Memphis Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay has been the primary subject of NBA trade rumors for the past several weeks, but he doesn't like it. In fact, Gay would love to stick with the Grizzlies and see how far the young core of players can get in the Western Conference.
He recently opened up to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports about the harsh realities of life inside the NBA rumor mill, and it's clear the 26-year-old wing would prefer to stay in Memphis with the current mix of core players on the roster:
"People don't understand that we do have families, we do have personal situations we have to deal with while trying to be productive on the court," Gay said. "Your family is calling saying, ‘What is going on? What is going on?' I just tell them, ‘Don't worry about it.'
"That's the biggest thing. The more people talk about it, the more I think about it, because I don't talk about it at all."
"We can't control [what trades happen], but if [the roster's core remains] we have a chance to be special," he said.
Unfortunately, the realities of the NBA salary cap make it practically impossible for the organization to hang on to each of Gay, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley. Gay leads the team in scoring this season at 17.8 points per game, but he's been deemed the most expendable man among the core group because his contract becomes very expensive over the next two seasons.
The big money on the back end of Rudy Gay's five-year, $82 million deal helps illuminate the bind Memphis has put itself in heading toward the trade deadline. This is possibly the best Grizzlies team ever to hit the hardwood, but Gay is owed roughly $37 million over the next two years, and the final year of his deal is a $19 million player option that he would not be expected to pass up. The former first-round pick has always scored well, but his advanced stats have lagged behind his pay grade and all-star (as well as all-NBA) honors have never attached to his resume.
It's not that teams don't want Gay, either. In Spears' story, Gay explains that Rajon Rondo of the Boston Celtics is constantly trying to recruit him, but in the end it's about the money. Gay is the most expensive piece on a quality team in the hyper-competitive Western Conference, and Memphis might like to spend that money in different ways to complement their other star players. The luxury tax hit that looms for Memphis is another consideration, as SB Nation's Straight Outta Vancouver explained several weeks ago:
The Grizzlies have a several players making a lot of money next year. For the 2013-14 season, Rudy Gay will be making $17,888,931; Zach Randolph will be making $17,800,000; Marc Gasol will be making $14,860,523; and Mike Conley will be making $8,000,001. The year after that, Gay and Randolph have player options for $19.3 million and $16.5 million respectively, Gasol makes $15.8 million and Conley makes $8.6 million.
To put it simply, something has to give. That's $58 million tied up in four players, and that's not including Tony Wroten's rookie deal, team options on Josh Selby and Quincy Pondexter, Marreese Speights' player option, or Hamed Haddadi's $1.3 million. The Grizzlies are a small market team with a new ownership group. Unless they're willing to go far into the luxury tax to keep the entire core together, somebody's going to have to go eventually.
The Grizzlies currently own an impressive 23-10 record, which is good for the No. 4 spot in the Western Conference, but they may be forced to make a decision on Gay prior to the Feb. 21 trade deadline. Stay tuned.