San Antonio Spurs: Rudy Gay is not this offseason’s Pau Gasol
By Rob Wolkenbrod
Rudy Gay opted out of his contract with the San Antonio Spurs, but it’s not what Pau Gasol did in the 2017 offseason, at least on the surface.
When Pau Gasol turned down $15 million to become a free agent in 2017, it seemed like a head-scratcher on the surface. At age 36, why decline that much money from the San Antonio Spurs with downward trending skills and on the back end of his NBA career?
Well, three-plus weeks into the offseason, little was made of a Gasol move to another team, as he waited to re-sign with the Spurs for three years, $48 million (partially guaranteed for the third season). It allowed the organization to pursue other free agents, and the Spanish big man received a reward for his loyalty and team-friendly move.
One of the results of this became Rudy Gay, a free agent signed to a two-year, $17 million contract, with a player option for the second season. He was six months off an Achilles injury, so this had “prove it” written all over, and for a spot on a potential contender; that happened when Kawhi Leonard seemingly had no quadriceps trouble.
11 months later, Gay backed out of his own player option and chose to hit free agency. He could have made $8.8 million in 2018-19.
After two months missed with a heel injury, especially one season after the Achilles rupture that had the chance to destroy Gay’s career, why back out of guaranteed money? Was this for the organization’s sake, to have more money on the open market, before taking a Gasol-esque deal near the end of July or early August? It’s a different situation than the summer of 2017, however.
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Gay joined a contender who challenged the Golden State Warriors in the 2017 playoffs, until Leonard suffered an ankle injury on the infamous Zaza Pachulia closeout. The Spurs blew their Game 1 lead and never won a game in the series. Were they just one more scorer and one fewer injury away from a spot in the 2018 NBA Finals? Maybe, if that’s what Gay’s mindset resembled when he first joined this two-decade powerhouse.
Then came the most unusual season in the Gregg Popovich era. No Leonard for most of the season, a revitalized LaMarcus Aldridge for the full campaign, injuries to nearly everyone on the roster, and rumor-mill controversy. As the cherry on top, the Spurs failed to win 50 games for the first time since the 1996-97 season and barely made the playoffs as the seventh seed.
The unfortunate scenario followed, as the Spurs were set up with the Warriors for another playoff showdown. This time, in the first round. Even with Manu Ginobili‘s heroics in Game 4, this series never felt in the Silver and Black’s favor.
Now, there’s Leonard’s reported desire for a trade. If he leaves, and the Spurs do not manage to acquire a star in the same transaction or by means of something else, it’s difficult to see this team contend for a championship in 2018-19. About half the roster is in doubt, as well, with expiring contracts or decisions to make on playing for San Antonio next year.
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Whether or not Gay feels he can receive one more multi-year deal from someone else at 31 years old, the concerns over the 2018-19 Spurs are mounting. Rather than commit to the unknown, he can test the waters and see if a contending team with fewer questions shows interest, à la the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, or another team that feels an upper-tier playoff spot is in their sights. Maybe the Oklahoma City Thunder, if Carmelo Anthony leaves, on the mid-level exception.
Maybe, Gay thinks one more multi-year deal is attainable, whether San Antonio promised it or to see if someone else shows mutual interest in this. A two-year contract takes him through his age 32 and 33 seasons, but after frequent injuries, these past two years, will anyone take the risk if it’s not with a player option?
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For now, this does not mirror the Gasol scenario of 2017. This can change in the next four weeks, but Gay backed out of a situation that features too many questions on its future. A more stable landing spot should be available for him.