Rudy Gay has more in common with DeMarcus Cousins than he probably thinks. Though not nearly as animated, not known for dramatic mood swings or eruptions involving his coaches and referees, the Kings’ veteran small forward is as transparent as filtered water.
And the man is miserable. He has been moping around for the better part of two seasons. His decision to opt out of the final year (2017-18) of his contract comes as no surprise. It was Gay – in his familiar and typically polite way – encouraging the Kings to trade him, preferably to a contender, and sooner rather than later. He has no intention of re-signing with the team.
So if the Kings are serious about starting fresh in a beautiful new building in a vibrant downtown, dragging one of your best players through the front doors while he is quietly kicking and screaming is no way to tip off a new era. Entertaining offers for Gay and trading him before the season begins must remain a top priority, even though the team probably will not receive equal value because buyers are invariably nervous about one-year rentals.
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In many ways, Gay, 30, is the least of the Kings’ problems, yet is emblematic of their major issues. The clash of personalities. The recent history of instability in the front office and coaching staff. The absence of any seemingly coherent plan. The prolonged malaise that still grips the franchise.
Rudy has had a couple tough years. But he’s going to be healthier this season, and we’re looking for a big year from him.
Dave Joerger, Kings coach, on Rudy Gay
General manager Vlade Divac should have gutted the roster during the offseason, dangling Cousins as a tantalizing trade asset.
Starting over isn’t a bad thing, especially given the circumstances. Season tickets are sold out. Golden 1 Center soon will be christened. The fans are worn out and eager for change. With the decadelong playoff drought dampening the fans’ enthusiasm, the offseason was the ideal time for a dramatic and philosophical shift.
Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Instead of recognizing that fans are more excited about the building than the on-court product, principal owner Vivek Ranadive made it very clear he wants his two best players on the court, at least for the start of the inaugural season in the arena.
Which means the Kings will look too much like the same old Kings. The roster is unbalanced: too many bigs and too many players past their prime; uncertainty at shooting guard and point guard, where Darren Collison faces a possible double-digit-game suspension for domestic violence; and a veteran small forward who desperately wants to be traded.
“Rudy has had a couple tough years,” new coach Dave Joerger said last month. “But he’s going to be healthier this season, and we’re looking for a big year from him.”
That’s the party line, but in reality the debate is over. Privately, the Kings acknowledge a deal is in the best interests of both parties. They have been and will continue to entertain offers for Gay, hoping he responds to his pending free agency with career-best performances that make him even more attractive to potential suitors.
Gay’s simmering frustration is not without cause. He signed a three-year extension Nov. 17, 2014, when Michael Malone was the coach and the Kings were off to a 6-4 start. Within a matter of weeks, Cousins became ill with meningitis, Malone was replaced by Tyrone Corbin, and the Kings tumbled into a free fall.
Entertaining offers for Gay and trading him before the season begins must remain a top priority, even though the team probably will not receive equal value because buyers are nervous about one-year rentals.
George Karl’s hiring after the All-Star break gave Gay a brief boost. While Cousins was sidelined during the closing weeks of the 2014-15 season, Gay was the primary option and leading scorer and a willing participant in an uptempo offense. He also helped recruit point guard Rajon Rondo, who signed a one-year deal during the 2015 offseason.
But the good vibes ended in the opening months of last season, with Cousins repeatedly clashing with Karl and Rondo aligning with Cousins to turn the offense into a two-man show. Gay was troubled by the strain between the coaches and front office, losing faith in Karl’s ability to coach Cousins – with whom he is distant – and resenting the organization’s refusal to empower its head coach.
Joerger’s presence figures to alleviate a few of those issues. He has the support of the owner and the general manager, and he didn’t come to Sacramento wearing a blindfold.
The roster is a puzzle without the right pieces. What does he do with four centers? What does Ty Lawson have left? Can Arron Afflalo regain his shooting touch and solidify the two-guard position? Will second-year big man Willie Cauley-Stein emerge as a consistent rebounder and defender? How much production can he squeeze out of aging newcomers Afflalo, Matt Barnes, Anthony Tolliver, Jordan Farmar and Garrett Temple?
But back to Gay, one of the most thoughtful, agreeable players in the league. The sooner the Kings free him, the better off everyone will be.
Key dates for Kings
- Monday: Training camp opens
- Tuesday: First practice
- Oct. 4: First preseason game, vs. L.A. Lakers, Anaheim, 7 p.m.
- Oct. 10: First home preseason game, vs. Maccabi Haifa, 7:30 p.m.
- Oct. 26: First regular-season game, at Phoenix, 7:30 p.m.
- Oct. 27: First home regular-season game, vs. San Antonio, 7:30 p.m.