Before the Kings made their run at free agents in the offseason, their first big sales pitch was to Rudy Gay in June. They were trying to persuade the small forward to stay in Sacramento for the 2014-15 season.
Gay exercised his player option worth $19.3 million to remain a King, with talks about a contract extension to follow.
Not having a contract or agreement beyond this season is fine with Gay. He’s focused on this season and will allow his representatives to worry about negotiations.
“We started (negotiations) before I went to Spain with the USA team, stopped and haven’t picked it up yet,” Gay said after Monday morning’s practice. “It’s something that I really don’t need over my head right now. I’m trying to make this team better and also be better myself. And I didn’t need it over there. That’s something that I think will handle itself.”
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Gay isn’t opposed to more talks. But he has no desire to be involved in the art of making a deal.
“I’m not going to get involved until it’s near the end, or both sides feel it needs to happen,” Gay said. “Then I’ll make a decision.”
The Kings want Gay beyond this season. Had Gay left, the plan was to aggressively pursue a trade for a small forward.
Gay played well alongside DeMarcus Cousins last season. Gay shot 48.2 percent in 55 games with the Kings after being traded to Sacramento from Toronto in December.
Gay played the most inefficient basketball of his career over 51 games with the Raptors spanning the end of the 2012-13 season and the start of last season. He shot 41.1 percent with the Raptors and averaged 17.6 shots to average 19.5 points.
Gay took fewer shots (15.3 per game) and averaged 20.1 points and 3.1 assists for Sacramento, which would have matched his career high in scoring and been a career high in assists over an entire season. Gay, however, admits he could do a better job of not holding the ball this season.
There has been an emphasis on unselfish play, ball movement and player movement since the end of last season. Coach Michael Malone wants the Kings to play faster on offense, and Gay is willing to do his part.
“Just try to make quicker plays,” Gay said. “A lot of times, I try to make the right play, so I hold onto the ball and do exactly what needs to happen. Sometimes, making the quick play is what needs to happen. I’ve been trying to do that. I’ve worked on that this summer, and that’s another thing Team USA helped me with.”
Gay played power forward for Team USA, which won the gold medal in in the FIBA World Cup. The Kings will use Gay in that role at times this season to create spacing and speed up the pace when necessary.
The Kings’ offense often bogged down last season, with four players watching one with the ball. Gay, an eight-year veteran, said there must be more movement this season.
“We didn’t have a lot of that last year for different reasons,” Gay said. “We just have to learn to make each other better.”
The Kings have incentive to sign Gay to an extension because he might be the top unrestricted free agent at small forward next summer. Cleveland’s LeBron James has a player option after the season to become a free agent, but he would be expected to take advantage of a bigger deal under a larger salary cap and stay with the Cavaliers.
San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard can be a restricted free agent, but it would be a shock if the Spurs didn’t retain the reigning NBA Finals MVP.
Keeping Gay off the market would save the Kings from a bidding war for a player who is popular with his coaches, teammates and management.
Gay was asked if he can see himself in Sacramento long term.
“I think so,” Gay said. “I’m enjoying California, NoCal. It’s cool. It’s not as bad as I thought it was. You play in NBA cities and you expect Sacramento to be like L.A. or the Bay, but it’s not; it’s its own little thing. It’s a family city, and that’s what I’m growing to be, more of a family person.”