While the organization had the power of persuasion on its side, Gay's future was in his own hands.
The Kings announced on Wednesday that Gay officially accepted his player option:
Sacramento Kings forward Rudy Gay has exercised his contract option for the 2014-15 season, General Manager Pete D’Alessandro announced today.
“We’re thrilled that Rudy will return to Sacramento next season,” said Kings Chairman and Majority Owner Vivek Ranadivé. “He quickly demonstrated consistency both on the court and in the community, and we regard him as a valuable member of our organization moving forward.”
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported on Sunday that Gay chose to accept his 2014-15 campaign player option:
The re-signing of Gay is a top priority for the Kings. Team management and Gay's agent, Alex Saratsis of Octagon, are expected to re-engage discussions in the near future, sources said.
After July 1, the Kings and Gay will be able to negotiate a full four-year contract extension. Gay has been in constant contact with Kings management, and has been impressed with new owner Vivek Ranadive's commitment to constructing a contender, sources said.
Considering Gay is due over $19.3 million in salary in the final year of his five-year, $82.3 million contract (h/t Spotrac.com), it would have been rather surprising for him to leave that money on the table. The free-agent market wasn't guaranteed to pay near that amount.
For a player who has been a journeyman in playing for three different teams in the past three seasons and has never been named to an All-Star squad, finishing this current deal was Gay's best financial route.
On Monday, Kings general manager Pete D'Alessandro spoke on Gay's decision to opt in (via Jonathan Santiago of Cowbell Kingdom):
Kings GM Pete D'Alessandro on Rudy Gay opting in: "It certainly makes life easier knowing what Rudy wants to do..."— Jonathan Santiago (@itsjonsantiago) June 23, 2014
Whether staying put pays off in terms of playing for a winning franchise remains to be seen. If it doesn't, Gay will be an unrestricted free agent next offseason anyway. At the ripe age of 27 and with his best basketball likely in front of him, there is sound logic for Gay to stay in Sacramento beyond the lucrative paycheck.
The Kings have young, legitimate pieces in place to become a playoff contender even in the stacked Western Conference. Center DeMarcus Cousins is emerging as one of the premier players at his position, while 2-guard Ben McLemore figures to step up in his second season.
Fox Sports analyst Sam Amico felt it was vital to retain both Gay and promising young point guard Isaiah Thomas, who is a free agent this offseason:
Yes. Keep those 3, unless you get killer offer. RT @jennercuz1 will Kings be able 2 retain ISAIAH THOMAS & Rudy Gay in order 2 keep big 3?— Sam Amico (@SamAmicoFSO) March 31, 2014
Toward the end of the 2013-14 campaign, Gay did a strong job summarizing what the Kings need to do to take the proverbial next step, per NBC Universal's Aaron Bruski:
Rudy Gay on what Kings need to do going forward: “Maturity is where it starts. Everything falls in place from there.”— Aaron Bruski (@aaronbruski) April 17, 2014
Gay averaged 20.1 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.2 steals in his 55 games with the Kings, hinting at his All-Star potential.
Now that Gay is returning for sure, Sacramento can focus on building its current nucleus while adding another lottery pick with the No. 8 overall choice in the 2014 NBA draft. That could be used to bring in All-Star power forward Kevin Love, though, per Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports.
Whether the Kings trade the pick or use it to choose from a talented pool of incoming rookies, there should be a solid starting five in place. This coming year is an opportunity for him to grow his game as part of a familiar system and core of players while also mentoring the younger players and stepping up into more of a leadership role.
General manager Pete D'Alessandro has some promising pieces on the current roster to work with, but he must help Gay and Co. even more by upgrading the supporting cast and depth.
Otherwise, it will be difficult for Gay to stay in Sacramento beyond 2014-15 if a ninth straight postseason goes by without the Kings participating. That will in turn lessen the incentive for future free agents to sign with the small-market franchise.