Rudy Gay’s decision to stay makes life easier for Sacramento Kings

Rudy Gay on the court against the Los Angeles Lakers. (Photo: Tobin Halsey)

Rudy Gay made life a whole lot easier for Pete D’Alessandro and the entire Sacramento Kings front office this weekend. The veteran small forward made headlines yesterday when he decided to opt into the final season of a five-year contract he signed with the Memphis Grizzlies in 2010.

“It gives us some certainty in the position and it gives us some feeling where we can go moving forward with him,” D’Alessandro said following the Kings pre-draft workout on Monday. “And where that takes us, I don’t know. But I do know it gives us some certainty for that position, which helps us try to build the team around that core that we have going now.”

Gay’s choice to remain in Sacramento for at least one more year couldn’t have happened at a better time for the Kings. The franchise can now go into this year’s draft, which takes place on Thursday, knowing that they have a starting small forward for next season.

“You want to have certainty when you go into the draft,” D’Alessandro said. “You wanna know what are the positions that we have. We always talk about drafting best player versus (fit). But, you want to know what you have going into next season and it certainly helps knowing what we know.”

Gay didn’t have to make a decision on his future this early. The 27-year-old forward had until June 30 to decide whether or not he wanted to test the free agent market next month. D’Alessandro praised Gay as a “teammate” of the front office, noting that the six-year veteran was willing to accommodate the Kings’ plans for the draft in his decision-making process.

“Knowing things and understanding things helps us a lot,” D’Alessandro said of Gay. “So I can’t even say how much I appreciate him and the professionalism he’s shown and the willingness to be a team player for us.”

Gay’s deal includes an early termination option for the final year of his contract. After improving his play upon arriving in Sacramento via trade last December, some wondered whether he would exercise that option to sign a long-term deal sooner rather than later. In 55 games with the Kings, Gay averaged 20.1 points, 3.1 assists, 5.5 rebounds and posted a true-shooting percentage of 56.7 percent.

Gay’s partial-season renaissance with the Kings could be credited to his fit next to DeMarcus Cousins. As a member of the Raptors, the 27-year-old forward was the focal point of Toronto’s offense. In Sacramento, he’s instead able to play off of an offensively gifted center, a luxury he didn’t have with the Raptors.

“I think when he came in here, and the things he did were a lot of things we said we felt he would do when we did our analysis of him and projected what he would look like with a DeMarcus Cousins,” D’Alessandro said. “And I think that holds true.”

The veteran forward’s decision to opt in now puts his free agency off for at least another year. The Kings hope he avoids the market altogether and are optimistic about working out a long-term extension to keep Gay in Sacramento beyond 2015. They can formally begin those talks when the new league calendar officially begins on July 1.

“You’re not always right,” D’Alessandro said. “But I think in this case, we feel really good about the way (Gay and Cousins) played together. And we see this as being something that we would like to be something longer.”

What will the Kings do about Isaiah Thomas?

Though Gay’s status for next year is settled, the Kings still have a decision to make on another one of their core players. Isaiah Thomas is set to become a free agent next month after his rookie deal officially expires at the end of June.

What the Kings do about Thomas is up in the air. They still plan on offering him a qualifying offer, which makes the 25-year-old guard a restricted free agent. Extending Thomas a qualifying offer gives the Kings the option to match any deal he signs with another team in the open market.

“We feel very strongly about Isaiah,” D’Alessandro said about Thomas’ future in Sacramento following Monday’s pre-draft workout. “So what I can say is that obviously we’ll give him his qualifying offer and then we’ll have very good discussions with his agents at the appropriate time.”

Jason Jones of Sacramento Bee reported yesterday that the Kings would be willing to match any offer for Thomas as long as it’s within the $6-million-a-year range. How much Thomas makes this summer may depend on whether teams see him as a starter or backup point guard. Some within the Kings organization believe that the last pick of the 2011 NBA Draft is best suited coming off the bench.

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About: Jonathan Santiago

Jonathan Santiago serves Cowbell Kingdom as senior editor specializing in writing, podcasting and video production. He also handles the majority of CK’s day-to-day beat coverage of the Kings.