Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin: Rudy Gay brings a lot to Kings

Ailene Voisin
Ailene Voisin

Andre Miller was a passing thought and, fortunately, the thought passed without Kings executives offering the Denver Nuggets anything of significance.

The calendar can be cruel. Not everyone ages gracefully.

The last thing the Kings need is a cranky, 37-year-old point guard who verbally and publicly blistered his coach for keeping him on the bench. What was it Miller said? Something about being disrespected?

Majority owner Vivek Ranadive saved the team. Now it’s about fixing and energizing a roster. The days of the Band-Aid approach – of salary dumping and desperate ill-advised moves – is yesterday’s news. Acquiring Miller only would have slowed the evolution of a team that is already too young and athletic to play so old and uninspired.

More dunks. More passing. More uptempo. And more playmaking opportunities for Rudy Gay are what’s needed.

While the Kings’ inquiry into Miller changed neither the status quo nor the roster, it speaks to the mindset of those who occupy Ranadive’s front office: They value point guard Isaiah Thomas highly but still perceive him as a natural scorer better suited to coming off the bench. They are pleased with the development of DeMarcus Cousins, particularly in light of the fact he signed a four-year contract extension for maximum money. They plan to continue building via conventional means – the NBA draft, trades and free agency – and will not be wimps when it comes to taking chances, as evidenced by the recent swap for Gay and his hefty contract ($17 million this season with a player option for $19 million the next).

“The thing I’m happiest about is that all the analytics people came out and made Rudy Gay the poster child of inefficient NBA players,” Kings coach Michael Malone said Thursday after practice. “All we heard was that he was shooting 38 percent in Toronto, taking too many shots, that he was awful. But when we made the deal, we didn’t look him as a Raptor. We looked at him as a player. He was very good when he was with Memphis, and in his 13 games with us, he’s shooting 51 percent.”

Gay’s value thus far isn’t reflected in the Kings’ 5-8 record since the trade that sent Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, Chuck Hayes and John Salmons to the Raptors. His presence has deepened the overall talent base and solved a small forward conundrum that has vexed the franchise since Ron Artest left and became Metta World Peace.

As the 6-foot-8 Gay demonstrated again during Tuesday’s 123-119 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers, he is an almost ideal complement for Cousins, a brute around the basket and an increasingly versatile, nuanced scorer. Because Gay can burn opponents with high-arching jumpers, elbow isolations, low-post moves, as well as with passes and pick-and-rolls, defenders these days are less inclined to sag into the lane and double/triple-team the fourth-year center.

“As talented as DeMarcus is, we have to mix it up, keep teams off balance,” said Malone, adding that he also hopes to better exploit Gay’s playmaking skills.

Thoughtful and engaging, Gay, who is averaging 20.5 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists since joining the Kings, welcomes the chance to redefine his game. He hears the critics and reads the depictions of him as a volume shooter, an inefficient scorer, a declining performer perhaps not fully recovered from a shoulder injury.

“Honestly,” he said with a laugh, “if you don’t want me to be a volume shooter, don’t draw plays for me. If you don’t want me to be a scorer, don’t tell me to be a scorer. If you want me to play a playmaker, just tell me to be a playmaker. Now, if you let me just be me, the way I have been since I got here, like I was in Memphis, I can do all of those things pretty efficiently.”

His pairing with Cousins, he says, reminds him of his days with Marc Gasol in Memphis.

“Cuz can move the ball, but everybody has to move,” Gay said. “When he gets the ball and everybody stands around, it frustrates him. That’s not the way to play basketball. But the fact that I’m here helps him.”

Asked how he is adjusting to the West Coast, he smiles again.

“I think both teams got out of the trade what they wanted,” Gay said. “In Toronto, we had too many players with the same game. This trade was good for me. This gives me a chance to start my legacy and hopefully finish my legacy right here. None of (the stats matter) if you don’t win games. And we want to win games.”