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Lewenberg: "I was inefficient," Gay admits ahead of Raps return

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Josh Lewenberg, TSN 1050
3/7/2014 12:12:14 AM
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TORONTO - In his brief 10-month stint with the Raptors, Rudy Gay averaged just under 20 points per contest, accounting for the bulk of Toronto's offence while hitting some big, game-winning shots before he was whisked away to Sacramento.

His tenure won't be remembered for any of that, rightly or wrongly, and the Kings forward has mostly come to terms with that.

He won't be remembered for the shots he made. No, "Rudy the Raptor" - as Kings coach Mike Malone refers to Gay's previous incarnation - will be remembered for the shots he missed. All 530 of them.

Even Gay himself, given the opportunity to sugarcoat his shooting woes ahead of Friday's return to Toronto, wouldn't put lipstick on the pig that was his horrid field goal percentage.

It was bad, and he knows it.

Surrounded by the sizeable Toronto media army he left behind for small-market Sacramento following Kings practice on Thursday, Gay was asked if he feels slighted when he's been called inefficient.

"I was inefficient when I was here," he admitted, to the surprise of those who may have expected him to dance around the obvious. "I'm not anymore. I was when I was here."

Friday's game will mark Gay's first visit to Air Canada Centre since he was sent to the Kings, along with Quincy Acy and Aaron Gray, on Dec. 9 in exchange for Patrick Patterson, Greivis Vasquez, John Salmons and Chuck Hayes.

He was acquired from Memphis less than a year earlier, a trade engineered by former Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo in the hopes of landing a star player that could dig the team out of its playoff hole and, in doing so, save his own skin.

The experiment was short-lived.

"He was put in a tough situation where he was looked on to be the saviour," coach Dwane Casey said of Gay's time in Toronto. "That's not his role as far as [the] type of guys we had. He's a dynamic player, a big-time talent. He was brought here for the right reasons. It ended up turning into something that wasn't meant to be."

After he and the Raptors closed out last season on a high note, the team opened with a record of 6-12 as Gay struggled, putting up some of the worst numbers of his eight-year career.

"For whatever reason in Toronto he was only shooting 38 per cent, taking over 18 shots a game and everyone wanted to say he was the most inefficient player in the NBA," Malone said. "All I can base his play on is as a King. He's been shooting the ball over 50 per cent, 20 points a night and he's a proven playmaker and rebounder as well."

Nearly three months removed from his time in Toronto, Gay is enjoying a career resurgence as a member of the Kings. He's scoring more points, taking three less shots per game while getting to the free throw line at a higher rate. He has shot 50 per cent or better in 23 of 37 games as a King, something he accomplished once in 18 contests with the Raptors this season.

What's responsible for his turnaround? It has a lot to do with the space occupied and the attention drawn by the Kings' beast of a centre.

"If you go back to his time in Memphis. when he had the luxury of playing with a very talented frontcourt in Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. he was much more efficient with that line-up," Malone pointed out. "So we felt that he and DeMarcus (Cousins), especially the inside-outside combination, would be very tough to guard."

With Gay, Cousins and breakout point guard Isaiah Thomas, the Kings are the NBA's only team that features three 20-point scorers. Although the record hasn't necessarily reflected it - Sacramento is 16-26 since the trade - that trio has co-existed better than expected. As a team, the Kings rank 12th in offensive efficiency, despite dropping to the bottom of league in assists. For a collection of reasons, many of which are probably too tough to explain or quantify, Gay has found a home in Sacramento and he seems to fit.

Of course, he is not the only one with a new lease on life in the aftermath of the trade. The Raptors are now 27-14 without Gay in the line-up, jockeying for playoff position in the Eastern Conference as the Kings toil in the basement of West.

Gay is genuinely happy for his old teammates, many of whom he considers close friends, but the Kings forward doesn't necessarily buy into the correlation between his departure and his former team's success.

"We don't know if that would have happened if I were there, too," said the 27-year-old. "It happened early in the season. Nobody knows. It's one of those things that it has happened now, the trade happened, now they're a playoff team. Of course, I'd like to be a part of that, but I'm in Sacramento now and I have to build this team."

However, Raptors fans remember the missed shots, they remember the isolation-centric offence that torpedoed their team's overall watchability for the first month of the season, but, most of all, they remember the losses.

In Gay, the Raptors got what they paid for and their inevitable break-up should not have come as too much of a surprise. He probably doesn't deserve to be booed when he returns to the ACC wearing visiting purple Friday night, but he will be and when he is, he won't be caught off guard.

"I don't care," he said. "I'm just going out there and doing my job. Honestly, I joke with these guys all of the time. I say, 'If you put two rims up in the kitchen, I'll go out and play.' It really doesn't matter what happens, who's booing, who's cheering. It doesn't matter."

Rudy Gay (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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