As the trade deadline approaches, the rumblings about the Spurs potentially dealing one of DeMar DeRozan or LaMarcus Aldridge are dying out. Insiders are not completely discarding it as a possibility, but at this point it would be surprising to see San Antonio make a big trade.
There have been other smaller rumors that make sense. DeMarre Carroll and Marco Bellineli are reportedly available, which is understandable, considering their place in the rotation and the roster makeup. Similarly, it’s not a shock that other teams are inquiring about the very useful Jakob Poeltl.
Someone who has conspicuously been absent from most trade talk is Rudy Gay. The lack of buzz about a potential deal including the veteran combo forward is frankly a little surprising, since he would be a good addition to a number of good teams, and the Spurs should absolutely be willing to move him.
Gay has disappointed this season. After having a career year from beyond the arc, he has regressed immensely as a shooter. His defense has not been as good as it was last season, and his turnovers are up while his assists are down. As a result, his minutes have dwindled. Gregg Popovich has often decided to go with four guards on the floor at the same time rather than play Gay, who has looked disengaged on some nights. Considering he’s on the books for next season after signing an extension last summer, it’s less than ideal that he not only is playing poorly but also seems to have lost some of the coach’s trust and doesn’t look particularly happy in San Antonio.
Those two factors, however, are what could make him a reasonable trade target for a contender despite his struggles. Gay has only thrived in situations in which he’s been comfortable. He was a disaster in Toronto only to bounce back with the Kings. When things in Sacramento went south he complained, but then he was a positive influence in San Antonio. Now he’s not doing well, which has led to Gregg Popovich demoting him, but there’s no reason to think he can’t do well elsewhere just because he’s not thriving as a Spur anymore. On a veteran team with ambitions to make a deep run and without being asked to be almost exclusively a floor spacer, Gay could go back to being a perfect modern combo forward.
Several teams could use Gay’s scoring, rebounding and positional versatility, including some contenders. The Clippers, Bucks, Heat and Mavericks immediately come to mind, but there are others. Whether those teams would be willing to part with real assets to add a veteran on a down year with another season on his contract is doubtful, but it only takes one front office who believes Gay could bounce back to get a deal done. The way the market is shaping up should also help, since it doesn’t appear there are a lot of sellers. Any team that is interested in but can’t get Marcus Morris will probably want to get a similar player, and Gay fits the bill. If the prize is a late first rounder, two second rounders or a viable prospect, it would definitely be worth the risk for most good teams.
Would that be enough for the Spurs to part with Gay? It should be. He’s been getting fewer and fewer minutes as the months have gone by and his production hasn’t been great. San Antonio could get a replacement level power forward to cover his minutes while continuing to go small and likely not miss a beat. It would be tempting to keep him around in case he’s needed in the postseason, but at this point the possibility of missing the playoffs is painfully real. As things currently stand the Spurs have no extra picks and some of the fringe young talent on their roster hasn’t taken a step forward, so finding any additional way to add prospects should be enticing to them. Dealing Gay is the most likely avenue to do it without completely abandoning hope of grabbing the eighth seed.
It really isn’t hard to construct trades featuring Gay that bring back a worse but still adequate replacement and some other asset. The Clippers could send out Maurice Harkless, Patrick Patterson and their first. The Heat could build a package around James Johnson, KZ Okpala and a future second rounder. Milwaukee could part with Ersan Ilyasova, Sterling Brown and D.J. Wilson. The Mavs don’t have a power forward to trade but have Courtney Lee’s contract to match salaries and plenty of picks to deal. Those are just the team I mentioned before, but there are plenty of others who could benefit from taking a chance on Gay rediscovering his 2018/19 form and should be able to offer enough to make it worth San Antonio’s while.
The Spurs seem to understandably be hesitant to definitively choose between going young or continuing to attempt to keep their playoff streak alive. Their indecision might result in inaction, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The worst thing to do would be to panic and blow it up without getting enough in return or make win-now moves at the expense of the future.
Trading Gay is seemingly the best compromise between the two paths. Dealing him would allow the Spurs to keep enough talent around to potentially make a push while also securing some extra assets for an upcoming rebuilding effort, which is why the front office should seriously consider doing it.