When the Memphis Grizzlies welcome the Orlando Magic to FedExForum on February 22, one day after the trade deadline, small forward Rudy Gay believes he will still be a part of the team.
At least that is what Memphis’ franchise player said after the Grizzlies’ film session and shootaround at the team’s practice facility Saturday afternoon.
Gay was responding to a report Friday on Grantland.com in which it revealed that according to league sources, team officials have engaged in preliminary talks with other teams that the possibility exists they could be open to trading the seven-year veteran prior to the NBA’s February 21 deadline.
“As of right now, yeah, I do,” said Gay, when asked if he believes he will finish out the season in Memphis. “I do. Nobody has said anything to me about it, so I do.”
While Gay admittedly realizes why his name has surfaced repeatedly in trade talks in recent years, he said his primary focus in the meantime is to help steer the Grizzlies out of their recent funk. Gay, who leads the Grizzlies in scoring with 18 points per game, has been inconsistent offensively for a Memphis team that was dubbed a legitimate title contender weeks into the season.
The Grizzlies, who manufactured the NBA’s best record for a majority of November after winning 12 of 13 games, limped to a 7-7 mark for the month of the December, a sequence that has only caused discussions surrounding Gay’s future with the Grizzlies to resurface approximately six weeks before the trade deadline.
Gay, 26, signed a five-year contract extension worth a reported $82 million in July 2010. Among the reasons the team reportedly has expressed to other teams that Gay could be available via trade in the coming weeks is that the Grizzlies have eclipsed the luxury tax by more $4 million, something the franchise must address in the foreseeable future to avoid tax penalties by the league.
“It’s going to keep happening,” Gay said in assessing such trade discussions. “Because of our salary cap, someone has to go. I mean, I love playing with my teammates and (team officials) may find different ways (to reduce salary). But I guess the easiest target is me and it’s always been me, so I’m not worried about it. If that’s the way you want to do business, I guess that’s what you’ve got to do.”
When asked if he is aware of the latest report that mentioned a potential trade involving the team’s franchise player, Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said his primary focus was Sunday night’s game at Phoenix, the first of a three-game road trip for Memphis.
“You will have to talk to (managing partner and CEO Jason) Levien and his staff about that,” Hollins said. “Those are the guys who are in charge of making those decisions.”
Given the Grizzlies’ less-than-stellar play of late, trading Gay, by all accounts, would only land the team under this year’s luxury tax line. That’s because unlike two years ago, when the Grizzlies staged their best postseason run in franchise history with Gay sidelined with a season-ending shoulder injury, Memphis has struggled mightily whenever key players have witnessed their effectiveness reduced or missed a significant amount of action.
Such was the case in Friday’s 86-84 loss against Portland in FedExForum. Playing without power forward Zach Randolph, the NBA’s leader in double-doubles and the Memphis’ second-leading scorer who was battling flu-like symptoms, the Grizzlies’ frontline combined for 10 of the team’s 12 points in the decisive fourth quarter.
Still, the Grizzlies (21-10), losers of four of their last six heading into Sunday’s game against the Suns, had three opportunities to win it in the game’s final minute. Two of those possessions resulted in missed baskets by Gay. His first attempt, a baseline turnaround shot over Portland’s Wesley Matthews with 16.9 seconds remaining, failed to draw rim. Then, with the Grizzlies trialing 86-84 and a chance to force overtime, Gay misfired on a 22-foot shot as the final horn sounded.
Following Saturday’s brief shootaround, Gay once again was peppered with questions surrounding trade talks about which he said he’s accustomed to hearing.
“I’m aware of it,” Gay said. “But it’s not the first time and it probably won’t be the last. I mean, in the NBA, people speculate and call it what they want to call it. You know, if it happens, it happens. If not, it’s not. It doesn’t make me any different of a player. I’m going to keep grinding it out like I’ve been doing.”