Monday marked the first time that Rudy Gay, the Utah Jazz’s marquee addition in this past summer’s free agency session, was a full participant in a team practice since offseason heel surgery — an indication that he may be nearing a debut date soon.
However, ask any of his teammates, and they’ll tell you that the 16th-year forward has already long been a vocal, engaged and omnipresent part of the group. It goes beyond him merely dispensing advice from the bench during games or pointing things out to younger guys in practices, though.
His curse-laden, trash talk-filled, pre- and post-practice shooting sessions with Joe Ingles have fully integrated him into the Jazz perhaps in a way that nothing else could.
Ingles, asked one day in late October about his sparring sessions with Gay following a particularly vociferous battle, acknowledged, “Yeah, he’s fun to shoot with,” before revealing that the pairing was the brainchild of coach Quin Snyder. “To go into more depth of it, I couldn’t tell you — I just did what coach said.”
Gay, asked about it Monday, had his own sarcastic theory: “We’re just old, that’s all. [Ingles] looks older than me, though.”
Snyder conceded there was a bit more to it than that.
“I’m not, like, a matchmaker,” he said. “But I think there’s guys that have certain skill sets that 1) either complement each other, or 2) that they can kind of like learn from each other. Just in terms of there may be a part of the workout that Joe does that you see an opportunity for Rudy to develop; there may be experiences that Rudy’s had that he’s sharing with Joe. So much happens when guys are shooting — just the conversation, and there’s a lot of layers to it.”
Snyder said the idea had its origins in his first conversation with Gay, when the veteran mentioned that Ingles had been one of his favorite players to watch from afar.
And even though the two players’ respective career paths don’t have much superficially in common — Gay came in as a heralded lottery pick and an athletic marvel, Ingles a guy who earned his spot at a relatively advanced age, and has gotten by with shooting and playmaking — their coach sees enough overlap in the present stage of their paths that he figured some osmosis was bound to take place.
“One of the things that Joe is able to do is improve at a latter point in his career, and that was something that I felt like Rudy could have the opportunity to embrace, [to do] some different things,” Snyder said. “Having been in the league and the experience that he has, he’s kind of had a little bit of everything; whether he can become as good a pick-and-roll player as Joe in the next three weeks, I don’t know about that, but I don’t think Joe’s going to be able to post up or do some of the things Rudy can do, either. But I think they can complement each other, and that’s kind of the idea.”
Turns out, they can both complement one another and compliment one another. Up to a point, anyway.
Gay said he enjoys his shooting competitions with Ingles because, well, simply, they are making him a better shooter.
“You know, it’s light, but yet it’s competitive. Really, Joe is one of the best 3-point shooters in history. I don’t think people give him enough credit for that,” Gay said. “And me, just competing with him, it really is steel sharpening steel. I always, whenever I try to compete, I try to go against the best, and he is one of the best. You can look at the record books — he’s up there. He knows that. I’ll just say that.”
Ingles, for his part, said he enjoys the competitions because he virtually always prevails.
“I usually win — like nine out of 10 times,” Ingles said. “… I smoke him every day.”
Gay, told of this boast, rolled his eyes and immediately ceased with the compliments.
“Nine out of 10? He’s a good shooter, but …” he retorted, trailing off in exasperation. “Who am I? Shaq? C’mon. It’s competitive.”
And so are they both. Gay, clad in a new, customized practice jersey with “OCHO” written in front where a numeral “8″ would usually be, appeared to get the best of Ingles in the portion of Monday’s session open to the media. His competitiveness is what has endeared him to the team, and the team’s competitiveness is what’s endeared them to him.
“This is a group of really mature guys — guys that have won and guys that want to have more success in this league,” he said. “So they’ve definitely helped me get acclimated, talked me through things.”
As for when that will translate into him getting into a Jazz game remains to be seen.
He’s been getting in bits of work along the way. Less than a week ago, it was revealed he’d advanced to 2-on-2 play. He also went through a Sunday practice with the G League affiliate SLC Stars. Still, Gay was listed as “Out” for Tuesday’s game against the Sixers when the Jazz issued their injury report Monday evening. Snyder said after Monday’s practice that Gay being cleared to play wouldn’t be up to him, or even to Gay himself, but to the team’s health performance staff.
The forward himself acknowledged he’s not operating on any kind of specific timeline, adding that while his heel specifically and body in general feel good, he’s got some conditioning work to do. Everyone is proceeding with caution to avoid there being any kind of setback that will sideline him once again.
It’s a process, he conceded. Perhaps even a cautious one. But he believes that when the payoff finally comes, it’ll be worth it.
“Me being on the court can help this team,” Gay said.