The Oklahoma City Thunder and the Philadelphia 76ers completed a convoluted trade today involving a heavily protected draft pick, a semi-impressive prospect, and Ersan Ilyasova. This isn't of particular interest to Kings fans, but it did open up a fairly significant amount of cap space in Oklahoma City for Rudy Gay, and we didn't even have a chance to speculate before The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Thunder are still interested in the Kings' starting small forward.
Adrian Wojnarowski, via The Vertical -
The Thunder have been trying to find an athletic forward to complement their roster and pursued Grant as a short-term solution. Oklahoma City has maintained a strong interest in making a deal for Sacramento forward Rudy Gay, but the Grant deal allows the franchise to save money with the departure of Ilyasova’s $8.4 million contract this season.
Depending on how you interpret Woj's report, Jerami Grant either fills the hole Sam Presti originally wanted to plug Rudy Gay with, or opens up cap space to allow that Rudy Gay trade to potentially take place.
We can play with the trade machine all day, but with any deal involving the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Sacramento Kings, and Rudy Gay, odds are it's centered around a Rudy Gay for Cameron Payne + matching assets swap. Today's salary-cap-freeing trade with the Sixers does give the Thunder a lot more flexibility in terms of three team deals, but Payne for Gay looks like the foundation of any Thunder move.
Where this logic falls apart is when you consider the fact that Ersan Ilyasova and Cameron Payne for Rudy Gay already worked under the salary cap, so a preemptive move like this didn't necessarily need to take place for the oft-rumored fake trade to take place, but I won’t let logic get in the way of a fun discussion.
All of this is sort of irrelevant to the larger point I wanted to discuss here, anyway. Considering how well Rudy Gay is playing, considering how well the Kings are playing, considering how Cameron Payne is out with a foot injury that may require surgery, and considering how poorly the Thunder have handled foot injuries in the past, does this swap still make sense right now?
Despite how unlikely it is that Rudy Gay will sign with the Kings in free agency this summer, I find myself wanting to hit the pause button on any Rudy Gay trade discussions until we see more out of the Kings this season. They've played well. It could fall apart any minute, yes, but I want to see more unless something along the lines of a 'no-brainer' presents itself. I'm not sure a Cameron Payne swap is no-brainer, but I could be suffering from a huge case of recency bias. If you presented this offer in the offseason, I would have said yes without hesitation. Now, I'm not so sure. Admittedly, a wild shift in opinion after four games isn’t what I would consider smart analysis, but it’s real. What can you do?
Can the Kings get more for Rudy Gay? Should the Kings ‘strike while the iron is hot’ and trade Gay while he's playing well? Should the Kings wait and see what they've got this season before moving him? I think you could make a valid argument for any of those scenarios. I think not trading Rudy Gay this season would be a mistake, as you absolutely cannot let him walk for nothing, but the argument of timing is an interesting one. Will Rudy Gay’s value increase? Can the Kings get more than Cameron Payne if they wait for a desperate team at the deadline? Will Payne increase his value to the point where the Thunder take him off the table when he returns from injury?
Timing is everything.