Perhaps the biggest question of the offseason for the Sacramento Kings is whether or not Rudy Gay will opt in to his $19.3 million player option for next season or not. Should he opt out, he'd become an unrestricted free agent, able to go wherever he pleased.
As has been discussed many times before, nobody saw Rudy opting out of the final year of his deal when the Kings traded for him. He was in the midst of a career-worst season with the Raptors, shooting below 40% from the field. However, once he came to the Kings he started to play some of the best basketball of his career, averaging 20.1 points a game on a career-best 48.2% from the field.
With all that being said, $19.3 million is still a lot more than anybody is going to offer Rudy next year, and it's possible that should he opt in, he'll still get a good contract offer next season. Of course, that comes with its own inherent risks, as he'll be a year older, might not play as well, or suffer a big injury which will drastically lower any potential new contracts.
Recently, we've begun to hear some speculation, mainly on local radio like the Grant Napear show, that Rudy will opt out. It's important to note that this is all speculation and Napear has said multiple times that it's just his opinion. Carmichael Dave has also voiced a similar opinion.
I'm inclined to agree with them, for a few reasons.
For starters, Rudy has yet to get to choose where he plays basketball. He was drafted by the Grizzlies, who then gave him a ridiculous maximum contract nobody else was going to offer. After Rudy unsurprisingly failed to live up to that contract, he was traded to the Toronto Raptors, who then traded him to the Kings after a year. By opting out of the final year of his contract, Rudy will be able to choose his own destination for the first time, an important choice, given that he'll likely spend his prime years wherever he decides. It might shock you to learn this, but the Kings aren't very good, and Rudy will have options to go to teams that are already good rather than stick around and hope that the Kings become good while he's there.
Second, Rudy is set to be a much bigger name free agent this year than he would be in 2015, even if he manages to duplicate the success he had this year. Take a look at some of the likely top names that will be available this summer and then compare it to the list of likely FAs next year.
2014: Avery Bradley (RFA), Paul Pierce (UFA), Luol Deng (UFA), Dirk Nowitzki (UFA), Greg Monroe (RFA) Lance Stephenson (UFA), Pau Gasol (UFA), Ray Allen (UFA), Carmelo Anthony (UFA), Eric Bledsoe (RFA), Isaiah Thomas (RFA), Rudy Gay (UFA), Kyle Lowry (UFA), Gordon Hayward (RFA), and Marcin Gortat (UFA).
2015: Paul Millsap (UFA), Rajon Rondo (UFA), Jeff Green (UFA), Brook Lopez (UFA), Kemba Walker (RFA), Al Jefferson (UFA), Jimmy Butler (RFA), Carlos Boozer (UFA), Kyrie Irving (RFA), Anderson Varejao (UFA), Monta Ellis (UFA), Kenneth Faried (RFA), Draymond Green (RFA), Klay Thompson (RFA), Omer Asik (UFA), Jeremy Lin (UFA), Roy Hibbert (UFA), David West (UFA), DeAndre Jordan (UFA), Marc Gasol (UFA), Zach Randolph (UFA), Brandon Knight (RFA), Ricky Rubio (RFA), Kevin Love (UFA), Tyson Chandler (UFA), Reggie Jackson (RFA), Nikola Vucevic (RFA), Thaddeus Young (UFA), Marcus Morris (RFA), Markieff Morris (RFA), Goran Dragic (UFA), LaMarcus Aldridge (UFA), Robin Lopez (UFA), Wesley Matthews (UFA), Kawhi Leonard (RFA), Tony Parker (UFA), Manu Ginobili (UFA), and Alec Burks (RFA)
Now to be fair to the 2014 Free Agents, many of the 2015 free agents could be off the list as soon as next year thanks to extensions on rookie contracts (Kyrie Irving and Klay Thompson for example), and I also left off possible free agents like Miami's big 3 simply because I don't see them leaving Miami. The point is that Rudy is a much more prominent free agent this summer than he'd likely be next year. Right now the only real big names among wings this summer are Luol Deng, Carmelo (who will likely stay in New York), and Gordon Hayward (who Utah will likely match any offer on). I guess you could throw in Trevor Ariza with that group after his much improved year in Washington. I'm not including Paul Pierce because he's largely a role player at this stage in his career.
Finally, opting out also puts some pressure on the Kings to retain him and could drive up his overall market value. Even if Rudy wants to stay with the Kings, it'd make sense for him to test the market and put some pressure on the Kings' side to try to get a deal done, perhaps to guarantee an extra year (something only the Kings can do) or some more salary. Small market teams typically tend to overpay for premier free agents, even when retaining their own. Of course this point could be rendered moot if he simply doesn't want to stay with the Kings and wants to go elsewhere.
Should Rudy Gay opt out, it's not the end of the world for the Kings. It doesn't even mean that he's necessarily leaving the Kings either, although it decreases the chances drastically. Rudy leaving still wouldn't be terrible for the Kings, although retaining him is much preferable. At worst, the trade that acquired Rudy Gay allowed the Kings to save some long term money by shedding the contracts of Chuck Hayes and John Salmons. Without Gay, the Kings will once again be looking for an answer at Small Forward, but will have plenty of cap space and flexibility to do so in the next few years. They could even be poised to make a big splash in the crowded 2015 free agent market themselves, or use their newfound flexibility to make a similar trade to the one that brought Gay to Sacramento in the first place.
The Kings will likely have some clarity on this issue before the 2014 NBA Draft, which is being held June 26th. Gay has until the 30th to decide his player option. I would really like to see him in a Kings uniform for years to come, but I understand his reasoning should that not be the case. Regardless of what happens, it was still a good trade for the Kings, and one that they would do all over again given the chance.