Before looking at Rudy Gay, let’s take a moment to remember the December 9, 2013 Sacramento Kings who blew out Dallas, mostly thanks to the combined 87 points from DeMarcus Cousins, Isaiah Thomas, and Derrick Williams. Basketball-Reference should commemorate them by giving them their own team page.
You can do a simple Google search about the trade sending Gay to Sacramento and discover just how many people wanted to chime in on it. While the trade is certainly worthy of discussion, I’ll look at what I find most interesting about it: the $19.3 million player option Gay can exercise next season.
By trading for Gay, the Kings hope he doesn’t take the last year of an $82 million contract he signed with Memphis back in 2010. If he indeed doesn’t and the Kings let him walk this summer, the trade is a salary dump both ways. Each team sheds the salaries of players not in their long-term future and spends it more wisely elsewhere. Sacramento needs some of that money Gay would turn down in order to re-sign Isaiah Thomas, one of the best reserves in the NBA before the trade. They’ll have to work around the luxury tax if Gay chooses the $19.3 million, the tax being an embarrassing obstacle for a team that’s shown signs of hope but is not yet a playoff contender.
And at this point, taking the player option would be Gay’s best move. Sure, players generally prefer more years of guaranteed money, even if the annual salary is cheaper than their player option since injuries, among other things, can derail future earnings. However, Zach Lowe at Grantland made a good point. Players like Andrei Kirilenko have opted out of the final year of their contracts, but they didn’t turn down anything close to the $19 million and change that Gay can take.
Gay’s value is also at its all-time lowest. He’s 27 and about to enter his prime, yet Toronto only got John Salmons, Greivis Vazquez, Chuck Hayes, and Patrick Patterson in return. Three of those players are decent pieces on a good team, but that’s not even close to the haul you’d expect in exchange for someone paid like a superstar, save for Amar’e Stoudemire’s uninsured knees. In the same column by Lowe, he writes that some GMs wouldn’t even want Gay for the midlevel exception, an amount only a fraction of what the player option would pay out.
But Sacramento was interested in the small forward, and there’s a chance it could work out better for them than it did for Toronto. For one, the Raptors already had a high volume-shooting wing in DeMar DeRozan while Sacramento has Derrick Williams and Ben McLemore, two likely starters who play much better off the ball at this point in their careers. Gay’s also replacing one of the worst starting small forwards in the league in John Salmons, whose PER so far is nearly half of Gay’s.
The problem lies in how he works with DeMarcus Cousins and Isaiah Thomas, who have usage rates of 35 and 28 percent, respectively. Both will now be in the starting lineup with Gay, thanks to the trade, and both need the ball. They’ve certainly been more efficient with it than Gay has, and if the former Raptor continues using possessions at his current rate (about 30 percent), this makes the trade a potential disaster. Bad times all around, both on the court and in the checkbook.
Neither result bodes all that well for Sacramento anyway. If Gay fits in well and the Kings win a few more games than expected, they lessen the value of their first round pick in the upcoming draft. Even more confusing is if it brings Gay’s value up to the point he tests free agency, meaning Sacramento may get nothing in return for him and, in the process, worsen their No. 1 pick in a loaded draft.
If Gay doesn’t work out in Sacramento and his current value somehow continues to decline, then he’s better suited to exercise his player option, which also sets the franchise back yet another season. Sacramento could avoid the $19.3 million and end the paranoia altogether by offering a salary at about half the price but with long-term security for Gay, say $46 million for four years, but that only creates more problems down the road.
All of this is the cost of acquiring Rudy Gay, whose stock continues to drop but price tag only gets more expensive. That’s no longer Toronto’s problem, but Sacramento’s.
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