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NBA Trade Deadline Rumor: Clippers Interested in Rudy Gay

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According to Chris Broussard, the Clippers are interested in the veteran forward.

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

It should come as no surprise that the Clippers are active "buyers" this trade deadline--the team is talented, but with the historically great Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs leading the conference by a mile, Doc Rivers has no choice but to do his best to take some risks and upgrade his roster heading into the second half of the season.  He's already made a few such gambles--Josh Smith was certainly one that didn't pan out, as Smith has been abysmal this season.  Lance Stephenson is still pending judgement, and as I wrote last week, he could be the Clippers' best in-house chance at solving their small forward issues.

That said, Stephenson also carries a $9,000,000 expiring contract (he has a team option for next season which must be exercised by June 29th), which is a huge trade chip as the trade deadline approaches.  Lance's contract carries far more utility in a trade than his play--despite what you think about him, it's hard to sell high on a guy who isn't even in the Clippers' rotation.  With a giant off-season approaching where the salary cap will skyrocket and tons of teams will be searching for space to add high-salaried players.  If the Clippers can swap Stephenson for a player on a multi-year deal, the Clippers' short term gain can be another team's long-term gain.

One such candidate is the Kings' Rudy Gay.  He's been the target of speculation for some time, and a recent report from Chris Broussard (yes, Mr. Sauces himself) indicates that the Clippers are interested in Gay, but aren't offering enough to convince the Kings to let their starting SF go.  The Kings presently sit in 10th place in the Western Conference, just one loss out of the playoffs and quite legitimately in the race for the 8th seed.  Perhaps letting go of the 29-year-old with two years remaining on his current deal would be more palatable for Sacramento if they were in a position to punt the season, but the cap relief this summer might not be worth a shot at the post-season for a franchise that's a decade removed from their last playoff berth.

What's seemingly clear in this situation is that the Clippers would offer Lance Stephenson for Gay in a straight-up swap.  What's also seemingly clear is that that's not good enough for the Kings, whether they're shopping Gay or not, because if that offer was enough the trade would be done already.  The question that we don't know is what it would take for the Kings to say yes--at the current moment, it would seem to me that Sacramento is angling for some sort of prospect or pick in order to re-emphasize their focus on the future core.  However, I've heard from Sacramento people who imagine that the Kings would be looking for a trade that could help the team now--and those ideas generally seem to include J.J. Redick, which would presumably be a non-starter for the Clippers (despite being decently fair in a vacuum, Redick is simply so good within the Clippers' system that it's hard to imagine them moving him).

Just because a trade doesn't work now doesn't mean that it won't get done by the trade deadline.  If the Clippers want Gay badly enough, they could budge in the next two weeks.  If the Kings want to move him badly enough, they could budge as well.  There's also room for the Clippers to look for other trade targets, or the Kings to find better offers for Gay.  As the trade deadline approaches, if neither team has found more satisfying options, they'll likely find themselves talking again.

In my mind, it will come down to the Kings' mindset.  If Sacramento is still bought in to fighting for a playoff spot this season, even knowing that it would be a slaughter against Golden State or San Antonio, then there's no reason for them to let go of one of their best scorers.  Even with Gay, they're gonna have to fight hard for the 8th seed.  Without him, they'd likely stand no chance.  There's something to be said for locker room continuity and a taste of the postseason for an organization that's struggled with their culture in the past.  At the same time, there's something to be said for making a long-term play for a better draft choice on a team that's far out of contention whether they finish 8th or 10th.  If Sacramento's mindset is that they're willing to sacrifice that chance at the 8-seed for a better pick and cap relief, then talks could really heat up on this deal.

For now, both teams are doing what makes sense--they're making calls and looking for other options.  I wouldn't be surprised of one or both of these teams finds a better deal elsewhere.  However, if nothing as attractive emerges, and the Kings value cap space this summer over a few wins this season, then I also wouldn't be surprised to see these two teams come back to the table and make a deal two weeks from now.

As far as fit goes, Gay is iffy--but he almost certainly is talented enough to make his acquisition worthwhile.  He's not a particularly good shooter or defender but he has an offensive skillset that would be superior to anything we've seen alongside the Clippers' other four starters before, and in a more refined role on a contender I wouldn't rule out Rudy's ability to refine his offensive contributions to up his efficiency, and focus more on defense.  His size also allows him to play both forward positions, which would be big for a Clippers team that's playing more small ball than ever and will eventually have to deal with the Warriors' 5-small lineup.