On August 9, 1974, Gerald Ford became the thirty-eighth President of the United States following the resignation of Richard Nixon. Soon after taking the oath of office, Ford gave a speech in which he tried to move the country past Watergate and the scandals of the Nixon years. It was a short speech, but one line in particular lived on.
"My fellow Americans," Ford said, "our long national nightmare is over."
My fellow Raptors fans, our long national nightmare is over, and we woke up from it yesterday. Rudy Gay is gone, sent to Sacramento for spare parts. It was a move that had almost nothing to do with this season and almost everything to do with the future. It was the second act in a plan that Masai Ujiri has kept hidden like a state secret - the first was the Andrea Bargnani trade. In less than six months, Ujiri has completely dismantled the roster Bryan Colangelo put together by trading one of his biggest acquisitions (Gay) and the player he just couldn't let go of (Bargnani). Unlike Ford, who controversially pardoned Nixon a month after taking office, Ujiri has done everything but hang a banner outside the Air Canada Centre that reads, "BRYAN COLANGELO SCREWED THIS TEAM UP."
As Cathal Kelly of the Toronto Star noted, the Gay trade might have the unintended consequence of making the Raptors better in the short term. It's a classic case of addition by subtraction. For proof, look no further than last night's game against the Lakers, a 106-94 win in which the Raptors looked more like a professional basketball team and less like a bunch of guys paid millions of dollars to stand around and watch Rudy Gay slowly suck the life out of them.
Touches that would have gone to Gay in the past were instead funneled to more efficient options like Amir Johnson (who put up a career-high 32 points), DeMar DeRozan (26-5-5) and Kyle Lowry. The team tallied 19 assists on 40 field goals and, as a spectator, the game was actually fun to watch. Alse noteworthy was the excellent play of Terrence Ross, who came off the bench to score 11 points in 28 minutes and who should be a major beneficiary of the minutes opened up by Gay's departure. It was one of the most entertaining performances of the season and if the goal wasn't to lose as many games as possible it would have been entirely satisfactory. In its current form the team will be better than it was with Gay, but that form won't last much longer.
Let's take a look at the Gay trade and where the Raptors might go from here.
Kings get: Rudy Gay, Aaron Gray, Quincy Acy
The Raptors are getting four players back in this trade (and will have to waive someone to get down to the maximum roster size of 15), but this move was all about money and the future in a trade that the Raptors almost certainly won. Only Hayes has a fully guaranteed deal beyond this season - Patterson and Vasquez are expiring and Salmons can be bought out for $1 million. Assuming Gay was going to exercise his $19.3 million player option for next season, total savings from the deal could be as much as $13 million. Toronto could work its way close to max-level cap room by waiving the partially guaranteed Tyler Hansbrough and renouncing the rights to its own free agents; it's hard to imagine a max-level free agent coming to Toronto next summer, but Ujiri has given his team a dose of sorely needed flexibility.
Is there a chance that any of these players will be in Toronto long-term? Salmons has had God-given misgivings about Toronto in the past and the thought of paying him $7.6 million next season just made me throw up in my mouth a little. He's gone. Chuck Hayes has carved out a nice career as an undersized power forward, but his value will be in his expiring contract more than anything. Patterson is somewhat interesting as a stretchy four man but it's Vasquez who will probably have the biggest impact in Toronto, even if it's just for the rest of this season.
Why? Because he's probably going to be the starting point guard sometime in the near future. The Gay trade was necessary but, as mentioned above, it probably made this team better in the short term. The next domino to fall will almost certainly be Lowry, who is on a reasonable (and expiring) contract and is still a very good player, as he showed last night in L.A. The keys will be handed to Vasquez at some point and he might do a decent job, especially on the offensive end where he has proven himself to be a skilled operator in the pick-and-roll, a basic play the Raptors have ignored far too often this season. Vasquez might have a future with the team as a back-up point guard, but he should be ready to take on the starting role as soon as the inevitable Lowry trade happens.
A great debate over the offseason centered around whether the Raptors should tank or not. The verdict is in, and it couldn't be more clear: the tank is on. It's far from complete, but one of the biggest and seemingly most difficult steps has already been taken. For the first time in years it feels like the Raptors have a plan. It might not work, but it's a hell of a lot better than being stuck in an endless nightmare.