When the Sacramento Kings acquired Rudy Gay via trade with the Toronto Raptors, they got the swingman they'd been missing for some time. With the regular season coming to a rapid close, the team now needs to figure out what it's doing with the small forward going forward.
Gay has a player option on his contract worth $19.3 million for 2014-15, according to Sham Sports. With that being the case, his future with the Kings is up in the air.
But based on everything we've seen from Gay since coming to Sacramento, the Kings need to make a serious effort to retain the small forward for the long term, assuming the two sides can come to an mutually beneficial agreement.
From Gay's perspective, signing an extension with the Kings would provide financial security. For the Kings, inking him to a deal gives cost certainty to their salary-cap situation. It makes too much sense for the two sides not to at least explore the matter.
Rudy Gay Is Weighing His Options
In a lot of respects, the ball is in Gay's court. He has a few different avenues he could t as far as his contract situation is concerned.
The first is the aforementioned $19.3 million player option for next season. If Gay exercises it, he'll get his money in 2014-15—money that is above his market value—and be able to hit free agency in the 2015 offseason.
Another route he could go would be to decline the $19.3 million and become a free agent following the season. Considering the enormity of the money, and that he's unlikely to come close to it in average annual value in an extension, this is probably the most unlikely scenario.
The last scenario, and probably the ideal one from the Kings' perspective, would be to have Gay accept a long-term extension with more overall dollars but less average annual value than his player option.
Which of the three he takes is completely up to Gay. And even though we're rapidly approaching the time when he'll need to make a decision, the 27-year-old is still decidedly undecided, according to Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com:
He says he has not made a decision on the $19.3 million on the table or whether he wants to remain with the Kings at any price. He has so not made a decision, Rudy Gay insists, that he is asked to list a couple factors that will go into the final call and responds, “I don’t know.”
While Gay may not have settled on the factors that will go into his decision, he did elaborate on a few of them when talking with Howard-Cooper. One thing to consider is whether he's comfortable with the Kings organization. After all, if Gay stays, he'll have to work closely with the front office for at least next season, if not longer.
Yet, according to Gay, that isn't a problem. He's enjoyed his time in Sacramento and the people he's working with, so much so that he's not ruling out sticking around long-term:
These people have been so great to me. They’ve been really great to me, to my family. They’ve been great. The coaches have all welcomed with me with open arms. Everybody in the organization. Vivek (Ranadive), he’s a great owner. I think this team will be good in the future. I do think so. I’m not throwing out the notion that I will be here. They know that they have a chance of me being here.
Of course, another consideration is money. Regardless of what he decides, Gay won't be hurting financially. But it is something to weigh when making a decision, right? Well, not so fast, at least according to what the forward told Howard-Cooper:
“I don’t think about that at all,” he says. “I love this game. I don’t play it for money. Obviously it’s a very big plus that we make a lot to play this game, but I think it’s more important to be happy.”
And as Gay said, he feels like he'll be fine whether or not he takes that one-year option or decides to re-sign a long-term deal to stay in Sacramento.
“Everything’s possible. I work hard. I work very hard. I feel as though when you work hard and you do things the right way, at the end of the day you will be rewarded. Whether it’s taking that year or whether it’s opting out and signing a new contract, I feel like I will be rewarded for my hard work.”
So, what Gay will ultimately decide is a mystery. The only clear thing is that he'll have plenty of options.
From Sacramento's perspective, two of Gay's three potential choices aren't bad. Either he picks up his player option, guaranteeing he'll be with the Kings for another year, or he signs an extension to stay with the team for the foreseeable future. The worst-case scenario is the most unlikely one, which would have Gay opt for free agency this offseason.
However, the best-case scenario would be to lock Gay up to a long-term deal at an amicable price for both the player and the team. That's the direction the Kings should try to take this thing.
For one, Sacramento will have the cap space to do so this offseason. In this scenario, Gay would be trading in his current average annual value—$19.3 million—for a lesser one over a longer term.
According to Sham Sports, the Kings currently have $67 million locked in for next season, which includes Gay's option.
NBA cap expert Larry Coon, who works for ESPN, projects next year's salary cap at $62.1 million and the luxury-tax threshold at $75.7 million.
Even if Gay picks up his player option, the Kings will have enough cap space to keep him without going over the luxury-tax threshold. But imagine if they could get him for a smaller cap hit on a long-term extension.
Even a five-year deal worth $70-$75 million would provide an additional $5-$6 million in cap space. That's money that could be used elsewhere, potentially even toward re-signing Isaiah Thomas, who will be a restricted free agent following the season.
Beyond the additional cap space, signing Gay to the long-term deal would provide cap certainty. In 2015-16, only DeMarcus Cousins, Jason Thompson and Carl Landry have guaranteed contracts with the team, totaling roughly $27 million.
By signing Gay to an extension, the team would have more of its cap space locked in for the foreseeable future—about $41 million based on the proposed five-year deal. But it would also have much of its frontcourt locked up and know exactly how much it could allocate to the rest of the roster.
Yet in order to make that happen, both sides need to come to an agreement on a contract. First, of course, Gay would need to be open to the idea of staying in Sacramento—something on which he is currently undecided. But assuming he is, the deal would need to work for the Kings, too.
Sacramento can't afford to overpay in keeping Gay. Part of signing him to an extension prior to the season would be to provide Gay with financial security going forward. His giveback would need to be a fair-market contract, unlike the one he's currently on.
That seems like a pretty reasonable thing to ask, yet Gay has options and some leverage. He doesn't need to accept a deal. He's already making plenty of money, and barring something unforeseen—like a career-ending injury—he'll still cash in whenever he does hit free agency.
That makes this a delicate situation, but it's one the Kings need to handle correctly.
So, how hard should the Kings try and re-sign Gay? It depends on your definition of "hard," but they shouldn't view it as a necessity.
Yes, the Kings are a much better team with Gay than without him. In fact, he's the team's third-best player, at least in terms of win shares and win shares per 48 minutes. Gay also plays a position—small forward—at which Sacramento has no discernible replacement should he leave.
But as good as Gay may be, the Kings haven't been very good with him on the court. Of course, not all of that's on Gay—honestly, not much of that can be blamed on him. But it illustrates the point that with or without him, Sacramento isn't a playoff team. Gay isn't the difference-maker as far as that's concerned.
Therefore, while signing him to an extension would be ideal, it's something the Kings should only attempt as long as it's a deal that's fair to them. That's not to say Sacramento should try to low-ball him; a market-value contract is fair. However, the team absolutely cannot afford to overpay him.
The Kings have already seen firsthand what bad decisions can do to a franchise. They came into the season with no cap space and a roster that wasn't nearly good enough to compete. If this regime is to separate itself from the previous one, avoiding that scenario in the future is paramount, and it starts with how the team handles the situation with Gay.
You can follow me on Twitter @SimRisso
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