UPDATE (Thursday at 2:20pm) -- Rudy Gay suffered a full rupture of his left Achilles tendon, the Kings announced.
Surgery will be scheduled in the coming days.
SACRAMENTO -- The worst case scenario played out Wednesday night at Golden 1 Center. Injuries happen all the time, but this was a punch to the gut for a franchise in desperate need of some good luck.
The finger pointing behind the scenes has likely already started. Rudy Gay had made his intentions known to the team long ago. He wanted the Kings to find him a new home dating all the way back to early summer. Gay even went as far as to inform the team that he intended to opt out of the final year of his deal that would pay him $14.4 million next season.
That opt out is now in question.
Why wasn’t Gay traded? That’s a complicated question, with layers of answers. First and foremost, very few teams make deals before the week leading up to the NBA’s February 23 deadline. It’s an epic game of chicken that NBA execs like to play in an attempt to maximize the value of their assets. They usually sign off on a deal that they had in place a month or more before, but there is always the hope that something better will come along.
Secondly, despite the recent struggles, the Kings remain just a game and a half out of the final spot in the Western Conference playoff race. Dealing arguably your second best player might diminish the chances of snapping the franchise’s decade-long playoff drought. Getting less than acceptable return for Gay might signal that you were waiving the white flag on the inaugural season in Golden 1 Center.
Lastly, there is that sneaky pick swap with the Philadelphia 76ers. The Kings had already written off their 2017 draft pick. They assumed they would be outside the top ten and the pick would then be relayed to the Chicago Bulls for a trade made all the way back in 2011.
But with their downturn of late, not only is a lottery pick in play, but so is the Sixers’ ability to steal the Kings’ draft position. In the summer of 2015, Vlade Divac and his front office traded Jason Thompson, Carl Landry, Nik Stauskas and what has now been established as their 2019 unprotected lottery pick to Philly for a boatload of cap space and the draft rights to two European bigs. The bigs might never play in the NBA.
Between Thompson, Landry and Stauskas, the Kings saved over $30 million in guaranteed salary over a two-year period. They used that cap space to help pay for their free agency haul of Rajon Rondo, Kosta Koufos and Marco Belinelli. Only Koufos remains on the roster, although Belinelli yielded the pick that the Kings used to select Malachi Richardson in the 2016 NBA Draft.
The pick swaps were almost an afterthought. Philadelphia has posted the NBA’s worst record over the previous three seasons. The chance for the Kings to somehow jump ahead of the 76ers seemed remote. Until now.
Philly is on a roll. With a 7-2 record over their last nine games, the Sixers now sit at 14-26, just a game and a half behind the Kings in the standings. If Sacramento somehow remains in the top ten and keeps their pick, but then has to swap for a lower pick with Philadelphia, it will turn an already suspect deal into a complete disaster.
All of this could be moot. The Kings are 5-6 on the season without Gay. They very well could rally around their fallen compadre and finish the season outside of the top ten. They would lose their pick, but not face the scrutiny of the pick swap.
Also, Gay could still opt out of his deal. Wesley Matthews, a friend of Gay’s, ruptured his Achilles tendon on March 5, 2015. He signed a 4-year, $70 million deal four months later with the Dallas Mavericks and recovered in time to play 78 games in the 2015-16 season.
Technology has turned a year long recovery into a 7-8 month ordeal. Gay has an extra two months over what Matthews faced, although we still don’t know the severity of the injury.
Even if Gay doesn’t opt out, $14.4 million isn’t an unreasonable dollar figure. Gay and the Rock Nation group would have been looking for that much or more as a starting point for a new 3-4 year deal this summer. If Gay proves he is healthy in the first half of next season, the Kings would once again have the ability to move him at the trade deadline or allow him to expire in the offseason.
Wednesday night’s injury was shocking. It will change the way the Kings approach the trade deadline and how they manage the remainder of this season. But this is part of the game. The Kings took a gamble by not trading Gay and they lost their bet.
The ability to get something for Gay is gone. But Sacramento still has 41 games to determine how badly this injury hurt the franchise long term. An eight game road trip starts Friday night in Memphis. There is very little time for the team to feel sorry for themselves. Next man up.