MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Rudy Gay understood that when he was acquired by the Kings last month, he was expected to be more than a good player.
Most of the Kings have not played on a winning NBA team. Gay had not only been on good teams, hed been a key player on those teams. Hed been around prickly personalities and a losing culture and saw firsthand how that can change for the better.
That happened with the Memphis Grizzlies, who acquired Gays draft rights from the Houston Rockets in 2006. Gay didnt become an All-Star for the Grizzlies, but he established himself as a versatile wing scorer before being traded to Toronto last January.
Gay is trying to bring the lessons he learned in Memphis to the Kings as Sacramento plays the Grizzlies tonight at the FedEx Forum in the third stop on their six-game trip.
I had some great experiences, Gay said. Being there early and not winning was probably one of the best experiences for me. It taught me how to be a pro, learn how to win, how to play with different guys and hustle; how to deal with different personalities. I really grew from a boy to a man.
Gay is the most accomplished veteran among several young Kings trying to mature as men in the NBA. Hes playing his best as a King lately, helping Sacramento win four of its past five games. In that span, Gay has averaged 23.8 points on 59.5 percent shooting, including a season-high 33 points in Wednesdays 111-108 win at Minnesota.
In 17 games with the Kings, Gay is averaging 20.8 points on 52.6 percent shooting while the Kings (14-23) are 8-9 with him in the lineup. Gays résumé makes him a leader on the Kings, even if hes only been around a little more than one month, and hes adjusting well in that role.
I speak up from time to time, but I still think it takes time, Gay said. Some of these guys have played together for their whole career, and it takes time for me to come in and be that vocal leader. Im more leading by example now.
The example on the court has been that of an efficient scorer who is accountable to his teammates and wants the same in return. Kings coach Michael Malone said Gay has been vocal in the right way, and his viewpoint has been welcomed and needed.
His play has been outstanding for us, but I also think he brought instant credibility and respect because of his ability as a player, Malone said. And he also brought a fresh perspective and attitude and understanding of how we need to stay together as a team, support each other and treat each other at all times. From all perspectives, Rudy has been a blessing for us.
Gays presence on the court has given center DeMarcus Cousins the kind of threat on the perimeter hedidnt have in his first three seasons, and Gays versatility on offense allows the Kings to use him as a scorer and facilitator, which makes the team tougher to defend. As Cousins noted before Gays arrival, opposing teams put the bulk of their attention on him and guard Isaiah Thomas.
Hes been very good, Cousins said of Gay. He doesnt mind speaking his mind when the time is appropriate. Its been all good. Its just a matter of us continuing to grow and continuing to click as a team.
Gay has tried to emphasize the importance of hard work and details needed to win in the NBA. Kings coaches, present and past, have stressed the same without success.
Gay said losing can become a habit in the NBA.
I learned how hard it is to be a consistently good team from year to year because, obviously, Ive been on both ends of the spectrum, Gay said. Its tough, and (Memphis is) where I learned that.
As a rookie, Thomas tried to fill the leadership void. Now in his third season, Thomas said the addition of Gay, Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy from Toronto has changed the Kings locker room for the better.
And that change is making its way to the court.
(Gays presence) means a lot, Thomas said. (Hes) a guy thats just a leader by example, a guy thats a hell of a player, a talented player that does a lot of great things for us. Its good that we made that trade.