Rudy Gay's decision to opt into the final year of his contract with the Sacramento Kings should come as no surprise. At this point in his career, the 27-year-old swingman would be hard-pressed to convince another NBA team to pay him anything close to the $19.3 million he'll take home in 2014-15.
What's surprising here—or could be surprising, depending on how you feel about the parties involve—is that the Kings seem keen to keep Gay around long after his deal is set to expire. According to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, retaining Gay is "a top priority for the Kings," whose to-do list for the summer is long enough to be more easily stored as a scroll. Per USA Today's Sam Amick, the two sides have been talking about an extension for some time, though Gay and his representatives have recently decided to set aside those discussions.
The Kings consider Gay a cornerstone of the franchise's future and prolonging the process on extension discussions gives him a chance to further evaluate the team's progress on improving the roster before he fully commits to a deal. If Gay is unable to complete an extension in the next year, he'll become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2015.
In that time, the Kings will have to determine what, exactly, Gay is worth to them, financially and otherwise.
Asset-wise, Sacramento didn't have to invest much to acquire Gay from the Toronto Raptors this past December. All it took was a package of Greivis Vasquez, Chuck Hayes, Patrick Patterson and John Salmons—not quite a "Murderer's Row" of cap fodder, to say the least—to get Gay in a Kings uniform.
But how much more should the Kings pour into Gay's coffers to keep him dressed in purple for the foreseeable future? That's a much trickier matter, one that requires a clearer picture of Gay's own "value" in the context of the Kings' other roster concerns this offseason and beyond.
In a vacuum, Gay's probably "worth" about half of what he'll make this coming season. Advanced metrics guru Daniel Meyers pegged the value of Gay's contributions this past season—based on how much better or worse off his team was when he played and how much better or worse he was than a league-average player at his position—at around $10.2 million: $2.1 million in Toronto, $8.1 million in Sacramento. For comparison's sake, Kevin Durant led all players at $33.9 million, followed by LeBron James ($31.6 million), Stephen Curry ($28.2 million) and Chris Paul ($24.6 million).
Convincing a 20-point-per-game scorer in his prime to stay at a reduced rate will be easier said than done for the Kings. That will depend on what Gay and his representatives feel his services could fetch in free agency, and whether he actually wants to stay in California's capital. Small-market teams like the Kings typically have to pay a premium of sorts to attract and/or retain marquee players. The Charlotte Hornets, for instance, doled out $41 million over three years to Al Jefferson last summer in a deal that looked ridiculous at the time but was more than vindicated by Big Al's All-NBA performance this season.
But if the Gay and the Kings can get a deal done before he goes to market, Sacramento should be able to secure a discount of some sort.
Sacramento's concern here is necessarily with the bigger picture beyond Gay. According to The Sacramento Bee's Jason Jones, the Kings plan to extend a qualifying offer to Isaiah Thomas before the June 30 deadline. "I think that I’ve got to review that today," general manager Pete D'Alessandro told The Bee. "I’ve got to call his agent today but there’s no question we’ll qualify him."
That offer, worth just under $2.9 million (per Basketball Insiders), will make Thomas a restricted free agent, though it will probably cost the Kings much more to keep him. They're already slated to be well over the salary cap next season, and a big contract for Thomas could push them into the luxury tax.
Which is far from ideal for any team, but especially one that hasn't so much as sniffed the playoffs since 2006. Usually, luxury-tax territory is reserved for those teams that feel they're ready to contend for the title, not for the ones seeking solace outside the lottery.
Keeping the trio of Thomas, Gay and DeMarcus Cousins intact would appear to be the team's plan, and rightfully so. According to NBA.com, the Kings were 1.6 points per 100 possessions better than the opposition when those three shared the floor this past season—not an elite number by any means, but far better than the team-wide mark of minus-3.4 points per 100 possessions.
In Gay's case, though, the Kings might do well to bide their time with long-term talks rather than rush back to the negotiating table. Sacramento could find itself a replacement for Gay on the wing in this week's NBA draft. According to Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears, Arizona freshman Aaron Gordon isn't likely to last past the Kings at No. 8.
And not just because Gordon is a northern California native, though that certainly doesn't hurt his cause. Like Gay, Gordon (6'9", 210 pounds) is a wing-forward with freakish athleticism whose outside shot leaves much to be desired.
As far as playing styles are concerned, the two could hardly be more different. Gay is a born scorer whose credentials as a defender have all too frequently been called to account. Gordon, on the other hand, is incredibly raw—as most 18-year-old basketball players are—but understands how to affect all aspects of the game with his impressive physical gifts.
He doesn't need the ball in his hands to be effective, which is a key quality to have if you're going to fit comfortably next to ball-dominant players like Gay, Thomas and Cousins. In truth, then, Gordon could be considered a complementary player in Sacramento, albeit one with considerably more upside than Carl Landry or Jason Thompson.
But what if the Kings land Gordon and love what they see out of him in Summer League and/or training camp? What if the Kings come to see Gordon as a future star at the 3 or the 4?
What might that mean for Gay? Would Sacramento really want to extend a player who'd be obstructing the development of the team's promising prospect by his mere presence? Would that, in turn, undermine the Kings' quest to not only climb out of the NBA's doldrums, but to rise to a competency this team hasn't seen since the early 2000s?
We won't have any idea until after this Thursday's draft at the earliest. The Kings have been shopping their pick ever since the final order was set during the lottery.
Who knows? Maybe Sacramento will trade up, or down or right out of the first round entirely.
Whatever happens in the draft, Gay and the Kings will be part-and-parcel, for better or worse, for at least one more season. Their future together thereafter will hinge as much on the facts and figures floating around in the former's head as it will on the latter's plans for a brighter, more prosperous future.
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