The Rudy Gay era with the Toronto Raptors began with a seat on the bench and what better vantage point to gauge the heavy lifting that is sure to come.
It was a rather hectic day for the new saviour of the NBA team that started with an early morning flight to Toronto for a noon-hour meet and greet with the media.
After that there was the matter of passing a medical so that Wednesday’s trade with the Memphis Grizzlies could be made official.
And then it was off to the study room with head coach Dwane Casey to try to learn all the nuances of the Raptors playbook.
A cynic might suggest that couldn’t have taken much more than 15 minutes or so for a team that has lost almost twice as many games as it has won.
With game time rolling around against the Los Angeles Clippers, Casey made the call to keep Gay out of the starting lineup.
You can bet that won’t be a recurring theme.
Gay came off the bench with just over five minutes left in the first quarter to a standing ovation from the charged capacity crowd of more than 19,000.
He responded with 10 points before the quarter ended, including a couple of satisfying alley-oop throw downs that wound up the fans even more.
Not bad for a guy still obviously feeling his way.
The Raptors (17-30) were on their best behaviour all evening for their new star pupil, steamrolling to a 98-73 victory over the Clippers (34-14), who were playing without injured point guard Chris Paul.
Gay finished with a team-leading 20 points, knocking down eight of his 16 shots. Amir Johnson chipped in with 19 points and 16 rebounds while DeMar DeRozan also netted 19.
Not only was it Gay’s debut but the Raptors also welcomed rookie Jonas Valanciunas back into the lineup after a lengthy layoff recovering from a broken finger.
“It was just good to get a win, get out there and play basketball,” Gay said after the game. “There’s been so many other things going on, this is my first time actually going through it. It just felt good to play basketball a little bit.”
After a horrible 4-19 start, the Raptors have played better of late but are still a long shot to make the playoffs.
The acquisition of Gay has at least deflected a lot of the attention away from what has been a disappointing season.
Suddenly there is a bit of optimism, a feeling that team president Bryan Colangelo, who is angling for the option on his contract to be picked up at the end of the season, will no doubt mine to the hilt.
“We’re glad it happened, we’re glad it happened now,” Colangelo said of the acquisition of Gay. “We feel like, if we’re going to make a run here, this year, we’re going to do it earlier rather than later.”
Not everybody was enamoured by Colangelo’s work.
“Trade B.C,” read a hand-printed sign held up by one gentleman, who must have been a Jose Calderon fan, sitting in the platinum seats.
Colangelo said it has been part of the rebuilding blueprint for the team to add a dynamic wing talent such as Gay and that he was one of three names on the team’s get list.
“Obviously we feel that immediately Rudy raises the talent level of our team,” Colangelo said. “We feel like we’re on our way.
“We have been building – slowly – which is always the case. And this certainly accelerates the process.”
Coming from a Memphis team loaded with talent and still constructed to make a deep run in the playoffs to a wannabe outfit such as the Raptors, Gay realizes the weight of the Canadian franchise will be on his shoulders.
“I think more than anything a franchise person has to understand that it’s a team game,” Gay said. “I’m not coming here just to score a lot of points. I’m coming here to make my team better.
“Some nights it me be scoring points, some nights it might be assists, some nights it might be rebounds. But as long as those W’s keep adding [up].”
Asked if he was ready for such a responsibility, Gay didn’t hesitate in his response.
“I was born for it,” he said.
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