Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin: Rudy Gay holds the cards in Kings’ future

Is anyone at Sleep Train Arena actually getting any sleep these days? Didn’t think so. Barely hours into the offseason, which will be far less traumatizing than the previous three years for obvious reasons – the league just said no to relocation! – the Kings owners and front-office executives are staring into the teeth of three significant personnel issues.

Who do they draft? What happens if another team offers restricted free agent Isaiah Thomas a contract commensurate with that of a starting point guard? And here’s the kicker, the foot to the throat of Vivek Ranadive, Pete D’Alessandro and the other decision makers: What’s the play regarding small forward Rudy Gay?

For all practical purposes, the conversation begins and ends with Gay, the veteran, who has the final say in the matter, per both the beauty and burden of unrestricted free agency. He also has one year and a whopping $19.3 million remaining on his contract, and as he suggested before flying to be at his pregnant wife’s side Thursday in Memphis, a million factors to consider before deciding his future.

“In two years, I’ve lived in three places, and that doesn’t sit well with me,” Gay said. “My next move has to be my best move, because it means I’m going to be somewhere for a while.”

The Kings want him, and the Kings need him. They haven’t had an elite small forward since Metta World Peace was Ron Artest. But this is a conundrum. For all concerned.

Deciding who to draft and resolving the Thomas situation is a day at the beach and a cool breeze by comparison. The Kings, who begin the offseason with two clear priorities – upgrading at point guard and adding frontcourt length/defense – will select the best player available when the draft lottery order is determined, and when it comes to Thomas, will be influenced by what the market dictates. The current sentiment is to match a reasonable offer ($5 million to $6 million per year) but not overpay for a four-year veteran perceived as a valuable off-bench scorer and spot starter.

But what do you do with Gay? And, more specifically, what does he do with the Kings?

Gay has three options: He can take the money and stay, and negotiate another contract here or elsewhere in the summer of 2015. He can decline the option and become a free agent July 1. Or he can negotiate a multiyear deal – something in the $10 million to $12 million per year range – that would provide long-term stability for him and his wife, Ecko, who is expecting the couple’s first child May 1.

One of the most accommodating, engaging players in the league, Gay remained consistently noncommital and has seemed genuinely unclear on how to proceed. But the fact he will be spending the offseason at his home in Memphis, where the Grizzlies are in the playoffs, wouldn’t seem to enhance the Kings’ chances. Sacramento hasn’t sniffed the postseason since 2006.

“I have to talk to Pete, coach (Michael) Malone, see how we can elevate this team for the future,” Gay said. “What moves can be made? At this point in my career, I want to win.”

While the Kings remain an unfinished product, a roster awaiting another renovation, when D’Alessandro and Malone arrive in Memphis to resume discussions, their strongest argument might be the potential of a Cousins-Gay frontcourt.

If not as physically imposing as a frontcourt featuring his former teammates Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol – the Kings still need a power forward – Cousins’ immense talents and the fact he commands double-teams were major factors in Gay’s improved effectiveness and efficiency. Since being acquired from Toronto on Dec. 9 in the deal involving Greivis Vasquez, John Salmons, Patrick Patterson and Chuck Hayes, the former Connecticut standout averaged 20.1 points and shot an impressive 48.2 percent – up from 19.4 points and 38 percent with the Raptors.

In contrast to Peja Stojakovic (shooter) and Artest (defender, muscular scorer, midrange jumpers), the 6-foot-8 Gay, whose length and high release enable him to shoot over defenders, scores mostly on isolations, pick-and-rolls and opportunities on the break. Malone also occasionally utilized him as a playmaker and plans to do so again in the future, assuming there is a future, and assuming Gay cuts down on the turnovers caused by his high dribble.

“Rudy was getting a lot of criticism in Toronto,” Malone said. “He was the poster child for ‘inefficient NBA star player making a lot of money.’ But my time with Rudy is all positive.”

So it begins. The wooing, the talking, the offseason.