The NBA is a business. You never want to see players get injured, but as we all know, it is a part of the game. Last Wednesday against the Pacers, Rudy Gay went down with one of the more devastating injuries in all of sports. A fully ruptured Achillias. This is horrible news for someone who is universally known as a great teammate and person. As Demarcus Cousins eloquently stated “it sucks.”
Less than one month from the NBA trade deadline, the shockwaves extend far beyond Sacramento, who are still pinching themselves and hoping to wake up from this nightmare that could have and should have been prevented.
Rudy Gay was very clear with management when he told them he was going to opt out of his contract this summer, allowing himself to become an unrestricted free agent instead of picking up his 14.5 million dollar player option. The Kings explored trade options last year but decided they would have a better chance of ending their decade long playoff drought with the help of Rudy. However after an uninspiring first half to this season, it became apparent Vlade Divac planned on trading him before the deadline to recoup future assets instead of losing him this summer for nothing. That is no longer possible.
The one team not feeling the negative effects right now is the Philadelphia 76ers. The ineptitude of the Kings front office is welcomed by the Sixers, who are in position to benefit from Sacramento’s struggles.
To add insult to injury, the pick swap between the Kings and Sixers that Vlade considered an afterthought at the time, now becomes a very real possibility with the teams separated by only one game in the standings and trending in opposite directions; Kings, losers in 8 of their last 10 while Philly is one of the hottest teams in the Association; winners in 7 of their last 10.
If there remains any uncertainty in Vlade’s mind as to buy or sell at the deadline, their 8 games in 12 nights road trip that began with a loss in Memphis on Friday and was followed by a loss to Chicago should only help with that.
The Kings will most likely look to sell players such as Aaron Afflalo, Darren Collison, Matt Barnes, Ty Lawson, Ben McLemore, and anyone else they can get value for. The only reason Vlade Divac may hesitate, is to avoid the added criticism A conveyed pick swap would surely bring his way, in what is already considered to be one of the worst trades in recent memory (I don’t count the Celtics – Nets trade because I am sure Billy King was an undercover agent disguised as the Nets GM, hired by Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics).
The pick swap was not a “throw in” for Sam Hinkie. He was well aware the Kings have long been a ticking time bomb, while his Sixers were a few good breaks away from competing again. That foresight gives his successor, GM Bryan Colangelo the option to buy at the deadline without missing the opportunity of landing a top pick in this loaded draft class.
Sacramento fans, keep your eyes closed and ears plugged for a bit longer because the bad news does not stop there. Trading Rudy Gay prior to injury would have absolutely brought back a few solid assets in terms of draft picks or promising young players (most likely on rookie scale contracts). Assets are essential for the Kings to finally begin building around Demarcus Cousins before they run out of time (yes I know they have been trying to build around him for years. What do they have to show for it? Squandered draft picks… anything else?).
Demarcus Cousins’ contract expires at the end of next season. This is where that Hinkie/Vlade trade comes back into play. The Sixers also acquired what has turned out to be the Kings 2019 UNPROTECTED FIRST ROUND PICK. Yes, the year after Cousins contract expires! If the Kings are not able to resign Cousins this has a very real chance of being the #1 overall pick in the 2019 draft. Has there even been a number 1 overall picked acquired for giving up absolutely nothing? But even if they do resign him, just having Cousins and a collection of misfits and draft bust rounding out the roster has already proven to be no better than a mid lottery team.
Sacramento will once again try to bring in marquee free agents this summer but there’s a chance they will not have the cap room they anticipated on having. Rudy Gay may have to pick up his player option because few teams will be willing to shell out big money to a 31 year old just months out from a fully ruptured Achillias.
The Kings are trying to stay afloat here and could absolutely use a wing shooter on a cheap contract right about now to fill in… You know, someone like a Nik Stauskas…
Mandatory Credit: Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports