It is Masai Ujiri’s team now. And there will be a lot of work to do.
The NBA’s 2012-13 executive of the year, awarded for his work with the Denver Nuggets several weeks before he joined the Raptors as general manager last spring, has made the defining move of his short time in Toronto: a blockbuster seven-player trade that emerged late Sunday.
Out is Rudy Gay and the $37-million owed to him this season and next. In the deal officially announced Monday, Gay is going to the Sacramento Kings, along with centre Aaron Gray, and small forward Quincy Acy. Four players, none particularly noteworthy, are going to the Raptors: guard Greivis Vasquez, forward Patrick Patterson, forward John Salmons, and forward Chuck Hayes.
Gay did not play on Sunday night in Los Angeles as the Raptors took on the Lakers, neither did Gray or Acy. Before the game, Toronto coach Dwane Casey confirmed the trio would be out but parried questions on the trade.
“We won’t have three guys tonight,” Casey told reporters. “Nothing is official.”
Moving Gay catapults the Raptors toward an overhaul of a team that has missed the playoffs for five seasons. Reviving the Raptors is the No. 1 priority of Tim Leiweke, who became boss of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. earlier this year after a long successful run at Anschutz Entertainment Group. Leiweke’s first major move was hiring Ujiri.
The Raptors opened this year unexpectedly strong, buoyed somewhat by their membership in the woeful Atlantic Division, but have since faded, losing five in a row before Sunday night. Before the season, Ujiri said it would be 25 games or so before he’d have a true handle on his roster. The Gay trade comes not much earlier than Ujiri suggested, with the 6-12 Raptors playing their 19th game of the season in Los Angeles on Sunday.
Gay, a small forward in his 8th NBA season, came to Toronto from Memphis last January, a deal in which the Raptors traded guard Jose Calderon and forward Ed Davis.
Gay has consistently scored near 20 points a game in his career. With the Raptors this season, he’s averaging 19.4 points with 7.4 rebounds and 2.2 assists.
Sacramento, second last in the Western Conference at 5-13, is operating under new owners who are keeping the team in the city after extended talk of moving the franchise, and the Kings are looking to improve quickly rather than languish and rebuild.
Dropping Gay’s salary – some $17.9-million this year and $19.3-million next year – is an important part of the trade. Gay is the 15th-highest-paid player in the league. This gives Ujiri ample elbow room to start sculpting the Raptors in his vision. Most commentators agree that more moves are likely, and could come quickly.
Some observers believe the ideal situation would be to finish near the bottom of the NBA and secure the No. 1 draft pick to choose hometown phenom Andrew Wiggins, a star freshman at the University of Kansas. The 6-12 Raptors are second in the Atlantic and 10th of 15 teams in the Eastern Conference, with the Milwaukee Bucks last at 4-16. The Utaz Jazz in the West are the league-worst at 4-18.