changer.
The Celtics should keep tabs on the small forward, but unless there are a couple subsequent deals in place, don’t look for Gay in Boston anytime soon.
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.