Before training camp commenced in October, Sacramento Kings small forward Rudy Gay informed the team's front office that he will choose to become a free agent at the conclusion of the season. The 3-year extension Gay signed in 2014 had a player option for the third year, allowing him to opt out of the contract that is set to pay him $14,263,566 for the ’17-’18 season. He told the Kings that he would decline the option and test the free agent market, in search of higher earnings or a more stable franchise, or both.
In terms of replacing a player as important as Rudy Gay, the Kings options are limited.
Stick with what they have
Unfortunately, what they have is next to nothing. Matt Barnes plays small forward, but he too has a player option for next season. He’s been a solid addition to the Kings thus far, but his aging legs can no longer handle starter minutes. Omri Casspi will be a free agent after this season and it's doubtful the Kings re-sign him, and you wouldn’t want him as your starting small forward anyways. Who knows? Maybe Malachi Richardson, who is averaging 21 points in the D-League, will get a call-up and blossom into a solid player. One can hope, right?
2017 off-season free agency
As pointed out in a previous article, Sacramento is not exactly a popular destination for free agents. Most of the, albeit small, amount of talent the Kings have acquired over the years has come via the draft or by way of a trade. If the Kings look to fill the hole left by Gay with a free agent, the options are limited there as well. The list of upcoming free agent small forwards is underwhelming, with Otto Porter at the top followed by guys like Tony Snell, Ersan Ilyasova, and P.J. Tucker. These are solid contributors who would be good additions in Sacramento, but none would be able to fill the void that will be left by Rudy Gay.
This seems like the smartest and most likely option. However, since Gay’s contract is expiring, no team will trade for him without the affirmation that he will sign an extension once he is dealt. This limits the Kings options, as there are likely only a handful of teams that Gay is willing to sign an extension with.
One of them is probably Miami, and the Heat have assets that the Kings may covet. There has been instability at the point guard position in Sacramento for years, and Miami’s Goran Dragic could be the answer to their issues. His salary ($15.9m) is similar to Gay’s ($13.3m) and both teams would be filling needs. Justice Winslow’s development has been slower than expected, and he hasn’t played since November 14th while nursing a left wrist injury. The Heat’s other current options at small forward are Luke Babbit and Derrick Williams. Rudy Gay would take over as the teams starting small forward and could even play the 4 if they decide to go small, making a good replacement for Chris Bosh. Would the Heat be interested in a Gay and Darren Collison package in exchange for Dragic and Josh Richardson? The Heat would be getting a point guard in return, while the Kings would also score a developing talent in Richardson who is averaging 11 points and 3 rebounds in 28 minutes per game.
To add fuel to the trade rumor fire, Kings center DeMarcus Cousins and Washington Wizards point guard John Wall (teammates in college at Kentucky) both told reporters that they have discussed playing together in the NBA. This created some buzz around both organizations and led to some creative hypothetical trades by way of ESPN’s Trade Machine. The one that seems the most possible, though still far fetched, is a three team trade that looks like this:
Would the Wizards agree to that deal? I think the Heat would, and though it looks like the Kings are giving up a ton, I personally buy into this one. WCS has been nothing short of a disappointment, Gay is on his way out at the end of the season anyway, and Skal is currently playing for the Big Horns. This looks like a fun deal on paper, but still, wouldn’t fill the hole that would be left by Gay’s departure.
There are other rumors, too. The Oklahoma City Thunder were said to be in talks with the Kings about a swap that included Cameron Payne, though those talks fell through when Payne broke his foot. Any deal with OKC would likely involve draft picks, as the Thunder may not have the current assets that they’d be willing to part with in exchange for Gay. The Minnesota Timberwolves have also been rumored to have interest in Gay, and could put together an appealing package if it included Ricky Rubio and a pick or another player. Could the Lakers put together a bundle to appeal to the Kings? The rumor mill will continue to spin until something actually happens.
There will be plenty of change in Sacramento in the coming months, especially if the team continues to underperform. There have been discussions by fans on online forums and talk radio shows about blowing up the team, trading Cousins and Gay now and acquiring assets and draft picks for what looks to be a very deep and talented 2017 Draft. It could very well happen. The Kings would be foolish to let Gay walk next summer without getting anything in exchange, and Cousins' trade value is at its peak. The situation in Sacramento may be the most entertaining to monitor as the trade deadline approaches in a couple of months.