NEW ORLEANS -- It was a bold move that signified the Kings would no longer see cash considerations as a primary asset gained through trades.
In December, new Kings general manager Pete DAlessandro, with the blessing of principal owner Vivek Ranadive, acquired three players from Toronto, with the headliner being forward Rudy Gay and the approximately $37 million he could earn over two seasons.
The deal made Isaiah Thomas a starter, and hes flourished as a scoring point guard. With center DeMarcus Cousins, Thomas and Gay, the Kings have the only trio of players averaging 20 or more points on the same team.
This summer, the Kings will see how much it costs to keep a trio like that together.
Cousins will be entering the first year of a four-year, $62 million contract. Gay has a $19.3 million player option for next season. He could opt out and become a free agent, forcing the Kings to pay a bigger salary to retain him.
Thomas has hit playing-time markers that will allow the Kings to make him a restricted free agent. They could negotiate a deal with him that figures to be a significant upgrade from his $884,293 salary or match any offer he receives from another team.
Sacramento has more than $47 million in salary committed to next season without Gays option.
The Kings believe in their short time together the trio has shown it can make up the core of what could become a good team. Sacramento is 19-21 when all three play and 8-3 when the three each score at least 20 points.
Weve shown the ability to be competitive and beat a lot of the best teams in the NBA when all three of those guys are playing, coach Michael Malone said. And when they play at a high level, three 20-point scorers, we become very hard to guard because you have a low-post force (Cousins), a wing with the versatility and athleticism that Rudy has, and a point guard in a Isaiah who can score, get to the foul line and make plays for his teammates.
Gay, 27, is the oldest of the trio and is in what should be the prime years of his career. Whether he opts out or not, he must decide if he wants to spend those years helping Sacramento rebuild or join a team that is closer to making the postseason.
Everythings a possibility, Gay said, but right now I just want to finish the season out and not comment too much.
Gay said he doesnt want to be a distraction by discussing his contract.
I respect the coaches, I respect my teammates too much for them to even think about that, Gay said.
Thomas said hes tried to stay locked in the moment and not worry about the offseason.
I definitely want to be around when it does turn around, Thomas said. I was drafted here. Ive been welcomed with open arms by the Sacramento community. It just feels like a second home. I cant control it, though. At the same time, Im going to do whatevers possible to be around. Thats all I can do.
DAlessandro asked Cousins opinion on player additions last offseason. Cousins has been one of Thomas biggest advocates as the Kings brought in players to replace him over the years.
Cousins said Gay has made himself at home and if DAlessandro wants his opinion on keeping the trio together, hed have praise for the plan.
Theyre great teammates. They work hard. They bring it every night, Cousins said. So I wouldnt have anything but good things to say.
Malone would also like to see that part of his team intact next season.
Not many teams have that three-headed attack, Malone said. Its great to have. Hopefully, well be able to keep those guys together because with that core, you add some pieces to that and you allow (rookies) Ray (McCallum) and Ben (McLemore) to continue to mature and get better, I think we have a solid foundation. Those guys offensively are terrific, and theyre getting better defensively.
And the Kings might have to pay a lot to keep the core together.