The Kings' search for a frontcourt defender ended where it started.
One week after the Kings announced Chuck Hayes had an abnormality in his heart that would lead to the team voiding his contract, the forward-center was cleared to resume his basketball career Thursday by the renowned Cleveland Clinic. The team announced Thursday night it had reached an agreement with Hayes. He is expected back in Sacramento tonight.
The deal is worth $22.4 million over four years. That is $1 million more than Hayes signed for Dec. 9, the first day free agents were allowed to sign with teams following the 149-day NBA lockout.
"It's been an incredible week of emotional highs and lows," Hayes said in a statement. "The Kings have been very supportive during this process and I feel very comfortable with the relationships that I have started there. After reviewing my options, the Kings were still the choice for me."
The Kings announced on Dec. 15 that an echocardiogram stress test during Hayes' physical revealed an abnormality and that the player would continue further testing.
On Monday, the Kings announced Hayes had failed his physical and his contract had been voided.
After going through a battery of tests at the Cleveland Clinic on Wednesday, Hayes and the Kings were told Thursday morning he had nothing wrong with his heart and to continue playing without worry.
"I'm just very thankful and blessed with the team of doctors at the Cleveland Clinic and the power of prayer," Hayes said in a prepared statement. "I am happy to say I have a healthy heart and have been cleared to play immediately. I look forward to getting back on the court as soon as possible."
The Bee was unable to reach Hayes through his agent, Calvin Andrews.
The Kings maintained contact with Hayes through a difficult and emotional week as he sought a second opinion, and the news of his return generated excitement throughout the organization.
"The first thing is how happy that you are for Chuck," said Kings basketball president Geoff Petrie. "When you basically walked along with him through all the events of the last week and all the emotions that go along with that, and to have it get resolved the way, it has, for all of us that have been involved, it's been very, very moving."
The tests that Hayes underwent at the Cleveland Clinic reportedly included CT scans, an MRI, an EKG and another echo stress test.
Steven Nissen, the head of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, led the team that evaluated Hayes. He said doctors in Sacramento were right to send the six-year veteran to Ohio for further testing but emphasized that Hayes is completely fit to play.
"There was legitimate concern. It was appropriate that he be sent to us," Nissen said. "We did what was as exhaustive an evaluation as we could have done, and we concluded that he was fine to play."
Hayes does have an unusual heart structure, Nissen said. He has a little bit of what doctors call "outpouching," or a bulge in the wall, in his left ventricle.
But while that's out of the ordinary, the doctor underlined that it's not dangerous.
"We don't think he has a heart disease that is going to limit him, and we recommend that he be allowed to play basketball at a professional level," Nissen said. "I told him I encouraged him to play and that I was going to watch him on TV. If we had felt he was at risk, we would have told him that."
With large, professional athletes, caution is warranted, said Christine Lawless, co-chair of the Sports and Exercise Cardiology Council at American College of Cardiology in Washington, D.C.
"Their bodies release so much adrenaline, it's a very vigorous test for the heart," she said. "I think it's terrific that there is an awareness of the cardio issues and that we're being very careful with the athletes. That's probably one of the most important messages."
The doctors in Hayes' case "did exactly the right thing," Lawless said.
One immediate question Petrie faced was why the Kings voided Hayes' contract before further and extensive testing was performed by specialists at the Cleveland Clinic.
"That's a really good question," Petrie said. "I think all of us that have been involved know why what happened, happened, and that's really all I have to say about it right now."
Word of Hayes' health and return spread during and after Thursday's Kings practice. In just a short time, Hayes had become popular with coaches and teammates.
"We're really excited to have him back," said rookie guard Jimmer Fredette. "Extremely excited that he's able to play. It's a tough thing to hear that you're not going be able to play for your career, but now he's back and we're excited to have him."
Hayes made a name for himself in the NBA as an undersize center at 6-foot-6, but he was what Petrie called one of the "best frontcourt defenders" in the league.
The coaching staff hoped Hayes would help shore up the team's defense which has been shaky in two preseason games and help the offense flow because of his knack for passing.
"Chuck is a veteran in this league," said Kings guard Marcus Thornton. "He knows how to play, and he can even teach our younger guys how to play."
Without Hayes, J.J. Hickson had become a starter, and the Kings continued to look to add depth to their frontcourt.
The Kings explored re-signing center Samuel Dalembert, who played for the Kings last season.
It appeared the Kings were close to a deal with the free agent, but they pulled their offer Wednesday, leading the way for Dalembert to sign with Houston, Hayes' team for the past six seasons.
That left the Kings with 13 players on their roster and needing to add one, but Petrie admitted the pickings among free agents were slim.
Trading for another big man was a possibility, but all along, the Kings were hoping to have Hayes back.
"Really, all I know is he's had great medical news," said Kings coach Paul Westphal. "He's scheduled to come back to Sacramento (today), and we're just so overwhelmingly happy the second opinions are so positive. Primarily (happy for) what happened for Chuck. We're also happy for his family and ourselves."
Petrie said it has been an emotional week for the Kings and Hayes, who was emerging as a leader on and off the court for a young Kings roster.
Having played at Modesto Christian High School, Hayes saw joining Sacramento as a homecoming.
Hayes will be welcomed back, and he said he holds no grudge toward the Kings after the team canceled his contract.