Like two contentious coworkers who are forced to partner on an arduous, unpleasant project, the Sacramento Kings and Rudy Gay have been in an awkward, uncomfortable relationship for an extended period of time. After the front office pulled the rug out from the veteran by firing Mike Malone just 29 days after inking Gay to a 3-year extension, things have been, at best, tense with management. And now, due to an exception placed within his contract, our star small forward has only until April 17th to make a huge decision without the normal benefits of working out consistently, continued rehabilitation, watching free agency unfold, or seeing what moves the Kings make on draft night.
Due to the continuous drama infecting the franchise, Rudy informed management in September of this past year that he would be opting out of his contract at the end of the season, become an unrestricted free agent, and was unlikely to negotiate a new deal with his current team, even if our owner thought otherwise. He even expressed to The Undefeated that “It wasn’t rocket science” to make that choice.
After his declaration, it was assumed across the league that Vlade would move Gay in February for a future pick, young player, or whatever a contender was willing to offer in exchange for an 18 point per game scorer. Of course, we all know what happened next; Rudy tore his Achilles just five weeks before the trade deadline, ending his season and any hope of a quick ending to the drawn-out saga.
Now, the veteran small forward is in an even more untenable position than before. His recovery is reportedly ahead of schedule, and the Kings are clearly rebuilding, but there is also $14 million sitting on the table. Should he accept the guaranteed money, take his time with his recovery, and hope to be dealt at the deadline or should he simply end his unhappy relationship with ownership and hope for a better, long-term deal in the offseason?
More importantly, what should we hope for as Kings fans?
The Opt-in Argument
Talent is talent is talent is talent and the Kings are currently bereft of the most important ingredient for the elusive recipe that is success in the NBA. Ownership’s endless buffoonery over the years has made it almost impossible to acquire high-level players, and with DeMarcus Cousins now under the reign of King Cake Baby in New Orleans, Rudy is the most skilled player left on the roster. Young prospects such as Skal, Buddy, and Willie are showing promise, and Temple, Tolliver, and Koufos are solid bench contributors, but not a single player signed through next season is a definite starter on a top-tier squad. Rudy, however, is a top 15 small forward in the league. Should the Kings hope that their most talented player simply walks away without a return?
We often hear the term “stop-gap point guard” when a team is attempting to bring along a young guard slowly, but could Sacramento use the same concept with a “stop-gap small forward”? Having Gay on the roster and starting on opening night would enable Dave Joerger and his staff to develop the wing that the Kings will theoretically draft in June without any pressure of playing big minutes. If the rookie is more ready to go than expected, Gay can be moved to the bench, to power forward, or traded to another team for a small to medium-sized asset.
Although the front office has been able to somewhat restock the asset cupboard over the few years, it still has too many empty drawers for the rebuild that’s currently taking place. Sacramento is surrendering its 2019 first round pick to Philadelphia as well as their second round pick to Chicago in this draft. Depending on Gay’s health and performance, a future first rounder is unlikely at the deadline, but a pair of second rounders, a young player, or simply trading him as an expiring contract to a team struggling with cap space are all viable options next February. Any player that can be moved without hurting the rebuild, and that can potentially fetch an asset or future pick, should not be easily dismissed.
The Opt-out argument
Minutes and Usage
It’s no secret that Rudy Gay is the type of player who needs the ball in his hands to be effective. His usage rate of of 25.1% was good for 11th highest among small forwards in the NBA this season. One might assume that the large number was caused by the Kings lack of overall talent on the roster, but his career average usage of 24.8% tells a different story. If Rudy is on your team, he’s going to frequently demand the ball on the offensive end of the court.
In a similar vein, Rudy is also turning 31 prior to the beginning of next season. Aside from his rookie year, he has started in 672 of 675 career contests. Gay is going to expect to continue to receive heavy minutes as the best player on a bad team. Will appeasing a veteran cost the Kings valuable development minutes for the young players? Will Rudy’s contributions cost Sacramento positioning in the 2018 lottery without any added benefit? These are questions that must be considered.
Vlade and the Front Office have several large decisions looming in the next few months. Langston Galloway and Rudy Gay have player options, Anthony Tolliver and Arron Afflalo essentially have team options, McLemore has a qualifying offer, and both of our point guards are unrestricted free agents. Depending upon who makes what moves, an extra roster spot could be a blessing for the Kings.
Cap-stricken organizations like Portland, Memphis, and Cleveland may be willing to send a minor asset in exchange for the Kings taking on a bad contract. The ability to absorb multiple players is usually key in those types of trades. Another benefit of open spots is the ability to test out up-and-comers from the G-League. As the NBA minor league becomes more and more of a developmental ground, the Kings should look for diamonds in the rough like Danny Green, Seth Curry, and Jeremy Lin.
In the end, it’s out of Kings’ fans hands as to what our veteran small forward will do. Personally, I lean more toward the camp of hoping that he opts in, mentors our draft pick for part of a season, and is then moved at the deadline for a medium-sized asset.
What do you want Rudy Gay to do?
This poll is closed
Opt-in to his contract for $14 million.
Opt-out and become a free agent.