Rudy Gay is entering the prime of his career and seems to have found a home in Sacramento, at least for now.
That last part is what may have some Kings fans on edge at the moment, and rightfully so. The 27-year-old small forward has been stellar since being traded from the Toronto Raptors earlier this season. The combination of DeMarcus Cousins, Isaiah Thomas and Gay has proven to be potent (the Kings have hovered around .500 when all three of them healthy and on the floor together). But with the team not threatening for a playoff spot yet and his looming decision of whether or not to opt out of his $19.3 million next season, it's difficult not to wonder what is in store for Gay in 2015 and beyond.
Following another loss Tuesday night against the Houston Rockets, I caught up with the eight-year veteran to get his thoughts on staying with the Kings.
"This could be a good home for me, but you know obviously, I have to sit down with my family ... and really plan out, you know, the pros and cons of being here or anywhere else," said Gay, who also mentioned that he doesn't want to cloud his mind with that decision right now.
This two-sided answer is expected and similar to what Gay told ESPN's Marc Stein earlier this month, but it should be noted that he does seem to appreciate the Kings front office and believes they treat their players well. (This is something we are starting to hear more about the Kings brass around the league.) Gay also said he is OK with the direction the team is heading.
"The organization is great. They've been nothing but great to me since I've been here," Gay said. "They work hard to keep guys happy ... I mean obviously this team hasn't been up to the stature in a long time - up to a playoff stature in a long time - but I think, you know, that's in the future. I can see that in the future because of the new direction this organization is going."
Will that be enough to keep a guy entering the peak of his career in Sacramento? Hard to say, but that $19.3 million option next season would be difficult to pass up I imagine. He may opt out and the Kings could then dangle long-term stability in front of him in the form of a four-year deal or so. The other options being he walks or they pay him that $19.3 million for next season. USA Today's Sam Amick also has reported that the Phoenix Suns would be interested in Gay if he opts out.
So yeah, a lot of uncertainty.
Two things are for sure at this point though:
1. Rudy Gay has revived his career in Sacramento.
2. Rudy Gay is not only a leader on the Kings; he is the leader, in my opinion.
Let's take a look at that first point. It's been well documented about how Gay's efficiency has increased since arriving in Sacramento. He is currently averaging 20.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists, and 1.5 steals per game - all of these numbers are higher than his career averages in each category. Over the last three games, he is averaging 26.3 points, 7 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.7 steals. His field goal percentage has dropped a little since he got off to that blistering 50-percent+ start with the Kings (he is now at his career average 45 percent). That dip could mean he is coming back down to reality or it could be related to his Achilles injury. Cousins' injury problems also could have played a factor because Gay clearly is the most efficient when he has a dominant center to play alongside of.
Cousins is able to take the defensive pressure off Gay, which allows him to fit into the role of the No. 2 option on offense, a role he excels in.
Which brings me to the second point.
With the Kings not on a path to the playoffs and the front office trying to make the roster moves to get them there, Gay has put it on himself to be the veteran in the locker room that provides guidance to the younger players.
"Be a leader, you know, for these young guys and just be somewhat of a mentor," Gay told Sactown Royalty. "You see somebody like a Ben McLemore and a Ray McCallum could be really good pros in this league, but they need somebody to coach them. I mean obviously, you have coach [Michael Malone], but I'm with them on a different level and, you know, I've been around the league and I think I can tell them a couple more things that need to be done. Not just him, you have Cuz [DeMarcus Cousins], you have Quincy [Acy], who came here with me, and Derrick [Williams]. There's a lot of guys here and I take that as a challenge. So right now, I'm just really trying to be the best leader, lead by example."
Case in point: Gay watched the Kings' franchise player, Cousins, get ejected Tuesday for spouting off at the refs. As the buzzer sounded on the 129-103 beat down by the Houston Rockets, Gay (who finished with 25 points, 6 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals and 1 block) walked up to all of his teammates who had their heads down and shoulders slumped and gave them high fives.
As for Cousins, Gay said he spoke to him in the locker room.
"I think it's already understood, you know, what happened today. I mean he [Cousins] lost his composure and I think sometimes you got to put your hand in the fire to realize how hot it is. He's done that time and time again. Sooner or later he's going to figure out how hot it is," Gay told reporters after the game. "He's maturing. Today, it didn't show, but he's maturing. He's growing up and I think he really realizes about this game because, you know, it's a big chance for him. He has a lot to prove in this league."
Cousins has made strides with his temperament this season, but the ejection on Tuesday and the back and forth with Kris Humphries on Saturday definitely was a step back in that progress.
One has to wonder if Gay is OK hanging his hat on being dependent on a guy like Cousins, who has a volatile personality, to help take the Kings to the next level. You also wonder if he is comfortable remaining in this mentor role for a long period of time, instead of on a team with more like-minded veterans that is closer to contending for a title.
Gay has that combination of solid numbers and a strong locker room presence that doesn't come around very often, especially in Sacramento. The Kings front office has some difficult decisions ahead, specifically with what to do with Isaiah Thomas and how the size of his looming contract may impact the long-term prospect of signing Gay (that's a whole other article).
Bottom line, Rudy Gay is a keeper and if it were up to me, and they are able to do so, the Kings should do everything in their power to lock him into a deal sooner rather than later.