Rudy Gay attempted to drive the baseline late in the third quarter Wednesday night, to finish strong at the basket in a game the Kings had to win. He didn’t make it.
The veteran forward went down in a heap, his left Achilles’ tendon ruptured, and the emotions of his teammates went down with him. Gay was carried off the court by second-year center Willie Cauley-Stein and members of the Kings’ training staff, his leg unable to bear weight.
An MRI on Thursday morning confirmed the injury. He will have surgery and miss the remainder of the season.
It generally takes six to 10 months to recover from an Achilles’ tear, and studies have shown the tendon never heals completely.
Gay will not join his teammates in Memphis on Friday, when the Kings begin a season-high eight-game trip. It follows one of the team’s most deflating losses of the season, a 106-100 setback in which the Kings failed to hold a 22-point lead to end the team’s longest homestand of the season with a 1-6 record.
In the Kings’ dressing room late Wednesday, Gay was quiet and somber. He didn’t speak with reporters before walking out of the arena gingerly on crutches with a walking boot on his left foot, a hoodie covering his head.
While Gay didn’t share his thoughts, his coach and teammates did. They made it clear what Gay means to the team.
“Breaks my heart,” Kings coach Dave Joerger said. “It’s really sinking in. He’s one of the nicest dudes on the planet.”
Said Kings guard Ty Lawson: “It kind of hurt my soul. Once I (saw) him on the ground, I felt sick. I felt like something in me just dropped.”
The Kings fell to a season-worst nine games under .500 at 16-25, though entering Thursday they remained just 1 1/2 games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The playoffs are not on the players’ minds now. Gay, 30, is the Kings’ second-highest scorer at 18.7 points a game.
Gay had planned to opt out of the last year of a contract that would pay him $14.7 million for the 2017-18 season. That now seems unlikely.
Gay also had been mentioned across the league as a trade asset.
“Disaster tonight,” Kings All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins said, summarizing the game. “That (Gay going down and getting carried off) is hard to watch. That’s the tough thing in life. It (stinks) for Rudy. This is a guy with a family, a guy with a career he cares deeply about. This is a big year for him.
“Put the team to the side, the whole season, and just (think about) him as a man – it (stinks) for him. I hate it. I hate it for him. It’s hard. It’s hard to sit there and not psyche yourself out, to not start thinking about your own body, the same thing happening to you on the next play.”
Players said it is their responsibility to salvage the season.
“We’ve got to become even more mentally strong, grow even closer as a team, learn to appreciate each other even more,” Cousins said. “I hope this opens our eyes and lets us know how valuable this is, appreciate each other.
“We’ll finish this season out for Rudy. This is for Rudy. Regardless of the (stuff) going on with the business aspect of the game, that’s still our brother. We have to finish this out for Rudy.”