Sacramento Kings own incumbent advantage with free agency looming for Rudy Gay and Isaiah Thomas

Michael Malone, Pete D'Alessandro and Vivek Ranadivé (Photo: Jonathan Santiago)

For two of the Kings’ top three players, this summer is not going to be all about fun in the sun.

Rudy Gay and Isaiah Thomas both have difficult decisions to make regarding their futures in the capital city. The veteran small forward can opt out of the final year of an $82-million deal he originally signed with the Memphis Grizzlies back in 2010. Meanwhile, Thomas will scour the free agent market for a new contract when his three-year deal as a second-round pick comes to an end.

Roles and fit will be among a number of factors Gay and Thomas consider as they decide where they’ll play next season. However, familiarity is one factor that the Kings own a clear advantage with over their competition.

“This was a chance for him to get to know us,” Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro said recently of the strategy behind acquiring Gay via trade last December. “And I like to think that he says he enjoyed the experience. So, it was a year for us to recruit a player that was already ours. Otherwise, you get those two days at the beginning of free agency where everyone’s running in and it’s harder to sell.”

Indeed, the Kings have gotten to know Gay and Gay has gotten to know the Kings. Fortunately for the franchise, communication breakdowns aren’t a problem with this new regime. Transparency is a strong suit of both D’Alessandro and Kings head coach Michael Malone and they’ve left a strong impression in that department with all of their players, including Gay.

“They’ve done things for me this season that I can’t say any other organization has done,” said Gay, who dealt with the pending arrival of his first-born son during the final weeks of the regular season. “Obviously, every other organization is different, (but) they’ve really taken to the family aspect of the team. I think all the great teams, all the great organizations, they have that. And if this team wants to get better, we have to grow as a family.”

On its surface, the Kings recent history of eight-straight losing seasons would appear to seriously handicap their cause with Gay. But those who closely spent time in Sacramento with the veteran small forward believe that the stench of a losing record isn’t what made a lasting impact on Gay’s perception of the Kings.

“I believe Rudy enjoyed his time here,” Coach Malone said of Gay. “And I think he sees the making of a team that is a lot closer than maybe 28 games would indicate.”

The veteran forward has also gone on record stating that he’s not opposed to the idea of growing with an inexperienced  team like the Kings. Unlike other teams with losing records, there is a foundation in place in Sacramento thanks to Malone, D’Alessandro and majority owner Vivek RanadivĂ©. With a regime in place that’s serious about changing a culture of futility, the Kings appear to be on the cusp of turning around their fortunes sooner rather than later.

“I think there’s definitely a good structure in place,” Gay said of the Kings. “I think our coaches, our coaching staff, I think with Pete showing interest in the players and really being a hands-on GM…obviously, it’s better for us as players.”

Like Gay, the Kings’ 25-year-old point guard sees an organization that has its act together. Thomas admires the work and time that D’Alessandro and Malone have put in this last year to change the look and feel around Sleep Train Arena.

“These guys really care about you and they want to change and they’re doing whatever it takes to change,” Thomas said. “And just, first and foremost, the coaching staff – coach Mike Malone and his staff – has been 100-percent real with everybody. They’ve worked very hard and they do their part and now it’s time for the players to do theirs.”

Thomas also appreciates Malone and his staff’s efforts to connect with players on a personal level. From his time as an assistant in several NBA stops, Malone has developed a reputation as a player’s coach. The Kings starting point guard noted that Malone was no different in his first year on the job in Sacramento.

“Coach just tries,” Thomas said. “He’s a player’s coach. Even all of (his staff) are. I mean they played the game of basketball and they know what we go through. So they try to…just make it as comfortable as possible for all of us, not only on the court, but off the court (too).”

There is no doubt that the 25-year-old point guard would prefer to remain in black and purple. But, his summer will likely play out in a similar fashion to former teammate Tyreke Evans. The New Orleans Pelicans swingman entered last July as a restricted free agent and signed an offer sheet in the Big Easy that the Kings chose not to match.

The Kings plan on extending a qualifying offer to Thomas to make him a restricted free agent, but whether they retain him remains in question. Perhaps Thomas signs an offer sheet with another team that’s within D’Alessandro and company’s price range. Or, his situation plays out exactly like Evans’ free agency last year and he signs a deal too rich for the Kings to match.

Regardless of what the Kings front office decides, Thomas is hopeful that his future rests in Sacramento. He respects how D’Alessandro and the front office have been able to completely transform the Kings roster in just one season on the job.

“I have no complaints of what they do, other than bringing point guards in every year,” Thomas said jokingly with a grin.

Thomas and Gay will have a laundry list of items to consider as they decide the next phase of their NBA careers. What’s best for them and their families will all come into play as they face life-altering decisions.

But Kings fans can rest assured that the organization has done all it’s can to leave a strong impression on the two dynamic players. The Kings’ standing as the incumbent is an aspect that Gay and Thomas will surely not overlook.

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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.