Rudy Gay arrived in Memphis late Wednesday night, hours after the Sacramento Kings’ win at Minnesota.
He was delighted to have returned to the place he still calls home.
So much, in fact, that Gay was in attendance in FedExForum for Thursday night’s game between UConn and the University of Memphis.
Sitting a couple rows behind the Huskies’ bench sporting a UConn cap, Gay described his latest visit to Memphis coupled with his alma mater’s win against the nationally-ranked Tigers as a “perfect” situation, one that seemed unlikely at the start of the season.
That’s because Gay at the time was a member of the Toronto Raptors, who acquired the 6-foot-8 swingman last January in a three-deal after he spent five-plus seasons in Memphis. As Gay tells it, joining the Raptors was seemingly a “better situation,” in large part because this season was filled with much promise after Toronto finished strong last year with an 18-18 mark after adding Gay to its roster.
However, Gay’s subpar numbers in which he shot a frigid 38.8 percent from the field coupled with his massive contract — the former UConn star is expected to earn around $17.9 million this year — prompted Raptors management to act swiftly, thus resulting in the Baltimore native becoming the centerpiece of a seven-player deal that ultimately landed him with the Kings, who play the Grizzlies here Friday night at 7 CST.
Given Gay’s rather sanguine disposition following Friday’s shootaround in FedExForum in which he often joked and laughed with reporters, it’s safe to assume the former Grizzlies franchise player is adjusting comfortably with his new team, one that has played with much energy since his unceremonious arrival to Sacramento. For starters, the Kings have managed to hover around the .500 mark since acquiring Gay Dec. 9, having won eight of 17 games although they would have to make up much ground the second half of the season in order to secure a playoff spot.
“It’s tough because so much change has happened during the season, but we’re battling through it,” Gay told reporters after Friday’s shootaround.
Among Gay’s grandest battles in his brief time in Sacramento was surviving the wrath of Kings first-year coach Michael Malone. Following a Dec. 23 home loss to New Orleans, Malone not only said the Kings were a “bad basketball team,” but Gay was among the players he publicly called out for committing a team-worst six turnovers in the 13-point defeat.
According to Gay, such criticism was warranted, as were the harsh assessments that surfaced prior to his recent trade.
“He’s the coach,” said Gay, explaining Malone’s recent public ripping of the Kings. “I have no problems with him. He’s the coach. He wants the best for us and that’s how we approached it.”
Gay, to his credit, has since become the catalyst of a Sacramento team that is starting to hit its stride during a pivotal stretch in the season. Having started each of the 17 games since joining the team, Gay is currently the Kings’ second-leading scorer (20.8) behind DeMarcus Cousins (23.4). What’s more impressive for the Kings, winners of four of their last five, is that Gay’s field goal percentage has increased mightily since his relocation to the West Coast.
He’s shooting 52 percent from the field, which tops the rest of the Kings’ starters.
“We feel very fortunate to have him,” Malone said. “He’s a low-key kind of guy. I don’t know how much of a common influence he is, but he’s been a very good player for us. He’s been very efficient for us. Obviously, we put him out there with Isaiah Thomas and DeMarcus Cousins and that gives us players who can score at a high level, an efficient level. I think he was unfairly beaten and criticized about his time in Toronto. The fact that he’s scoring 20 points a game every night, making 52 percent of his shots, and rebounding makes him a complete player. He’s an efficient player and he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do.”
While the 27-year-old Gay has yet to say whether he will exercise his player option next season in which he is scheduled to make in the neighborhood of $19.3 million, he hinted that his primary objective moving forward is help revitalize the Kings as a relevant NBA foe, let along continue to silence the slew of naysayers who sensed his career was at a crossroads amid his recent trade to Sacramento.
So far, so good.
“I mean, the criticism…it is what it is,” Gay said. “Honestly, I wasn’t playing well. The same things they were talking about before, they’re not talking about it now.”
What better setting to profess such a dauntless declaration than the place he still calls home?