On Sunday news broke that Rudy Gay will be taking that $19.3 million on the table for 2014-15, and will wait to negotiate a contract extension with the Kings. Some took this as bad news for Sacramento, who are now over the salary cap without accounting for free agent point guard Isaiah Thomas. Sacramento, on the other hand, took this as good news: had Gay hit the market, the Kings might have had to tie their hands long-term just to ensure he stuck around one more season. Now there's another year of assessment and, perhaps, movement.
It's worth noting that DeMarcus Cousins a) professed to want Gay back and b) had the best season of his career alongside the wing scorer. It's also worth noting that the Kings have no one in the wings on the wing: Ben McLemore, a rookie, finished 2014 as the starting two-guard, and Travis Outlaw might be the next best option out there. (Sorry, Derrick Williams. You're still better as a power forward.) Sacramento has struggled to fill the small forward spot since Ron Artest left for Houston years ago. There is, if nothing else, some psychic value to having a good small forward on the team.
Some outsiders (and perhaps within the Kings fandom) consider Gay opting in to be a bad thing because, as mentioned, it puts Sacramento over the cap. But the Kings will still be able to retain Thomas if the price is amenable. It would not be terribly surprising to see Thomas go, however.
Remember that current GM Pete D'Alessandro brought in a pass-first point guard (Greivis Vasquez) in his first trade upon taking the job. The current coach, Michael Malone, started the pass-first guard over Thomas. I.T. eventually won the starting job by acclamation, and went on to have a brilliant offensive season. He's a fine player, and could be even better if paired with a top defensive two-guard like Arron Afflalo or Tony Allen. (The Kings don't have a top defensive two-guard. Or a top defensive anything, really.)
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The thing about the Kings right now is that they are not one move away from becoming a playoff team. The roster is still in incredible flux, with a bunch of mid-rung contracts on the books. There's Jason Thompson, who has survived about 20 attempts on his job since being drafted in 2008. There's Carl Landry, who was signed to a substantial free agent deal a year ago but immediately got injured and essentially missed the season. There's Jason Terry, either a needed veteran addition or an expiring contract that helped free Marcus Thornton. There's Williams and Outlaw. There's Reggie Evans.
There is a lot of potential for Kings moves, especially with McLemore or the No. 8 pick available for big game. It would probably be more difficult to move Gay — that's a lot of salary to trade, even though the contract is expiring. But having Gay on the books is better than not, and having him on the books for high salary for one year is probably better than four. That it also allows the Kings to be better this year and keep Cousins happy as the franchise attempts to build a winner are good things.
So while it may look like Rudy Gay at $19.3 million is a problem for the Kings, it's the best-case scenario given the circumstances. And for what it's worth, it's the expected path: D'Alessandro traded for Gay a year ago knowing the player had a massive option he'd likely pick up. Chances are that Pete D. has a plan for just this situation. I prefer giving new GMs the benefit of the doubt as they execute their strategy.