Rudy Gay has opted in to the final year of his current contract, to the tune of $19.3 million. This puts the Kings within spitting distance of the salary cap, without adding in a potential offer match for Isaiah Thomas. The Kings are essentially without the cap flexibility to make a major move in free agency. That's fine, because the Kings are not yet a good enough team to be attractive to potential free agents. We'll have to see what happens during and immediately after the draft on Thursday, but Rudy opting in essentially hamstrings the Kings financially. But ultimately, it helps the Kings financially. Let me explain.
The Kings wanted to keep Rudy Gay, that much is a given. A lot of us, myself included, had hoped that Rudy might opt out and then re-sign with the Kings for a smaller per-year figure, but over a longer portion of time. The Kings can continue to negotiate a long-term extension with Rudy, and reports indicate that they will. But they can now negotiate without fear of losing Rudy this offseason, which would have been disastrous for the team's progress. Fear and urgency are what lead to teams bidding against themselves, and overpaying based on emotion.
The added time also allows the Kings a longer period to evaluate Rudy. He seems like a great fit in Sacramento, and I have little concern about his ability to continue his play from last season. But nonetheless, Rudy played just 55 games in Sacramento. It's perfectly reasonable to wonder if that stretch was a fluke.
But really, this added time helps the Kings in two ways. First, the Kings can probably expect a lower per-year figure on a new deal than if Rudy had opted out and agreed to a new deal this year. Rudy will be another year older, and will have just enjoyed a year on payroll at $19.3 million. A new deal this summer would have had that $19 million hanging over it, that the new deal had to somehow cover for at least some of that lost money. That will no longer be a factor in negotiations.
Secondly, if the Kings decide to move forward without Rudy after this season, they'll have an incredible amount of cap space and flexibility. If we assume the Kings will not tender an offer to Derrick Williams, the Kings are looking at $36 million in expiring contracts this year.
Obviously, that number could be in flux. Any of those expiring deals might be included in trades on draft day, or throughout the season. But that future flexibility will be hugely important for the team moving forward. Cap flexibility became a dirty word around here under the Maloofs, but the organization is now aggressively looking to improve. Cap flexibility means maneuverability in trades, it means the ability to add role players, it means the ability to extend and retain players who perform well. Even without Rudy opting in, the Kings have $17 million in expiring contracts, but Rudy is a huge chip if the right opportunity comes along. You never know.
Ultimately, I'm just glad that Rudy Gay is still a King. I believe in him. And I think the Kings are a better team with him on the roster. The financial elements are simply a bonus.