On draft night in 2006, the Rockets traded the 8th pick to Memphis, who turned into Rudy Gay, for Shane Battier. It was a controversial deal when it was made because of the immense talent that Gay possesses, compared to the limited up side of Battier, who the Rockets thought was the perfect compliment to Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady. This is the fifth season since that trade was made, and the Rockets were right about Battier, but as the Yao/McGrady duo has dissolved, and Battier ages, fans have criticized the deal more and more as Gay has turned into a very good player, but after watching the Rockets beat the Grizzlies for the ninth straight time I believe the Rockets made the right move, and it’s a trade I’d do again and again. You can be a great team with Battier as your third or best player, you can’t with Rudy Gay as your best.
The Grizzlies won 49 games in the 05-06 season, and made the playoffs for the third straight season, the Rockets were 15 games worse. The next season, the first after the trade, Houston finished with 52 wins, 30 more than Memphis. The Rockets were 33 games better in ’07-’08 and 31 games better in ‘08-’09. The Rockets have finished with better records than Memphis in each of the last 4 seasons. Would that have been the case if the trade hadn’t been made?
Houston was in win-now mode that summer, and Battier was everything that they needed: a defender, who could knock down the three. Jeff Van Gundy couldn’t have genetically engineered a better fit for what he wanted to do. He was a winner who had won in college, and was a key part of the only good run the Grizzlies have ever had. Gay on the other hand was purely a scorer whose UConn team, littered with NBA prospects, was upset in the NCAA Tournament by George Mason. You couldn’t have had two players who were so different despite playing the same position.
Rudy Gay is incredibly talented, but he’s the type of guy who has to have the ball in his hands to be effective, and his actual value to a team will always be overrated because of the numbers he puts up. He’s the classic guy that gets overpaid, which the Grizzlies did this offseason when they gave him a max contract. Now they are saddled with him eating up a lot of their cap space, and once again, the Grizzlies are under .500, and it doesn’t look like they are going anywhere despite loads of talent. Why? Because their best player is Rudy Gay.
Would the Rockets be better off today with Rudy Gay? Maybe, but I guarantee you, without Shane Battier, the Rockets would not have competed in ’07, ’08, and ’09, and they don’t have Gay’s terrible contract on the books for the next 5 years.