The Franchise NBA Free Agent No One is Talking About

03.01.10 8 years ago 30 Comments

Rudy Gay, Dime #25

It wasn’t too long ago — just a couple of months, actually — that Rudy Gay was a lock to put Memphis in his rear view mirror as soon as possible. Forget 2010 free agency; there was some talk that Gay could be traded before the February deadline to a contender in need of a scorer while Memphis insured itself against losing a young All-Star caliber talent for nothing.

“This much I do know: When the time comes, Gay’s people will laugh at Memphis’ $4.4 million qualifying offer, and the cash-strapped Grizzlies won’t match any big-money offer he gets as a restricted free agent. I also know Gay has been losing 70% of his games playing in half-empty arenas for a team with zero mainstream appeal his entire pro career.”

I wrote that back in December, when I predicted (whether traded or not) Gay would sign with Miami this summer.

But since then, the Grizzlies have been winning, Rudy (20.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg) has decisively taken over as the go-to guy ahead of O.J. Mayo, and it doesn’t seem so crazy that he’d re-up with Memphis. Because all of a sudden, he’s got a pretty good situation down there. The Grizzlies are currently 3.5 games out of a playoff spot. If they finish strong and get that 8th seed or something close to it, would Rudy feel compelled to finish what he started knowing he’d be the centerpiece?

Maybe, if in fact the Grizzlies can afford him. Next year’s cap is projected to be around $53 million. Because Memphis employs perhaps the League’s most underpaid big man in Marc Gasol ($3.4M for 15 ppg and 9.5 rpg) and Zach Randolph ($17M) is the only real monster contract, they can conceivably keep Rudy and keep a strong core group. Assuming the Grizzlies have no interest in re-signing Ronnie Brewer and Marcus Williams, and if they can give away one or two of their three first-round picks, they’ll have about $5-7 million to spend on the first year of a back-loaded contract for Gay.

But Rudy hasn’t made up his mind. And he’s definitely not swept up in loyalty due to the Grizzlies’ recent success. Over the weekend he was asked by a New Jersey paper whether he’d consider playing for the Nets.

“The record doesn’t mean much when you’re dealing with a team,” Gay said. “You’re thinking about yourself and how you can contribute, and that’s what other teams think. Wherever you feel like you’re wanted the most, that’s where you’re going to be.”

The record doesn’t mean much. Good to hear if you’re the Nets, Clippers or Wolves and you’re interested in Rudy Gay, but it has to be troubling if you’re the Grizzlies.

It means that even though you’re finally winning and could offer Rudy a legit shot at being The Man for a playoff team, he’s not going for the hometown discount. For a 23-year-old still waiting for that first big NBA contract, an alluring talent in line for a big payday after the biggest free-agent chips fall (LeBron, D-Wade, Bosh, etc.), it’ll be open season.

Where do you think Rudy Gay will end up?

Check out these other Memphis Grizzlies stories:

The NBA’s Top 10 Frontcourts

All-Star Weekend interview with O.J. Mayo

Mayo, Gay named to Team USA

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