The Kings spent years trying to find a dependable small forward since the days of Ron Artest.
They tried the draft, signed low-cost free agents and made trades in hopes of finding someone they could consistently rely upon to fill the position.
The Kings believe they finally have that player and don’t want to see him leave this offseason.
Team management hosted Rudy Gay on Tuesday evening as part of its pitch to keep him with the Kings.
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Gay was acquired from Toronto in December in a seven-player deal and fit in almost seamlessly on a team that had been looking for stability at small forward since 2007.
Gay, however, can opt out of the final year of his contract – $19.3 million guaranteed next season – and become a free agent. But the Kings want Gay to know he’s wanted in Sacramento and have even asked fans to help get the message across.
Gay arrived Tuesday afternoon at Sacramento International Airport, where he was greeted by Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro and coach Michael Malone. Dozens of fans brought signs and chanted “Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!” as Gay posed for photos before leaving in an SUV with Malone and D’Alessandro.
“There’s no pressure here,” D’Alessandro said before Gay arrived. “It’s not a pressure situation. It’s got to work. It’s got to work for him, it’s got to work for us, and we’re looking for a really good, just honest conversation, and hopefully, it turns out the way we expect.”
That would be with Gay remaining a King.
Even if Gay opts out of his deal, the Kings will look to re-sign the 6-foot-8 forward to a new contract. Sacramento became Gay’s third team in 2013. He initially was dealt to Toronto by the Memphis Grizzlies.
If it were simply about money, the decision would appear obvious: Gay would play for the Kings next season. But at 27, he’s entering the prime of his career and might not want to spend those years on a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since Artest played for the Kings in 2006.
Gay, however, realizes the trade to Sacramento was good for his career. In Toronto, he was labeled an inefficient ball hog, and many Raptors fans welcomed his departure. Toronto won the Atlantic Division without him.
Gay proved with the Kings he could be an efficient player and pass the ball, and he meshed well with center DeMarcus Cousins and guard Isaiah Thomas. Gay averaged 20.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists while shooting 48.2 percent in 55 games with the Kings. His season scoring average with the Kings matched his career high, and his shooting percentage and assists with Sacramento would have been career bests.
Gay shot a career-low 38.8 percent before the trade.
After being traded twice in two seasons, Gay would like stability – and the Kings will have to convince him the team is headed in the right direction as it moves into a new arena for the 2016-17 season.
The Kings’ front office loves how Gay fits on the court and in the locker room, and there is hope that if Gay returns he’ll take a bigger leadership role.
“We brought Rudy in at a time when we had enough time to analyze him and for him to analyze us,” D’Alessandro said. “By the end of the year, we knew where we were with Rudy, and hopefully, he feels the same way, so we’ll see where that takes us.”
The deadline for Gay to opt out of his contract is June 30, but the Kings expect to know his plan before the NBA draft June 26.
“(We want to) let him know we want him here,” D’Alessandro said before Tuesday’s courtship, which included dinner with team officials. “We’re going to share our vision very openly and truthfully with him, and hopefully, there’s a match here.”
The team didn’t immediately press Gay into offseason talks because he wanted to spend time with his wife, Ecko, before she gave birth to the couple’s first child May 6.
Tuesday’s sitdown was the first in-person discussion since the end of the season.
“We’ve been talking (by phone), and coach has been talking to him quite a bit as well,” D’Alessandro said. “I think there’s a great feeling between him and us, and this is our chance to hear what he thinks and we’ll be excited to do that.”
D’Alessandro said the fan support to woo Gay was just as important as anything the team would pitch.
“I can’t even say it enough, that is real,” D’Alessandro said. “I don’t know how many cities where you can do that – say we’ve got this guy flying in on a hot day like this, everyone will be standing out here in support of not just Rudy but of the franchise. This is really a partnership. I’ve been saying that since I got here, and this is evidence of that.”