The contract extensions for Kings center DeMarcus Cousins and forward Rudy Gay not only came a year apart, they are completely different.
And not just in the amount of money, but in the significance.
When Cousins agreed to a four-year, $62 million extension before last season, the Kings were in a position of power. Cousins could have become a restricted free agent this past summer and the Kings could have matched any offer. The Cousins deal was about faith – his faith in the new ownership and the ownership’s faith he would become the cornerstone of the franchise.
Over the weekend, Gay agreed to a three-year, $40 million extension, passing on the chance to test unrestricted free agency for the first time. He could have left at the end of the season or at least experienced the feeling of being recruited by multiple teams. And he would have been one of the top players available, too.
Gay’s decision isn’t just about money; it’s an indication of a change in how the Kings are perceived throughout the league.
Sacramento no longer is a city where players count down the days before they can get out, as many have in recent years. Gay, who exercised his option for this season at $19.3 million, decided three more years would be good for him and his family.
“Obviously, when my contract was ending, I thought about going into free agency and maybe seeing what happens, but why search it when you have what you want right here,” Gay said at a news conference Wednesday announcing the extension.
When Gay came to the Kings, his third team in the calendar year, last December, new ownership was trying to change negative perceptions about the team.
Players praised better food in their lounge at Sleep Train Arena, and upgrades were made to the arena. But that didn’t cover up the dysfunction in the locker room or the product on the court that was bad more nights than not.
Principal owner Vivek Ranadive worked on improving the aesthetics and general manager Pete D’Alessandro was charged with making sure the roster he inherited, put together with the goal of saving money, would be upgraded.
Gay was the first major piece of the upgrade, coming to the Kings as part of a seven-player trade with Toronto.
“I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve heard stories about how disorganized it was. But as soon I got here, they put all that to rest,” Gay said. “I talked to Vivek and Pete and how they’re trying to change everything, and one thing they didn’t do was shy away from it. They knew what the perception was, but they knew they had to fix it.”
Gay saw enough progress to decide he wanted to be a part of the change. Near the end of the Maloofs’ time as owners, Gay might have envisioned the prime years of his career withering away in Sacramento and plotted his escape.
But Gay believes the Kings can compete for a playoff spot this year under coach Michael Malone and this ownership group.
Gay’s decision also is a rebuke to the notion players flock to cities such as New York, Los Angeles or Chicago in search of the limelight more than the chance to win.
“You can’t say nobody knows who plays one through 15 on the Oklahoma City Thunder, you can’t say you don’t know that, so that doesn’t matter,” Gay said. “San Antonio, same thing. Those are supposed to be small markets, but (they) are competitive, so that doesn’t matter.”
Gay and the Kings both accomplished goals with the extension.
For Gay, the deal is comparable to what he might have received in free agency. Andre Iguodala’s contract with Golden State is for four years and $48 million and began last season. Luol Deng joined Miami this season on a two-year, $20 million deal.
Plus, a player option for the third year allows Gay to become an unrestricted free agent just when new television revenue is expected to raise salaries significantly.
For the Kings, the deal means they won’t have to find a replacement for Gay if he had decided to sign elsewhere.
The Kings made it clear when Gay arrived they wanted him to stay, and they were able to retain him without getting into a bidding war next summer.
“It’s about chemistry, it’s about a team of guys and playing as a unit,” D’Alessandro said. “We’re just ecstatic to get this done. Whether it was done the first day we traded for him or today, it’s done.”