The Kings’ courtship of Rudy Gay did not begin with a meeting in Sacramento earlier this month.
It began in December, when the Kings traded for Gay in a seven-player deal with Toronto and knew he could become a free agent after the 2013-14 season.
The Kings’ effort paid off Sunday, when Gay informed the team he would opt in for the final year of his contract, worth $19.3 million, for next season, league sources confirmed. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deal had not been finalized.
Gay had until June 30 to decide whether to return to the Kings or become a free agent. With Gay on board for next season, the team will look to negotiate a contract extension this summer.
The Kings feared Gay, 27, might test free agency in hopes of landing with a playoff contender, so they actively let him know about their desire to keep him.
Coach Michael Malone praised Gay’s play, as the forward played efficiently after an inefficient stint with Toronto. Principal owner Vivek Ranadive and general manager Pete D’Alessandro also expressed their wish to retain Gay publicly and to Gay directly.
The Kings made their final pitch June 10 in Sacramento, appealing to Gay to be a part of what they are building with center DeMarcus Cousins and a new arena in 2016.
Letting Gay know he was wanted was important. The Kings were Gay’s third team in a year. He was traded from Memphis to Toronto in January 2013.
Gay never quite fit in with the Raptors, as his shooting percentage dropped and his overall effectiveness was an issue.
That wasn’t the case in Sacramento. Gay played some of the best basketball of his career paired with Cousins in the frontcourt, averaging 20.1 points on 48.2 percent shooting in 55 games.
With the Raptors, he shot 38.8 percent while averaging 19.4 points in 18 games before the trade.
Gay, a seven-year veteran averaging 18.2 points, filled a long-standing void at small forward for the Kings. Their last reliable player at the position was Ron Artest, whom they traded in 2008.
If Gay had opted out of his contract, the Kings would have gone into Thursday’s NBA draft with small forward as an area of concern. They would have considered trading for a veteran small forward if Gay hadn’t made his intentions known.
Now that Gay has told the team of his decision, the front office has more clarity, knowing it won’t have to trade the first-round pick, eighth overall, for help on the wing.
The Kings will still consider trades as they look to upgrade their perimeter shooting, add better passers and improve the defense and overall basketball IQ of the squad.
Now, a decision looms regarding point guard Isaiah Thomas. The Kings have until June 30 to make Thomas a qualifying offer, which will make him a restricted free agent.
D’Alessandro has said the Kings intend to do just that, giving them the opportunity to match any offer for him. Thomas averaged career highs of 20.3 points and 6.3 assists last season.
The Kings intend to match any reasonable offer for Thomas. That could be in the $6 million-per-year range.
Last year, the Kings did not want to go beyond $8 million to $9 million annually for Tyreke Evans when he was a restricted free agent, and they eventually agreed to a sign-and-trade with New Orleans.