Late in the third quarter of last Wednesday’s home game against the Indiana Pacers, Kings small forward Rudy Gay suffered a non-contact injury on a baseline drive to the basket. The initial fears of a ruptured Achilles were confirmed after an MRI, an outcome that will prove devastating both for team and player.
(Injury @ 0:55)
For Gay, the injury has the potential to be career threatening. There have been plenty of NBA careers that were derailed by a rupture of the Achilles, including Kobe Bryant, Isiah Thomas and Chauncey Billups. Bryant and Billups saw significant decreases in their production, and Thomas never played another game. However, athletes respond to injuries in their own unique ways, and it is not out of the realm of possibility for Gay to become a productive player again. In a statement that he released on Twitter, Gay vowed that he is “committed to coming back stronger than ever.” It is reasonable to think that he will return from the injury, but returning at the same level of productivity is historically unlikely.
As for the Kings, the injury turns a dire situation into a downright desperate one.
Last week, multiple sources reported that Sacramento plans to offer DeMarcus Cousins a contract extension this summer that could be worth over $200 million. This, coupled with recent comments from Cousins expressing his loyalty to Sacramento and to the Kings, put a temporary hang-up to any trade rumors involving the ultra-talented big man. The Gay injury immediately brought them back to the forefront.
Gay had been the most expendable and trade-worthy player on the Kings roster. His contract expires this off-season (though he holds a player option), and he was still very productive and could have been a solid addition to a contending team. His years in Sacramento were statistically some of his best, so his trade value was fairly high. Rudy wanted out, too. He informed the Kings before the season that he intended to opt out of the final year of his contract if he was not traded.
After his injury, the trade market for Gay is completely gone, and it is likely that he will exercise that player option this summer and will remain on the Sacramento roster for the 2017-2018 season. He will be paid $14.4 million for a season that will likely begin before his rehab is complete. This is not as big of an issue as it would have been in previous years because the salary cap is set to jump from $70 million to a whopping $94.1 million this summer. It would be nice to spend the money elsewhere, but the contract is no longer crippling.
There is also a small chance that Gay can be ready before the start of next season. In March of 2015, Trailblazers shooting guard Wesley Matthews suffered the same Achilles injury before he was set to become a free agent after the season. Matthews was able to recover in time to sign a 4-year, $70 million deal with the Dallas Mavericks and missed just four games the following season. He was able to get his money, but his production has dipped and hasn’t become quite the asset that the Mavericks had hoped.
If Gay is able to return and contribute in any fashion next season, it will be considered a victory for the Kings organization. He will never be the asset his was a week ago, but he can gain minimal trade value if he proves to be healthy by this time next year. Now, Cousins is the only asset that the Kings have left. They can show their loyalty by signing him to the big contract extension and be in the same place they’ve been for the past six years, or trade him for assets and picks in a rich upcoming draft.
Vlade Divac has quite the situation on his hands.