Center Aaron Gray spent less than a full season in a Kings uniform after arriving in a trade from Toronto in 2013. But in one way, the now-retired 7-footer is still influencing the roster.
Gray and forward Quincy Acy both landed in Sacramento as part of the seven-player trade in December 2013 that also brought forward Rudy Gay to the Kings. When Acy, now in his second go-around with the Kings, broke into the NBA with the Raptors in 2012, Gray took him under his wing.
“He was my vet when I was a rookie,” Acy said. “He came in every day ready to work with me during my rookie workouts. He stretched every day after practice, conditioned every day after practice. He just showed me how to be a pro.”
Acy occupies what he calls a “garbage man” role for the Kings. He played in just six of the team’s first nine games this season and went nearly two weeks in December without seeing the court. When he isn’t playing, Acy often can be seen jumping around on the Kings’ bench and waving a towel in the air, cheering.
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When he does play, he’s counted on to bring that same energy and effort to the court.
“I’ve kind of been a garbage man my whole life, doing the dirty things, diving on the floor, getting loose balls, sticking my nose in there,” Acy said. “I’m not the tallest, I’m not the fastest or the most skilled. But you’re not going to out-work me.”
Acy said he gleaned the attitude partly from Gray, who played a similar backup role for much of his seven NBA seasons before retiring last year due to health complications. Gray did have the benefit of a 7-foot, 270-pound frame, whereas Acy, at 6-foot-7 and 240 pounds, is often at a size disadvantage when guarding opposing frontcourt players. But when the Raptors drafted Acy out of Baylor in the second round of the 2012 NBA draft, Gray said, he recognized other characteristics in the rookie.
“He was the type of guy people wanted to help ; they wanted him to be successful. Just a hard-nosed guy,” Gray said on the phone. “Especially someone like me, who patterned my game after being physical and bringing toughness to the game, I was immediately drawn to him.”
Acy said he patterned his routine of lifting weights, conditioning and shooting after seeing how Gray kept himself ready to play despite limited minutes. Gray also helped guide Acy through the mental trials of his rookie season, when Acy appeared in just 29 games for the last-place Raptors.
“I was able to show him that not every person in this league is going to be a 35-minutes-every-night player,” Gray said. “But you can make a lot of money and have a huge impact on a team just by example, just by doing the things that you can control. And I think that’s what he’s done a great job of.”
Given a chance recently to play more minutes with Omri Casspi sidelined by upper back soreness, Acy has started four straight games and over his last three is averaging 13.0 points and 4.3 rebounds in 21.0 minutes, shooting a combined 15 of 17 from the floor.
Saturday, Acy drew the difficult task of guarding dynamic Warriors forward Draymond Green. One late decision to leave Green and double-team a driving Klay Thompson backfired when Thompson found Green for an open three, and hinted at Acy’s rustiness. But Acy also made a trademark hustle play in the second quarter, going after the rebound on a missed free throw that resulted in Green deflecting the ball out of bounds. Green was given a technical foul for arguing the call as Acy walked away, grinning and clapping.
“Whatever is required of me to do, I feel like I can go out there and do it,” Acy said after the game. “If I don’t play 10 games and (coach George Karl) throws me out there, I feel like I can still come out there and do what I’m called to do.”
Gray’s playing career ended prematurely after a blood clot was discovered in his heart in 2014, but he continues to work in the Detroit Pistons organization, splitting his time between working with Detroit’s post players and serving as an assistant coach for the Pistons’ NBA Development League team in Grand Rapids. Gray said he also checks in every two weeks with Acy, who still draws on advice Gray gave him as a rookie.
“He’s the reason I’m still in the league,” Acy said.
To illustrate what drew him to Acy, Gray recalled a story from one of their first practices in Sacramento. It was less than a week after the trade, Gray said, and then-head coach Mike Malone was running a drill in which the Kings’ post players had to go up against each other one-on-one. That meant the undersized Acy guarding players like DeMarcus Cousins, Jason Thompson and Gray himself.
“He probably ended the drill with 15 fouls, but not one of us could get a bucket,” Gray said. “He was there to establish himself and let everybody on the team know this is what he does, and this is what you could expect from him every day.”