Rudy Gay has taken a beating over the last few years from NBA pundits. His 51-game stretch in Toronto made him a target for the stat heads. His $19.3 million salary opened the door for further ridicule. But he has persevered and he is now off to the best season of his nine-year career.
The Sacramento Kings were more than happy to pluck him from the trade pool and insert him alongside DeMarcus Cousins. As a medium-market team without free agent sex appeal, Sacramento has to take risks on players, even if the price tag is steep.
So far, the acquisition is paying dividends. Gay is playing at an All-Star level and the Kings are holding their own against the NBA’s elite teams. On Sunday afternoon, word broke that Gay had reached a three-year contract extension with the Kings. If all goes right, Gay will open the new arena in a Kings uniform and has the option to stay longer.
This story has changed dramatically over the last 11 months. Once an overpriced, inefficient scorer, the Kings were mocked for taking on Gay’s absurd salary. Once rehabilitated, most expected Gay to walk away and sign a long-term deal in a more fashionable location.
Why Rudy Gay Makes Sense for Sacramento
The Kings haven’t stumbled across talent like this very often during their 30 seasons in Sacramento. After Cousins, Mitch Richmond and Chris Webber, there may not be another player with the raw talent and ability of Gay. The former UConn star is that good.
Adding to his level of play, Gay is a pro’s pro in the locker room, a family man and a leader in his own way. While young players like Ben McLemore, Nik Stauskas and Ray McCallum look to the veteran for guidance, maybe more importantly, Cousins looks at Gay as an equal.
Sacramento has been in search of an elite-level small forward since Peja Stojakovic was traded to Indiana in 2006. Gay has been in the All-Star conversation in the past, and with the way the Kings are playing now, matched with the injury to MVP Kevin Durant, there may not be a better three-man in the Western Conference this season.
Gay is the perfect compliment next to Cousins. When he’s on, he draws a crowd and opens up the middle for the Kings center. When he isn’t, he finds ways to fill the stat sheet. Either way, he is a high-level talent who is willing to take a secondary role to one of the game’s best young players.
By locking up Gay now, general manager Pete D’Alessandro can focus on improving his team, instead of dealing with the contractual uncertainty of one of his best players. The Kings have a few holes to fill and that is where D’Alessandro will focus.
In addition, by dealing for Gay, improving his value and then showing the ability to retain him, D’Alessandro has a schematic that he can pitch to other potential trade targets or free agents. He has taken the pressure off himself and made the 2014-15 season about basketball and not Rudy Gay drama.
Lastly, because of Gay’s large salary for this season, his cap hold for this summer would have been over $20 million. That figure would have tied up every penny the Kings had to spend on the open market until Gay either re-signed, left via free agency or had his rights revoked.
Depending on Gay’s first-year salary, the Kings will have anywhere from $7-10 million to work with in free agency this summer.
Why Sacramento makes sense for Rudy Gay
What Sacramento offered here is a healthy salary for two seasons leading to the new CBA and an option year after that. No, Gay won’t be the 10th-highest player in the NBA, like he is this season, but three years and $40 million is a lot of money. Barring injury, Gay will earn one more solid deal in the league, and the Kings left the door open for that contract to be in Sacramento. This was a safe move, but one with plenty of upside for both sides.
Sacramento is building something and Gay is getting in on the ground floor. 6-4 is a small sample size, but it is clear that the Kings are improved this season. They have a willing ownership group, an aggressive management team, a coach that is very well respected and a team that is quickly building chemistry.
In addition, they have a state-of-the-art building on its way and a 24-year-old super star in Cousins. The Kings are trending upwards in many ways.
While Gay is not a guy who cares about the media chatter, he also doesn’t appreciate his ability as a basketball player questioned. Sacramento is a safe haven from the bright lights of the big city. It’s a kinder, gentler media world that seems to fit Gay’s personality. He gets asked plenty of questions, but his every move is not under the microscope like it would be in some NBA cities.
Off the court, the Gay family welcomed their first child this summer and Rudy has openly talked about how his priorities in life are changing. Sacramento is a very inviting city for a young family. It’s a different lifestyle for most NBA players, but for some, the slower pace is a perfect fit.
This deal is surprising, but then again, it’s not. Gay wanted to see where this team was headed before making a longer-term commitment. He likes Sacramento. He likes the fans, the anonymity and his teammates. He could have easily held the Kings for ransom all season long and hoped for a larger payday, but the dollar amounts in this deal work for all parties.
When the Kings pulled off the blockbuster deal that brought Gay to Sacramento, there were snickers from the crowd. The overall tone from the national media was that the new ownership group in Sacramento made a rookie mistake, that they had taken on a player whose salary far exceeded his ability.
Months later, the tables turned. Gay wasn’t going to get another max-money deal, but after Gordon Hayward and Chandler Parsons got paid, he was in line for another monster deal.
Sacramento invested the time. They believed in Gay’s ability. They brought him into the family, put him in a position to succeed and treated him like the All-Star level player he is.
The Maloofs are gone. This is a new generation of Kings owners and management. They are willing to take risks, but they treat players the right way. They have their players buying in and they are competing. Rudy Gay has now committed to being part of that program long term, which is both shocking and understandable at the same time.