Running an NBA team is not for the faint of heart. The job is wrought with difficult decisions that often change the direction of a franchise in a split second. Many times, those decisions aren’t even yours to make.
The big news on Sunday revolved around Carmelo Anthony telling the New York Knicks that he was opting out of the mega-deal he signed back in 2010. The 30-year-old forward will enter the free agent market looking for one last giant payday and perhaps a situation that is better than the one in the Big Apple.
Anthony is a seven time All-Star who finished second in the league in scoring last season and won the scoring title the year before. He hasn’t found great success in the playoffs, but he is considered a star in the league and teams will line up at his door on July 1 to vie for his services.
Phil Jackson and the Knicks brass will take part in chase for Melo, but there are no guarantees. Multiple teams are going to throw max money offers at Anthony and he will then have to decide if he is willing to leave New York.
Meanwhile, in Sacramento, another extremely talented Baltimore native made a major decision about his future. After a 55-game audition last season in a Sacramento Kings uniform, Rudy Gay has decided to stick around the capital city for at least one more season.
Gay and Anthony were in similar situations, but they made dramatically different decisions. Anthony will tour the country eating fancy dinners with NBA front office execs, while Gay and his team will negotiate a potential long-term extension with the Kings. Gay will enjoy his summer with his newborn son, while Anthony will contemplate packing his life into boxes once again and hoping for a better fit in his next stop.
Who would have thought that Sacramento would keep their big fish while the Knicks are left scrambling. It’s easy to understand why Carmelo would look for greener pastures, the Knicks are loaded with bad contracts and under performing players. But why did Rudy Gay stay in Sacramento?
First and foremost, Gay had $19.3 million reasons to stay. Regardless of how much money an NBA player makes over the course of their career, walking away from nearly $20 million would be a difficult decision. He would have received plenty of offers on the open market, but there was no telling where his ceiling was this time around. It’s safe to say that the ceiling wasn’t in the $20 million per season range, but he still would have been paid handsomely, no matter where he landed.
If you put the money aside, Gay just took a gamble on the Sacramento Kings. The Kings took a similar gamble on him in December when they loaded up Patrick Patterson, Chuck Hayes, Greivis Vasquez and John Salmons on a plane bound for Canada.
Gay was considered close to untradeable, if that notion really exists in the NBA. He was shooting a career low 38.8 percent from the field for a team that had designed their entire offense around him. Toronto took four veterans with marginal production for one of the most talented small forwards in the NBA, because they feared he would opt in to the final year of his deal and they would be on the hook for his enormous salary.
It’s a classic case of one man’s junk being another man’s treasure. The Raptors weren’t willing to move forward with Gay and the players they received from Sacramento sured up half the holes on their roster, helping the team make a shocking run to the playoffs.
“When you look at the man and you look at the body of work, this is a very, very good player and we’re really excited to have him here for that reason,” Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro said after making the deal in December.
Pete D’Alessandro took a calculated risk that Gay wasn’t damaged goods. He envisioned that the Kings and more specifically, DeMarcus Cousins, was a better fit for the 6-foot-9 wing. He was banking on Gay falling in love with Sacramento, the organization and the potential of a team that is still lacking a few pieces. D’Alessandro took a gamble, because that is what you do when you run a small market team.
D’Alessandro’s gamble has now paid off twice. First, Gay was great in his 55 games with the Kings. His shooting percentages returned back to normal when paired with the right players. In a little over half a season, he was able to repair the damage to his reputation and return to marketability.
Secondly, D’Alessandro has proven to anyone who is watching, that despite Sacramento winning just 28 games last season and missing the playoffs for eight consecutive seasons, a high-end player with plenty of options is willing to choose the Kings. Be it management, coaching, ownership, the city or players, the Sacramento Kings will have Rudy Gay on their roster next season because he saw enough in his short stint with the team to want to stick around.
The jaded will say that it was a business decision. That $19.3 million was too much to pass up and that this is about money first.
But this isn’t how the Kings look at it. They now know that they have two incredibly talented players at vital positions going into Thursday’s draft. They have more work to do, but they gambled on themselves and won big when Gay announced he was sticking around.
“I love change,” D’Alessandro said when he made the trade. “The excitement of taking over as general manager of Sacramento is, you embrace change. If you don’t embrace change, there’s going to be how many more years of the same old thing.”
This time, D’Alessandro is just fine without the change. He is just fine with Gay at $19.3 million and he would be even happier if the talented forward signed a three or four year extension after July 1. Sometimes it pays to take a big risk.