[video] Rudy Gay on T-Mac: “I saw myself learning a lot from him…I would’ve loved to play behind him.”

Linsanity at full-force was short-lived.  Most observers of this team would tell you Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic were both better anyway.  Terrence Williams didn’t work out largely due to his own fault.  To followers of the Houston Rockets, Rudy Gay still stands as ‘the one that got away’ in the Morey era.

Gay was a Rocket for mere minutes.  After selecting him with the 9th pick in the 2006 draft, the Rockets sent him to Memphis–along with Stromile Swift–in exchange for forward Shane Battier.  I’ve described news of that trade before as “at the time, my worst moment as a Rockets fan.”

When the Grizzlies rolled into town on Friday, I decided to ask Gay about the deal.  It’s clear he still thinks about it too:

“I was talking to one of my teammates about what if I stayed here,” said Gay in response.

When I asked him whether he had envisioned himself playing next to Tracy McGrady during that short stint on draft night, Gay responded:

“I did, I did.  I saw myself learning a lot from him and being able to absorb a lot from him.  He’s a great.  I would’ve loved to play behind him or with him.”

It’s a painful picture.  At the time, on that night, I still remember my feelings.  In the running for much of the year to be the #1 overall selection, when he was still available at #9, I was doing backflips.  It was an absolute miracle.  The travesty that was the Houston Rockets’ 2005-2006 season would be made worthwhile.  The Rockets would finally have the young athlete they desperately needed.  (The team had been platooning the likes of Jon Barry and David Wesley opposite T-Mac for the previous two seasons.)  Gay would complement McGrady on the perimeter; he would learn from him; he would give the Rockets the swingman duo that would be the envy of the entire league.

Only the Rockets had different plans.  Minutes after the selection, Ric Bucher came on my television set to announce that the Rockets would be trading Rudy Gay to Memphis for Shane Battier.  I couldn’t move.  I felt nauseous.

It was the first move of the Morey era and still stands as the most controversial.  It was certainly his signature trade.  It was the first bold proclamation that the new regime would be doing things very differently and perhaps not easily understood.  Morey traded a young, unproven athlete for a guy whose contributions weren’t otherwise seen in traditional box scores.

In hindsight, with the way things worked out, even with Gay’s ascent to stardom, I do now think trading Gay for Battier was the right move.

From his second season onward, Gay put up points and did it with flash.  He’s certainly a spectacle.  But after watching Battier, I’m not completely sure Gay would have helped the team more.

Battier anchored some injury-ridden Rockets teams which heavily overachieved.  He defended the other team’s best player; he led; he was a coach on the floor at both ends.

In his five seasons with the team, Battier posted win shares of 9.0, 8.2, 5.2, 4.3, and 4.1.  (Win shares are an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player.)  By comparison, in those years, Gay posted win shares of 0.5, 5.0, 3.3, 6.4, and 5.5.  While Gay probably would have helped the team more in the past two seasons–and now, with Battier having moved on–it’s probably also the case that he wouldn’t have had nearly the impact that Battier did in those first three years.  And those first three years were when the Rockets were contenders.

Gay catching lobs from McGrady and learning from his tutelage is a wondrous vision.  But who would have defended?  Defense was the Rockets’ calling card the last half of this last decade.  Who would have kept the team together through injuries as Battier did?  Maybe it wouldn’t have worked out as well as I had imagined.

Even now, with Gay on the books for $15million, and Memphis just a few games ahead of Houston in the standings, would the Rockets really be that much better off both in the present and long-term?


About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of Red94.net.

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  • French Banana

    I think that Gay was sent to Memphis and Battier and Swift were sent to Houston, which is still a bad trade… 

  • French Banana

    My bad, you were right, Houston sent Swift to Memphis in that trade!

  • GabrielBarbieri

    Can your team get a ring with Rudy as your #1 option? I’d presume not.

  • rahathuq

    yep, swift was shipped out along with gay, which ended up being one of the best parts of the deal.  he went on and did nothing the rest of his career and was cleared off our books.

  • rahathuq

     @GabrielBarbieri nope

  • ClenardDowJr

    @RedNinetyFour Easy yes…your starting SF should be the best athlete on the team & for years we had the worst athlete in the NBA starting

  • ClenardDowJr

    @RedNinetyFour One of the worse trades in Houston sports history

  • steveprofota

    @RedNinetyFour yes no question

  • Coach_Solo

    @RedNinetyFour i’ve always thought about that. i say no. the jon barry, shane battier experiment worked out pretty good

  • majik19

    Read this article (you can skip down where they talk about Gay specifically) and then let me know what you think about the Battier for Gay swap.

  • majik19
  • rahathuq

     @majik19 kind of tied up right now.  cliffs?

  • Stephen

    Little late,but what kind of ripples would have followed?
    (And keep in mind,JVG really wanted to draft Sefalosha.)
    In the next Draft(2007) would the Rockets w/same draft position still gone for Brooks(and his scoring) or drafted defensive wing Arron Afflalo?
    W/T-Mac,Rudy and Afflalo does the team still trade for Artest?
    If not,do the Rockets still target Dante Green? If so,his career takes a bizarre twist as he can’t shoot in the pros but becomes a pretty fair defender 3-4 defender. And do the Rockets buy a pick and take a flyer on a young foreign PG named Goran Dragic?(More likely trade for a Kyle Weaver)
    If Brooks wasn’t drafted,does the team still make the Alston/Lowry trade? Of might they and Memphis made a Swift for Lowry deal earlier w/some other considerations thrown in?(Perhaps Swift,Luther Head,a future Second-or Dorsey,a Memphis legend-for Lowry,Brian Cardinal?)
    Assuming Adelman still replaces JVG,how much better would his offense have worked w/a scorer in Gay vs Battier at the 3?
    If the team was still matched up against Utah the second time around would Rudy Gay have turned the Series around vs Luther Head’s 0 for the Series?
    Conceivably the Rockets could have gone into the Series w/Jackson or Lowry for the injured Alston,the other off the bench,a true SG in Afflolo backing up McGrady,a scoring wing in Gay-overall a much better team to match up w/Utah.
    But,and it’s a huge but,do the Rockets give Gay a max when they have McGrady and Yao making the max? I on’t see the Rockets paying 3 max contracts.
    Which brings up,does the team try to trade McGrady that Summer and go w/Gay and Afflolo instead?
    If the Rockets had kept Gay,the Rockets would have been very different.

  • GabrielBarbieri

    Utter speculation, soooooo tl:dr.

  • kenny

     @rahathuq Rudy is the highest usage rate player on Memphis. Certainly not a favorite to win the title, but maybe the best long-shot bet. If they beat OKC, why not? Of course, #1 option doesn’t mean as much on the Griz as they don’t have any player in top 40 of usage.

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