Rudy Gay has never won a playoff series despite playing for 15 years and five different teams. When you think of valuable swingmen in the NBA, you think of the longtime veteran. In his heyday, Gay was an automatic 20-point scorer each night. It didn’t matter if he was starting or coming off the bench either. He found a way to get the job done.
When you put long service time in the league, you develop more fans in your corner. Gay is one of those players that fans can look at and respect. He is a likable player that has been a product of some very good and also some very bad teams in his career. Despite the longevity, Gay has not found a way to get out of the first round. That’s the true tragedy among active players, who have put in over a decade and a half of their time into professional basketball.
Memphis Grizzlies - 2006-13
Gay enjoyed a successful career with the Grizzlies in the regular season. Gay was picked No. 8 overall in the 2006 NBA Draft by the Rockets but was traded to the Grizzlies just a few days later. He averaged 10.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, and played an impactful 27 minutes per game. He created a franchise record for points in a single season with 1,632 points, scoring a career-high 20.1 points per game in his second season in the league.
By the 2010-2011 season, he had established himself as one of the best small forwards in the league, recording career-high scores several times this season. That landed Gay a five-year contract worth over $82 million. However, despite the individual success, Gay never enjoyed the fruits of the postseason. In Gay’s first three seasons, the Grizzlies finished last in the division and won a season total of 22, 22, and 24 wins. After a fourth-place spot in the standings in 2010, the Grizzlies made the postseason, but Gay didn’t record a single statistic due to being hurt.
The Grizzlies made the playoffs in 2012 after finishing 41-25. The team featured some real talent with Mike Conley Jr., Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol. However, the Grizzlies were bounced in the first round in a seven-game series against Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and the Los Angeles Clippers. Gay had a standout series, averaging 39.9 minutes, 19.0 points, and 6.6 rebounds.
During the 2012-2013 season, Gay was traded to the Raptors after 42 games, where he was averaging 17.2 points per game. The Grizzlies were in salary cap trouble and needed to find a taker for Gay’s contract. The Grizzlies, Raptors, and Pistons completed the three-team trade that sent Gay and Hamed Haddadi to Toronto, Ed Davis, Austin Daye, Tayshaun Prince, and a 2013 second round pick to the Grizzlies, and Jose Calderson to the Pistons.
Toronto Raptors - 2013-2014
After six successful individual seasons with the Grizzlies, Gay was traded to the Raptors on January 30, 2013, where he set a franchise record by scoring 74 points in his first three games. However, many viewed the trade for Gay as destructive. Gay posed a very similar skillset as DeMar DeRozan and played at the same position. Also, Gay was quite pricey and was going to cap the Raptors in the future.
At the time, Terrence Ross showed potential to develop, while Ed Davis was playing well before being shipped away. With that said, the Raptors started the season 4-19. The move for Gay seemed questionable at the time given that he was not joining a contender. With Gay and DeRozan on the roster, the team had two expensive players at the position.
The following season, Gay was traded on December 9, 2013. Gay, Aaron Gray, and Quincy Acy were traded to the Kings for Chuck Hayes, Grevis Vasquez, John Salmons, and Patrick Patterson. It was one of the first major moves for Masai Ujiri’s productive moves in creating a championship contender in Toronto. Gay was not a good fit with DeRozan and Kyle Lowry and the Raptors started the season 6-12. With that said, Gay was averaging 19.4 points per game in 18 contests.
Sacramento Kings - 2014-2017
By the end of the 2013-2014 season, Gay averaged 20.0 points and 6.0 rebounds in 73 games. The Kings ultimately never qualified for the playoffs in 2014. It set up Gay’s most productive season in his career when he averaged 21.1 points per game, but the Kings only won 29 games.
Even with Gay in the fold, it’s highly unlikely the Kings would have qualified for the playoffs. The Kings never won more than 32 games with Gay in the mix. By the end of the 2014-2015 season, Gay began to encounter a series of injuries that impacted his game, which included an on-court collision with former teammate Marc Gasol.
In his final season in Sacramento, Gay played only 30 games. On January 18, 2007, Gay ruptured his left Achilles tendon, forcing him to miss the remainder of the season. It was his last contract with the Kings. The Kings missed the playoffs, but Gay would have ultimately missed anyways as he was injured and would not have been put on the playoff roster.
San Antonio Spurs - 2017-2021
Coming off an injury, Gay signed a two-year contract worth about $17 million with the Spurs. The Spurs were coming off a Western Conference Finals appearance. The team looked to bolster their bench to help Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge make another playoff run, but we all remember how the 2018 playoffs went. Leonard ultimately played his final season in San Antonio and the Spurs were bounced in the first round of the playoffs.
The 2018 playoffs were the first for Gay since 2012. It was a drastically different type of production compared to back then. Gay averaged just 12.5 points per game and 5.6 rebounds in five games. The Spurs were defeated by eventual NBA champion Golden State.
The Spurs returned to the playoffs in 2019 where Gay averaged 11.1 points and 7.1 rebounds in a highly competitive playoff series with the Denver Nuggets. The Spurs won the first game on the road but then were defeated in Game 2 despite 31 points from DeMar DeRozan. The Spurs won Game 3 thanks to a 36-point effort from Derrick White, but Nikola Jokic led the Nuggets to a Game 4 victory.
The Nuggets took Game 5, and nearly took Game 6 thanks to a 43-point effort from Jokic, but the Spurs won in the end as Gay contributed 19 points off the bench. The Nuggets won a narrow 90-86 Game 7, where Gay gave his best overall effort of the playoffs with 21 points and eight rebounds. However, it wasn’t enough for the team to advance and give Gay his first appearance in the second round.
Utah Jazz - 2021-2022
The Spurs missed the playoffs in 2020 and 2021. Gay has his best chance to advance to the second round this season. Gay signed a contract with the Utah Jazz, who were the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference last season. Gay turned 35 years old this season and has a new role compared to years in the past. At this point, Gay will surely do anything if it means getting out of the first round. Given that the Jazz failed to make the Conference Finals last year after leading the league in wins, this seems like a perfect marriage with plenty of motivation.
Currently, Gay is the backup power forward behind Royce O’Neal although he could see time at small forward given who is on the court. Sixth Man of the Year Jordan Clarkson is the team’s backup point guard and shooting guard on the depth chart, while Sixth Man runner-up Joe Ingles is the team’s backup small forward. Both are capable shooters, so if both are on the floor, Gay could move to the smaller position.
The Jazz is the most well-put-together team that Gay has played for in his career. While his last playoff appearance was with a solid team with the Spurs, they were without their superstar and were not a legitimate title contender. The Jazz has a superstar in Donovan Mitchell, the Defensive Player of the Year in Rudy Gobert, and many pieces surrounding them. Gay is now a role player that will need to just do his job coming off the bench. If all the pieces mesh, this could finally be the year that Gay gets past the first round with a path of opportunity after that.
Credit for an idea: BBall/Instagram