With just one week to go before the 2017 NBA Draft lottery, all but six of the NBA’s 30 teams already have their sights set on this summer’s free agent class. Even more so than the draft, free agency, from a macro standpoint, is the quickest way for a team to change their fortunes.
As Rudy Gay has decided to opt out of the final year of his contract with the Sacramento Kings—a move he was quite wise to have made—this summer’s crop of free agents just got a lot more interesting.
Having gone down with a torn Achilles tendon earlier this season, Gay immediately became a topic of conversation. Sure, general managers have necessarily been making it rain on free agents the past few years, but being on the wrong side of 30 and coming off of an injury that has claimed the athleticism of quite a few of his predecessors presented some risk.
Apparently, it wasn’t great enough.
Gay now joins a crop of free agents that includes a few aging contributors including Paul Millsap, Kyle Lowry and Chris Paul. What makes Gay more interesting than those three, aside from the fact that we will learn the extent to which his market value is impacted by his injury, is that he the most likely of the group to switch teams this summer. Prior to the injury, it became public knowledge that Gay wanted out of Sacramento. Between he and DeMarcus Cousins, the prevailing thought was that he would have been traded first. Though that ultimately wasn’t the case, it seems a long shot that he will return to the Kings. Similar to Rajon Rondo, Gay may even be amenable to signing a short-term contract in a situation where he will get minutes and touches and hit the market again next summer. For that reason, copious amounts of cap space (or a lack thereof) may be less of a hindrance to winning his services than it would be under normal circumstances.
So where would make sense?
Get ready to hear about the Celtics a lot this summer. Aside from being one of the final six teams left with a chance to win the NBA Finals, the Celtics could have as much as $40 million under the cap available to spend this summer. Brad Stevens, no doubt, prefers his players to be a tad more hard-working and pass-happy than Gay has shown himself to be over the course of his career, but in spurts and primarily for the purpose of providing offense off of the bench, Gay could fit in well with Boston’s second unit. That obviously assumes he would be amenable to such a situation.
Armed with what may turn out to be the top overall pick in the 2017 draft, odds are, the Celtics will have their sights set on a splashier acquisition, but Gay may not be a bad alternative.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Russell Westbrook is phenomenal, but he isn’t capable of carrying a team all by himself, not anywhere meaningful, anyway. Although it remains to be seen what kind of mobility Gay still has, at the very least he presents another offensive weapon that opposing defenses would have to respect. He would give Westbrook some much-needed firepower and may even help assuage the concerns that Westbrook may have related to whether or not other high profile players would be willing to commit to Oklahoma City.
For Gay, the move would make sense for two simple reasons: first, with a few plus-defenders on the team, his defensive ineptitude could be protected; all he’d have to worry about is scoring. Secondly, the game would be made pretty simple for him. With Westbrook’s incredibly high usage rate, Gay wouldn’t have to work incredibly hard to find shots and scoring opportunities.
The most difficult part for the Thunder, however, would be the actual acquisition. Unless Gay were willing to settle for the midlevel exception, by virtue of the $90 million that Thunder have committed next season to Westbrook, Enes Kanter, Victor Oladipo and Steven Adams, the financing becomes tricky, especially considering the club’s desire to re-sign Andre Roberson.
While a sign-and-trade remains a possibility (and a good one), receiving Gay in such a transaction would have cap ramifications that could prove limiting for Oklahoma City. Still, for the organization, the move would be worth contemplating.
Los Angeles Clippers
Assuming the Clippers re-sign both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, Gay could make some sense for the team that will be heavily in pursuit of Carmelo Anthony this summer. Finding a trade that’s agreeable to the New York Knicks will be an obstacle for Doc Rivers, and if he’s truly committed to his core, Gay could probably be had at a lesser cost. Blake Griffin’s inability to remain healthy over the long haul of the season has made it somewhat obvious that the Clippers could use a contingency scorer, as the lack of one had a lot to do with their flaming out against the Utah Jazz earlier this postseason.
Unlike the Thunder, though, any hope of Gay landing in Los Angeles would almost certainly rest on his willingness to sign with the club via a cap exception. Receiving a player in a sign-and-trade deal subjects the receiving team to a hard cap during the receiving season, meaning that the Clippers would probably have trouble fitting Paul, Griffin, J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Marreese Speights under the threshold if a hard cap was in effect.
The fit is there in Los Angeles, but the mechanics make it a long shot.
With the salary cap expected to land somewhere in the $102 million range, there will be quite a few teams with spending power this summer. If Gay values winning, though, a few of those teams may not be as appealing as some others. In the end, the option of signing a short-term deal would make some sense, but for a 32-year-old player whose long-term health is in doubt, it would be a risky proposition.
In any event, toss Gay’s name into the mix for those who will hit the market this summer. He certainly will make for an interesting case study.
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