NBA free agency begins July 1. Until then, you’re going to see free agent profiles from all over the league. Where will the most notable names land? Why will they land there? For all the profiles we’ve already covered, click here.
There is one certainty that exists with Rudy Gay’s free agency: he will not, under any circumstances, return to the Kings. They could offer him 10 max contracts and he’d leave. He told the Kings he was leaving before last season even started. I don’t ever remember that happening in the history of basketball.
Beyond that? Rudy Gay is a complete conundrum.
He’s an isolation scorer in a league that doesn’t want isolation scorers. He’s 30 years old and has made the playoffs once. His efficiency has improved from abominable to acceptable, but that came in a Kings ecosystem functionally no different than sticking a goldfish in a bowl of mountain dew. Is the fish moving faster because of the caffeine or slower because of the uninhabitable environment? Did Gay play well because of his opportunity or in spite of it?
There’s some rescued pet potential here. Some enterprising contender might look at Rudy Gay and see an opportunity to take a player universally known to be extremely talented and bathe him in enough respect and professionalism to turn him into the player we always hoped he could be. He might be so desperate for that kind of setting that he’d take a massive discount to get there.
None of the league’s four best teams, Golden State, Cleveland, Houston and San Antonio, make much sense given the basic build of their rosters. But the next group is somewhat interesting. Atlanta’s organizational competence is basically the photo negative of Sacramento’s. They could use a perimeter scorer and probably tame some of Gay’s more destructive instincts. Doc Rivers loves damaged goods and the Clippers haven’t had a small forward since, when, Lamar Odom?
But money is a factor here too. Atlanta has bigger priorities for their cap space and the Clippers have less cap space for their priorities. That raises another question: how much is Rudy Gay actually worth, if he were to seek out a contract based solely on financial value?
Harrison Barnes is a similar player and got the max over four years last summer. But, he was 24 and plays much better defense. Dion Waiters got only two years and six million dollars. But, he was hung out to dry after Oklahoma City rescinded his qualifying offer to give Russell Westbrook an extension. Nobody had much cap space left to pay him by that point. He had been relying on the Thunder going over the cap to re-sign him in a way that made little sense in a post-Durant world.
Joe Johnson’s two-year, $22 million contract is probably a decent baseline. Johnson is older, but probably better. The cap is higher this summer, but fewer teams have cap space. Odds are if Gay wanted that kind of contract he could get it. Denver might give it to him as a stopgap if they lost Danilo Gallinari, for example. But the best fit likely lies on Johnson’s own team.
As we’ve covered, I currently expect Gordon Hayward to leave the Jazz. That opens a pretty gaping hole at small forward. Utah will probably opt for Joe Ingles as the immediate replacement, but he isn’t playing 35 minutes per game. The Jazz will need more scoring and another small forward on the roster. Gay fits that bill.
A short-term contract for the Mid-Level Exception seems sensible for both sides if Utah is dead set on winning without Hayward. Their organizational ceiling is significantly lower with Gay in Hayward’s place, but the Jazz have tended to be satisfied with a playoff berth and first round exit. I can think of several better uses of Rudy Gobert’s prime, but they would never trade him and tank.
Whether or not that makes sense is another conversation, but all in all this might be the sort of salvation Gay was waiting for. It was probably unrealistic to expect him to play a major role on a championship team given his offensive proclivities. But serving as a useful cog on a decent team with a good infrastructure would be a nice way for Gay to get his career back on track and, more simply, maybe enjoy basketball again. That may not be as glamorous as winning championships, but compared to wasting your prime on the Kings it’s practically heaven.
More Free Agent Profiles: