In the Utah Jazz’s penultimate preseason game on Tuesday and the first at Vivint Arena this season, the San Antonio Spurs came out on top, 111-104.
It’s important to note that Mike Conley and Malik Beasley did not play. Conley took the night — which happened to be his 35th birthday — to get some rest, and Beasley is still sidelined while nursing an ankle sprain, so Collin Sexton and Jordan Clarkson got the starting minutes.
There were a few little interesting nuggets from the game, including Talen Horton-Tucker showing off his athleticism and defensive abilities, Jared Butler continuing to show that he might have what it takes to stay in the league, Simone Fontecchio and Walker Kessler standing out in the fourth quarter and Clarkson showing some early pick-and-roll chemistry with Kessler.
But the thing I’ve come away from this game thinking the most about is Rudy Gay.
There are some who believe that Gay will get playing time with this team so that the Jazz can maximize his trade value before the deadline.
There are some that believe he will get time with this team because he is an elder statesman and can mentor the developing players.
Then there are those that believe that Gay could be on the chopping block as the Jazz whittle the roster down to the maximum 15 before the start of the regular season.
Option 1 does seem like a very NBA-front-officey thing to do, but Gay has been in the NBA since 2006. It’s not like teams don’t know who he is, and it’s not like his value is going to improve if he plays like he did in the first half on Tuesday.
He subbed in midway through the first quarter then subbed out midway through the second. In those roughly 10 minutes he was a -15 with very little to offer on the defensive end and some truly confusing offensive plays including an attempt at an alley-oop pass from midcourt that went off the backboard and into no-man’s land.
Option 2 seems more plausible considering what we saw in the fourth quarter on Tuesday. Gay, along with Horton-Tucker, Fontecchio, Butler and Kessler, took what was an absolute blowout game (with the Spurs leading by as many as 27 points) and made it a single-digit affair.
Gay was clearly offering advice to Butler and encouragement to the others during dead balls and timeouts, and many of the young players on the roster have mentioned Gay as one of the veterans who has been a big help through training camp.
While it does seem that Option 2 is most likely, Option 3 is not out of the realm of possibility.
I’m of the opinion that Gay’s value on the trade market is not going to change for the better. At best he would be used as salary filler in a trade, but I can’t see the Jazz making another trade for a player in which they would need salary filler this season.
Additionally, Gay has been pretty vocal about his desire to play. He was not happy about getting benched by Quin Snyder last season. If you bench him in favor of youth this season, does he become a negative presence in the locker room?
He’s not going to be OK with an honorary spot on the roster, mentoring young guys from the bench, and the minutes that Gay plays means that there are going to be fewer minutes for some of the young players that the Jazz might want to develop for the future.
Gay is not a part of the Jazz’s future. The difficult thing here is the money involved. Gay is making just north of $6 million this season and has a player option for the 2023-24 season which would pay him $6.4 million.
If the Jazz were going to waive him, they would have to be willing to eat both years of his salary. They could be willing to do that, but they also might just rather let him play out the contract so they aren’t paying for nothing.
But, does paying him for the next two years mean that Fontecchio, Ochai Agbaji and Stanley Johnson get less time? Isn’t the point of all the Jazz are doing right now to make sure that they get the most out of the young players and get them ready for when the rebuild turns the corner?
There is also an argument to be made for keeping Gay around because he does not significantly raise the Jazz’s ceiling, and the Jazz are certainly looking to lose some games this season.
Who ends up on the Jazz’s final roster before the start of the 2022-23 season is honestly one of the more compelling stories surrounding the team right now, and Gay’s role on it is going to have a significant impact on who plays and who does not.
So even if Gay is not a part of the Jazz’s extended future, his presence on the roster is going to have a major impact on the rest of what happens this year.