Rudy Gay's Injury Is a Big Problem for the Sacramento Kings
If the Sacramento Kings' most recent loss on Wednesday to the Indiana Pacers wasn't devastating enough, they also lost their second-best player in Rudy Gay. The forward completely ruptured his Achilles in a non-contact play and is set to have surgery in the next few days.
This injury all but spells the end of his 2016-17 NBA campaign. At best, he will be fully healthy by the start of the 2017-18 season.
As Gay's world has been turned upside down, so has the franchise's future. What can we expect from the Kings moving forward? With many challenges before them, what should their front office do?
Like Gay, the Kings have a long road ahead of them.
At 16-25, they currently stand 11th in the Western Conference. While they're just one game back, the Kings rank 24th in our power rankings and, according to our algorithms, have a paltry 13% chance of reaching the postseason.
Without Gay, his 18.7 points, 6.3 rebounds per game and 2.0 win shares, Sacramento is all but out of the playoff picture. More will be asked of DeMarcus Cousins, a player already leading his team with a usage rate (36.8%) that places him second among all players. And, last year, we saw him struggle to lead a team absent any other offensive weapons, as the Kings finished the season 3-8 absent their shot-maker and shot-taker.
They'll now be without him for the entire second half of the season and possibly even longer.
A Flick of the Finger
Prior to this injury, Gay was expected to opt out of a $14.3 million player option for 2017-18 in favor of the riches NBA free agency promises. However, after what has been both a career-threatening and changing injury for many others, Gay's decision has become much more difficult.
In the coming months, he will ponder whether to bet on himself and look for a new deal in the summer, or to play it safe, take the guaranteed money and remain in Sacramento for one more year.
For the Kings, you'd have to think they were content with letting Gay walk, providing them with more cap space. That'd allow the Kings to pursue an above average or star player to team up with Cousins in the future.
But, Cousins' future could now also be uncertain. The Kings have a crucial decision to make about the very cornerstone of their franchise.
In the last week or so, reports have surfaced regarding a new and improved contract for Cousins. The extension would keep Boogie in Sac-Town through 2022-23 and pay him an estimated $207 million over five years. On the Kings' part, that's a yearly investment of $41.4 million, or roughly 35% of the new $102 million salary cap.
But if that's all their money is going to buy, what's the point? The Kings could be stuck with a disappointing Arron Afflalo and a damaged Gay as Cousins' supporting cast if they don't open up enough cash to curious free agents.
There are other options.
On one hand, they could decide to let Cousins' current deal ride. He's owed over $18 million in 2017, which isn't bad, but not enough for a player of his caliber in the booming NBA economy. It could cause outrage from Boogie's camp, including yet another trade demand.
Maybe it shouldn't take a demand for Cousins to be traded. The Kings should listen to offers starting now.
In Cousins' last four seasons, he's averaging 25.1 points, 11.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game and has a total of 24.5 win shares in that span. And this, through just 40 games, has been the best season of his career, having tallied .170 win shares per 48 minutes of play. That type of player should net at least one first-round pick and two younger players of promise.
In November, general managers said Sacramento was asking far too much in return for the big man's services. But, if Vlade Divac -- the team's general manager and Vice President of Basketball Operations -- can somehow find a trade partner willing to depart with substantial assets, he should make it happen.
A rebuild would be good for the Kings. They just debuted a new arena, posses young talent worth exploring and have some potentially valuable draft picks. Not only could they obtain draft picks by dealing Cousins (including what one would expect to be a first-rounder), but if they are bad (or tank) enough this year, they will have a top-10 pick in the upcoming draft.
If the draft took place today, the Kings' first-rounder would be conveyed to Chicago, but it's top-10 protected, so Sacramento would keep the pick if they finish in the lottery. That'd be great given the talent of this year's class. If that happened, they'd still have to ship a late second-rounder to the Bulls, but the first-round obligation would be extinguished.
The Boston Celtics are an ideal trading partner. They've been the team most associated with Cousins trade rumors and have the assets to bring him on board.
They have young players like Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown, who are all former first-round picks and whose average age is 21.3 years old. Oh, and they have tons of draft picks at their disposal. In fact, the Celtics' swap rights with the Brooklyn Nets would, at this point in time, give them the best chance at the top overall pick. On the flip side, Cousins would fit right in with Boston's gifted guards and versatile big Al Horford.
Only time will tell if that will come to fruition, but Gay's injury will dictate a lot more than his own future. It's the first in a long row of dominos set to fall in the coming months.