After three straight wins, the thought of life without Rudy Gay has to be a little less scary for Grizzlies fans. Yes, they lost a solid scorer who has hit some big shots in his time, but it’s hardly the end of the world, and the Grizzlies still have a pretty strong team going forward.
Let’s not forget, the Grizzlies excellent 2011 playoff run came without Rudy playing a single minute. He went down with a separated shoulder in late March, and the team managed to carry on just fine without him, as Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol lead the way. When looking back on this, it’s not hard to wonder if the Grizzlies excellent performance without Gay influenced their decision to trade him. It’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility.
For many Grizzlies fans, the trade was a bad move because it took the Grizzlies out of title contention. But Rudy was around last year, and they couldn’t get out of Round 1, even though they were deeper than the opposing Clippers. And if he’s such a great clutch shooter, couldn’t he have hit a few jumpers to stop the bleeding when the Los Angeles went on their epic comeback? The case for Rudy Gay being an essential part of a playoff run is surprisingly weak.
Now, to simply say that the team did better without Rudy than with him would be somewhat dishonest; Zach Randolph played far better in the 2011 playoffs than in 2012, when he was recovering from an injury of his own. Still, Rudy was unable to carry the team, and he bricked countless jumpers that could have carried Memphis to a victory. Surely, the front office thought of this before they pulled the trigger.
More importantly, though, something just felt right about the Grizzlies during the 2011 playoffs. Like that was how the team was really supposed to be. They were tough, menacing, and could slow games down to a halt when they wanted to. Granted, that’s pretty much how they are anyway, but Rudy never really felt like part of that. It wasn’t that he was a bad player, he just didn’t fit into the Grizzlies system. He was a shoot-first gunner on a team that built its identity through a brutal defense.
It’s not to say that Rudy Gay didn’t bring anything useful to the Grizzlies, he just wasn’t the ideal player for what they try to do, and the 2011 run illustrated that. That team felt more like the true Grizzlies, even though they were missing their marquee player. Really, Tayshaun Prince makes way more sense in this system than Gay does. He’s a pass first forward who’s long been known for his defense. Basically, the opposite of Rudy, and the kind of guy who just works on a team like this.
When the trade was finalized it was hard not to think that the owners were choosing money over success, taking the team out of title contention, but when you really explore the situation, they may have just been acknowledging what we learned two years ago: that the Grizzlies can operate just fine without Rudy Gay, and trading him didn’t just save the team a few bucks; it also made them a logical, cohesive team. One that could be tougher in the playoffs than some analysts believe.