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San Antonio Spurs

Rudy Gay’s recent comments great sign for future with Spurs

Sacramento Kings' Rudy Gay reacts to an official's call in the third quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Atlanta Hawks in Atlanta, Monday, Oct. 31, 2016. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
David Goldman/AP photo

The on-court reputation of San Antonio Spurs forward Rudy Gay has seen better days.

Gay started his career with the Memphis Grizzlies as a super-athletic scoring 3. In his second season, he averaged 20.1 points and 6.2 rebounds per game at the age of 21. He was one of the league’s top young stars.

Over the next several years, Gay’s game plateaued. He relied a lot on isolation scoring that stifled ball movement and he didn’t progress much in the other areas of the game. The Grizzlies and Toronto Raptors took major steps toward contention once they decided to trade Gay.

With the Sacramento Kings, Gay continued to score, but his team never accomplished much with him as the second option behind DeMarcus Cousins. In January, before Cousins left for New Orleans, the 31-year-old Gay tore his left Achilles tendon, ending his season.

Gay joined the Spurs in July on a two-year deal worth $17.2 million, with a player option for the second year. He would’ve gotten more money without the Achilles tear, but his rehab is done now and he’s ready for training camp.

San Antonio’s big addition looks like a good value and a solid fit for its roster overall, given its need for more athleticism, slashing and shot creation. He’s also a decent defender overall because of his versatility. However, Gay will have to curb a little bit of his ball-dominance, become a bigger off-ball threat and generally be the talented role player San Antonio needs him to be.

The Spurs forward’s recent comments to the San Antonio Express-News’ Jabari Young are extremely promising in this regard.

Gay described this summer as a “do-or-die” point of his career, saying the following: “I wanted to be with an organization that was known for winning and can help me raise my game to the next level.”

Gay’s record as an NBA player is 311-442, which equates to a winning percentage of .413. He’s participated in just one playoff series during his career. For an 11-year veteran with his immense gifts, it has to be frustrating to be constantly stuck on dead-end teams. Even with the Achilles injury, he probably could’ve earned a bit more money with another team in free agency. But because winning was his top priority this summer, picking the Spurs was a “no-brainer” for him in the end.

San Antonio is also getting an adaptable Gay this season. The athletic forward had some conversations with Spurs superstar Kawhi Leonard during the offseason — the talks, according to Young, centered around how they could help each other’s games and ultimately make the Spurs better. He also mentioned that he would gladly accept a sixth man role if head coach Gregg Popovich deemed it suitable.

This also suggests Gay might be willing to do things like play a lot of power forward, accept a lower-usage offensive role and become a more formidable defender.

Contrast these comments by Gay with some of LaMarcus Aldridge’s remarks when he joined the Spurs two years ago. The below quote from Aldridge is from an interview with USA Today’s Sam Amick before he began his first campaign in the Silver and Black:

“And I was like, ‘If y’all want me to come here and average 12 or 13 points, that’s not who I am. I like scoring.’ They were like, ‘No, we want you to play in the system, but your scoring is needed here.’ Once I heard that, I was fine.”

Looking back at that quote, it’s not that surprising that LMA has worn out his welcome in San Antonio after two seasons. Aldridge in 2015 was obviously a higher-profile acquisition than Gay in 2017, but the concerns around their arrivals were similar. People doubted (and still doubt) both guys’ abilities to assimilate their offensive abilities to Popovich’s offensive system.

For what it’s worth, it’s certainly not too late for Aldridge to turn around his tenure in San Antonio. But Gay is starting his stint from a much more Spurs-friendly mentality — he’s coming to the team to win by adapting his role to make him a better contributor to a winning squad.

Aldridge’s decision to leave the Portland Trail Blazers, per Amick, had a lot to do with his frustration over former teammate Damian Lillard’s rising star power. That may not have been the biggest reason, but it’s worth mentioning.

Gay is definitely saying all the right things ahead of his first Spurs season. If his play backs up his words, San Antonio is going to enjoy a fantastic comeback campaign from its top offseason addition.

The icing on the cake for Gay’s interview with Young was a very surprising statement, one that leaves him vulnerable to getting Freezing Cold Takes as early as next summer. Here’s what he said:

“I’m a Spur. And I’m a Spur for life.”

That’s quite bold for a guy who hasn’t even played a game with the Spurs yet. But the fact that he’s willing to go that far at this point should definitely have the Spurs encouraged.

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