Through the ebb and flow of his career, including these confusing, turbulent times with the Kings, Rudy Gay has remained Rudy Gay. His personality doesn’t change with the climate. He is a straight shooter – unfailingly gracious, thoughtful, transparent – even when the jumpers don’t fall, the assists dwindle, the victories diminish.
So what you see reflects exactly what is happening. Other than DeMarcus Cousins, who was sidelined with viral meningitis and admittedly guilt ridden about Michael Malone’s abrupt firing, no player was more shaken by the move. And while Cousins, in fact, appears to be adapting to a new coach and a new dynamic, Gay still feels as if he is wearing two left sneakers.
On-court images of the Kings veteran offer a clear link to his state of mind/heart. There are animated gestures toward teammates, fist clenches and arm thrusts as he runs the floor, and uncharacteristic headshakes as he slowly walks toward the bench.
Inside Sleep Train Arena, few secrets exist these days. Hard feelings linger. Gay feels betrayed after signing a three-year extension partly because of his connection with the departed coach, angered because the timing of the decision was so irrational, and unsettled because the team is faltering. He also is frustrated because he can’t figure out his role and therefore can’t fix what’s broken.
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“I feel lost,” Gay admitted. “I feel like I’ve changed my game to be more of a playmaker. I’ve made an effort to do that. At times I get lost out there. But everybody is lost. There is no movement, no offensive movement, no defensive movement. We get very stagnant. That’s a big part of our problem.”
“Actually, that is our problem,” he continued, forcefully. “But I can’t give you an answer. As a player, I have to find how to be most productive in any situation.”
For most of his time in Sacramento, the long-limbed, 6-foot-8 small forward has been a primary scorer, capable defender, increasingly willing passer and surprisingly adept playmaker. But he is at his best, as are all players, when the execution is crisp, everyone is engaged, and the effort is collaborative. And, lately, Sleep Train has been a “my turn, your turn” house of horrors, a house of funk.
Friday’s second half against Denver was a microcosm of current ailments, a familiar replay of weeks, months and recent seasons past: too much dribbling, too much standing around, too little defense, minimal energy, not enough boxing out, another disturbing defeat.
The extra pass – the essence of teamwork and cohesiveness – was nonexistent, with culprits aplenty. Gay, who is averaging a career-best 4.3 assists, was an efficient 9 of 15 but contributed no assists. Cousins, for all his prodigious talents and gawdy stats, committed seven turnovers and missed open teammates in the corners.
“Obviously, when you’re winning, there are sacrifices you have to make, and I don’t think we’re willing to make them right now,” Gay said, thoughtfully, bluntly. “Ball movement is a part of it. Sometimes you give up a good shot for a great shot. You have to trust your teammates on defense, and you have to trust the defensive sets. We started doing that in the beginning, but when things start happening, you’ve got to go back to basics.”
The blame ultimately rests with the head coach, of course, but that’s far too convenient. Most of the players insist that changes to the offense and defense are subtle and simple, and that chatter about adopting a much faster style of play has been overstated.
Yes, they are confused. Yes, their loyalties rest with Malone. But at some point they have to accept their circumstances and reach an emotional accord – Cousins and Gay in particular – and make an effort to get it together on the court.
Tyrone Corbin is the coach. The season is slipping away. And as Corbin said after practice Saturday, “We’re disappointed we lost the game, but it’s not the end of the world.”
Perspective. Global view. Reality check. This is a game. This is just a game. Commitment, collaboration and passion tamp down a multitude of systemic problems. That would be a start, anyway.