The human body, fragile as it may be in many ways, is a perfect machine. With joints, ligaments and muscles working in concert, the basketball watching public is able to witness real life superheroes perform feats that redefine how we understand the limitations of the human body.
For that reason, it’s even more humbling to consider that something as tiny as an anterior cruciate ligament or an Achilles tendon has completely altered the trajectory of some careers and flat out ended others.
Earlier this season, after tearing his left Achilles tendon, Rudy Gay was added to a list of contemporary NBA athletes that features the likes of Chauncey Billups, Wesley Matthews, Brandon Jennings and, of course, the great Kobe Bryant. Each of the four tore their Achilles tendon but were able to return to the floor, though with varying degrees of success. Billups and Bryant, both a tad older when they sustained their injuries, never seemed to revert to their pre-injury form. Matthews and Jennings, on the other hand, appear to have made somewhat valiant returns (or, at the very least, extremely productive ones).
What makes Gay’s injury especially compelling, though, are four key facts.
The first is that at 30 years old (he will turn 31 in August), Gay has probably peaked as an athlete. In terms of effectiveness, it’s difficult to imagine him improving as an NBA player as he advances into his 30s. NBA players typically don’t, and Gay has never been a poster child for efficiency or as having significant game-impact outside of scoring.
Second: at 30 years old, Gay entered this season with an option on his 2017-18 contract. He was outspoken in his desire to move on from Sacramento and, between him and DeMarcus Cousins, he was the player most would have bet their bottom dollar on to have been dealt. Gay has made it clear that he would prefer to continue his career elsewhere.
Third: in case you haven’t noticed, with the exploding salary cap, NBA teams have been making it rain on both difference-making free agents and marginal role players. In a world where players who have never even made an All-Star team can earn max-level contracts paying them in excess of $20 million dollars, Gay is an interesting situation.
Fourth: with DeMarcus Cousins having been moved to New Orleans, Gay certainly knows that opting into his contract for the 2017-18 season means another wasted year. He will be 31 years old by the time next season begins, so he obviously only has a few precious years remaining.
In all, the confluence of events makes Gay’s situation one to behold. For anyone who thought his injury made certain that Gay would opt into the final year of his contract with the Sacramento Kings, guess again.
In a recent sit down with Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee, Gay left the door open for a move that would surprise many—opting out of the final year of his deal.
“I’m looking at where I feel most comfortable, where I can showcase my talents and win,” Gay told the Bee. “Wherever I think I can do that at, that’s the best place for me.”
Kudos to Jones for a thought-provoking piece, and kudos to Gay for having the courage to consider the road most others wouldn’t.
If he were smart, he’d opt out of his contract, pack his bags and wouldn’t think twice.
Over the course of the past few years, the Kings have made quite a few head-scratching decisions, and if they couldn’t find a way to build around Cousins and all of his talent, there’s no way that the pastures there will be any greener for Gay—not figuratively and not literally.
Gay’s option for the 2017-18 season would pay him a shade more him $14.2 million.
This season, that salary wouldn’t rank Gay in the NBA’s Top 50 earners. Ian Mahinmi ($15.9 million), Timofey Mozgov ($16 million), Evan Turner ($16.39 million) and the aforementioned Wesley Matthews ($17.14 million) all earn more. Next season, should he opt in, Gay would plummet further down the list of earners, and odds are, he would be earning far less than what he may be able to contribute, even coming off of his injury.
Two things that are commonly overlooked as it relates to Gay: he may not have lived up to the lofty expectations that many had for him when he entered the league many moons ago, but he is still an effective offensive weapon that opposing defenses will have to respect. He may not be capable of being a first or second option on a contender, but he would make a magnificent third of fourth.
The other is that what a player earns is not always a direct reflection of what they are able to contribute. Far more important in the equation are the market conditions. In 2017, more than half of the league’s teams will be able to clear in excess of $25 million in cap space. Of prospective free agents, the biggest fish aren’t expected to switch teams. In the end, we are likely to end up with exactly what we saw last summer—too many teams with too much money and too few players to spend it on.
Way back when, in 2008, the Washington Wizards signed Gilbert Arenas to a $111 million contract, despite his persistent injury concerns (and multiple knee surgeries). Back in 2015, Wesley Matthews (funny how he keeps coming up), turned down a four-year, $65 million offer from the Sacramento Kings (what a coincidence) before agreeing to terms with the Dallas Mavericks on a four-year contract worth $57 million. Interestingly enough, Matthews was also coming off of a torn Achilles. In all fairness, though, Matthews was two years younger than Gay will be, but he had no problem finding two teams willing to pay him handsomely.
So as it relates to Gay, understand, he’s not the first player to tear an Achilles tendon. Sadly, he won’t be the last. But, based on what we’ve seen in the recent and even not so recent past, he’ll be just fine.
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