Photo by Nikki Boertman
A week later, you can’t have a conversation with another Memphian without hearing it.
You don’t have to be talking about the Grizzlies, even. You could be talking about religion or …
First Memphian: Hey, how about this weather we’re having?
Second Memphian: I’ll like it better, once the Grizzlies get rid of Rudy Gay.
Memphians hate Rudy Gay. I know, hate’s a strong word; that’s why I chose it. They believe he’s to blame for the Grizzlies losing in the first round of the playoffs. They believe the team is doomed to be good-but-not-good-enough as long as he’s the so-called “franchise” player.
Apologies to the 12 of you who don’t actually hate Gay, and the three of you still undecided. The city has made up its collective mind: Gay makes too much money; he jacks up too many shots; he’s not tough enough; he’s not clutch enough; he doesn’t play hard enough; he doesn’t do enough except for when he’s trying to do too much; he pouts too much; he shows no emotion; and, on top of all that, he’s the antithesis of the Grizzlies’ grit-and-grind, rough-and-tumble approach to the game.
I hear it everywhere, from friends and co-workers, from the boss, perfect strangers, talk radio, and my pest-control guy. Mostly, they focus on the money, that five-year, $84 million contract Gay signed in 2010. People talk about Gay’s contract as if the money’s coming out of their pockets, not Mike Heisley’s.
Gay’s overpaid, they say. Yeah, most NBA players are. The Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan (6-11, 265, 4.1 rebounds a game vs. the Grizzlies in the playoffs) makes $10 million.
But Gay makes so much money, they say, that the small-market Grizzlies can’t afford the secondary pieces (backup point guard, 3-point ace) they desperately need.
But the Grizzlies’ salary-structure issues have more to do with how — out of necessity — they’ve been built. They couldn’t land a franchise-changing draft pick, a la Kevin Durant. They couldn’t attract a franchise-changing free agent, a la LeBron James. So they build around a core of several very good players (Gay, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley) rather than one or two sublime ones.
As for Gay being “the guy,” well, he and Randolph are paid roughly the same, on average, over the courses of their contracts.
The difference is, Randolph is beloved in Memphis. Because he is Memphis, down to his rough edges and troubled past. He’s not a pretty player and this is not a pretty town.
So Randolph can take his time coming back from injury — honestly, didn’t you think he could have come back sooner from his Jan. 1 ligament tear?
And Randolph can be, essentially, a bad teammate after the Game 7 loss, saying, in the wake of 3-for-12 shooting, “Get it to me when I’m open.”
But like I said, Randolph is beloved. I understand why. We actually like the fact that he doesn’t jump very high. We find it endearing that probably a league-high portion of his offensive rebounds come off his own misses. Ah, the big lug. Gotta love him, right?
Randolph is raw and earthy — if you set his game to music, it would be something from the Stax catalogue, “Born Under a Bad Sign,” say. Gay is more Motown, smooth and polished.
I think that’s what it comes down to, really. Rudy Gay is too smooth and polished for this town. He doesn’t fit. We don’t see ourselves in him. Here, smooth and polished generally translates as not trying quite hard enough.
We don’t cut the guy much slack, don’t give him much leeway. We dwell on the misses at the buzzer, not the makes. When he drives to the basket, takes punishment and scores, we ask why he doesn’t do it all the time. We don’t acknowledge the strides he’s made as an all-around player. As for the strides he still needs to make — and, yeah, absolutely, there’s room for improvement — we just don’t see it happening. Oh, sure, we saw Randolph evolve and improve as a player. But Gay? Nah, the naysayers believe this is all he is; this is all he’ll ever be.
Memphis minister: Can I get an amen?
Congregation: Soon as the Grizzlies trade Rudy Gay.
To reach Sports Editor David Williams, call (901) 529-2310 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on: http://www.commercialappeal.com/news/2012/may/20/fair-or-not-gay-the-griz-fall-guy/Older postNewer post