Before Rudy Gay was traded to the Sacramento Kings, there seemed to be almost no chance he would opt out of his $19.3 million player option for the 2014-15 season. His value was at an all-time low, averaging 19.4 points but doing it on 18.6 shots and 38.8% from the field.
In Sacramento though, that's all changed. Gay has had a career renaissance with the Kings, putting up career best numbers in points (20.5 a game), Field Goal Percentage (49.1%) and assists (3.1). Because of that, there's an increasing likelihood that Gay will choose to opt out and test the market while his value is as high as it's ever been so that he can lock in another long term deal.
For the Kings, this wouldn't be a terrible scenario, as if Gay opts in to his deal, they'll be very close to the luxury tax, even without re-signing Isaiah Thomas. The Kings would very much like to keep Rudy, and should he opt out, they'll have a good chance of re-signing him to a longer deal with less money per year. But Rudy will be an unrestricted Free Agent, meaning he can choose his own destination, and there figure to be quite a few suitors.
Let's assume that Rudy would be looking for a deal offering $12 million a year or more and that the salary cap will raise to about $60 million (currently at $58.68 million). The following teams can have at least that much cap room this summer:
- Atlanta (They're right around $12 million, not including draft picks)
- Charlotte (About $19 million in space)
- Chicago (currently have no space, but could have about $12 million if they amnesty Boozer)
- Cleveland (could have $14 million in space)
- Dallas (depends on how much money Dirk takes for his last contract but they would probably still have at least $12 million available)
- Detroit (Yes, the Pistons will have even more cap space this summer thanks to Villanueva and Stuckey. They'll have about $18 million, but that could be significantly reduced if they re-sign Greg Monroe which seems likely)
- L.A. Lakers (They could have about $20 million in space assuming they get a top 4 pick.)
- Orlando (Can have about $15 million if they don't bring back Jameer Nelson)
- Philadelphia (Will have about $30 million in space)
- Phoenix (Has about $27 million in cap room, but will want to re-sign Bledsoe. Also have 4 1st round picks, which are all guaranteed money. They still probably will have about $12 million or more to offer)
- Toronto (They could have the space but let's just say that's an extremely unlikely scenario that they'll go after Rudy or that he would want to join them if they did.)
- Utah (Can have somewhere in the ballpark of $25-30 million in space, but is looking at a very expensive re-signing of Gordon Hayward)
- Washington (can have about $15 million in space)
On that list, there are a few teams that worry me as potential rivals and a few that I don't see as threats. For example, I think we can cross Chicago off the list (they also are looking at trying to bring Nikola Mirotic from overseas), Atlanta (they're on the bubble of cap room and Ferry wants to have flexibility to land a game changer), Detroit (I think Greg Monroe takes up most of that space and if so they won't go after more frontcourt help), Orlando (see Atlanta), Philadelphia (they've been all about developing young players, will likely be in great position to draft either Wiggins or Parker, both SFs), Toronto (because duh), Utah (Hayward plays a similar position and they'll also have a top pick to develop) and probably Washington (Gortat and Ariza are both Free Agents and they've been key to their success this year so I think they'll try to re-sign them).
That leaves Charlotte, Cleveland, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Phoenix as the teams that I see as legitimate threats.
Charlotte has shown incredible improvement this year on the defensive end, but a big part of their success has been the play of Al Jefferson, who they signed this summer for 3 years and $40.5 million. I could see them wanting to add another scoring punch to go along with Jefferson and Kemba Walker, and while they already have Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, they could easily slide him over to the SG position to make room for Gay. Heck, Gay could even start at Power Forward since Charlotte's starting Josh McRoberts there now.
Cleveland of course has that mandate to win at all costs, and that was a big motivation of their trade for Luol Deng. While they would like to re-sign Deng, I believe he will go elsewhere (and one of these teams that's a threat to sign Gay will also be threats to sign Deng). If that's the case, going after a player like Rudy as a younger replacement makes sense.
Dallas is always looking to make a splash, and they've shown recently that they're willing to go after guys like Rudy. This past summer they spent a lot of money acquiring Monta Ellis. Re-signing Dirk will be a priority, but Dirk is also the kind of guy that I could see re-signing for $10 million or so a year like Tim Duncan did so that Dallas will be in a position to add more talent in the hopes of one more title run before his retirement.
The Lakers will likely be chasing bigger fish than Gay (like Carmelo Anthony) but because of Nash's expiring deal, they could still go after Gay for a $12 million or so deal, save room and then go after another big name like Kevin Love in 2015. A lot depends on where the Lakers end up in the lottery and who they end up drafting of course.
Phoenix has been mentioned as interested in Rudy for a while now, and they're in the unique position of being a young team that has played very well and has a lot of space to improve without losing any of their key cogs. Re-signing Eric Bledsoe is a must, but even a big deal for Bledsoe will still leave plenty of space to go after Gay. The Suns could even offer the Kings an incentive to not match by offering up one or more of their 2014 picks as part of a sign and trade.
My hope is that the Kings and Rudy will be able to come to an agreement this summer before he tests the market, but I wouldn't blame him for doing so. The Free Agent market this summer is pretty weak, and unless LeBron and Carmelo opt out, Rudy would probably be the biggest name available among SFs, followed by Luol Deng and Trevor Ariza.
Personally, I think he opts in to his final year and becomes a free agent next summer, when a lot of teams will still have space. $19.3 million is a lot to turn down, and it also gives him the chance to properly evaluate Sacramento by getting a full year in with the group. Even learning on the fly, this group of guys has played well together (15-12 in games that Rudy, DeMarcus and Isaiah all play at least 30 minutes) and being in Sacramento has done wonders for Rudy's career.
There are a lot of factors for Rudy to consider this summer. I hope that in the end, he chooses Sacramento, because I think I speak for all of us in saying that we would like to see him be a part of this team for a long time to come.