San Antonio Spurs Free Agency

San Antonio Spurs: Four reasons for Rudy Gay to leave in free agency

By Rob Wolkenbrod
CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 25: Rudy Gay #22 of the San Antonio Spurs looks on during the game against the Charlotte Hornets on November 25, 2017 at Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 25: Rudy Gay #22 of the San Antonio Spurs looks on during the game against the Charlotte Hornets on November 25, 2017 at Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images)
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WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 27: Rudy Gay #22 of the San Antonio Spurs shoots the ball from the free-throw line during the game against the Washington Wizards on March 27, 2018 at Capital One Arena in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 27: Rudy Gay #22 of the San Antonio Spurs shoots the ball from the free-throw line during the game against the Washington Wizards on March 27, 2018 at Capital One Arena in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

Rudy Gay opted out of his contract with the San Antonio Spurs, and there’s reason for him to not return.

According to ESPN’s Chris Haynes, Rudy Gay will opt out of his contract with the San Antonio Spurs and become an unrestricted free agent. He signed a two-year deal last summer, with an option to stay with the organization in the 2018-19 season.

This will go into effect when free agency opens on Sunday, July 1. Teams can’t make free-agent signings official on this day, but verbal agreements are allowed. Will the Spurs and Gay reach a new deal when this period starts?

One season in San Antonio might be all for Gay, however. It’s not the Pau Gasol situation of 2017, and there could be outside interest in the veteran swingman. There are enough reasons for him to consider signing elsewhere, so let’s speculate.

4. A starting job elsewhere

When Rudy Gay joined the San Antonio Spurs, it seemed inevitable he would go to the bench, with Kawhi Leonard, who’s quad injury was unknown at the time, as the starter at small forward. A sixth man spot would be an unusual spot for Gay, who started everywhere he went, whether it was the Memphis Grizzlies, Toronto Raptors or Sacramento Kings.

Gay operated off the bench for 51 of the 57 games he played in and faired fine, with 11.5 points and 5.1 rebounds on 47.1 percent shooting (31.4 percent from 3-point range). It did not hurt his value, as he showed the ability to perform adequately after a ruptured Achilles tendon, but he still missed two months with a heel injury.

After one year on the bench, though, will Gay seek a starting job elsewhere? Getting closer to his mid 30’s, it might be one of his final chances to do so.

There’s room out there for teams that want a scorer with size to take Gay who’s 6-foot-8. He can stretch the floor and still rebound, even if his hops are not elite.

A starting role is not guaranteed with the Spurs, even though Gay took a larger part in the postseason. Leonard may still return. If not, and Kyle Anderson re-signs, it’s possible Gay only has a bench role to go back for. Will that appeal to him on a team that got swept out of the postseason in the first round?

Next: Last chance at a multi-year deal

SAN ANTONIO, TX – DECEMBER 18: Rudy Gay #22 of the San Antonio Spurs smiles during the game against the LA Clippers on December 18, 2017 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photos by Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX – DECEMBER 18: Rudy Gay #22 of the San Antonio Spurs smiles during the game against the LA Clippers on December 18, 2017 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photos by Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images)

3. One last chance at a lucrative multi-year deal

Rudy Gay took a two-year, $17 million deal to join the San Antonio Spurs last summer, but the second season was a player option for $8.8 million. Maybe, if he missed most of the season with Achilles complications, it would allow him to have a financial backup.

Despite the heel trouble, Gay may still be in position to seek a lucrative deal from somewhere else, potentially his last, entering the season as a 32 year old. Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic mentioned him as an option for the Phoenix Suns.

Gay can join a team as their small forward or even a stretch four role, which he provided the Spurs off the bench. The Suns have the cap space to potentially overpay him, something San Antonio might not want to do with little cap space, multiple restricted free agents and Tony Parker‘s next contract to deal with. So, if a three-year, $48 million deal is offered, that might be difficult for Gay to decline, even if it’s not with a contender.

At the same time, will Gay’s Achilles wear him down before reaching his mid 30’s? It’s a risk for any team that gives him a multi-year deal, but after putting up quality numbers in limited time, other organizations can look past it.

Next: The Kawhi Leonard saga

SAN ANTONIO, TX – JANUARY 5: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs handles the ball against the Phoenix Suns on January 5, 2018 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photos by Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX – JANUARY 5: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs handles the ball against the Phoenix Suns on January 5, 2018 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photos by Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images)

2. The Kawhi Leonard saga

Controversy might create cash in some avenues, but not this one.

The Kawhi Leonard situation has taken over the San Antonio Spurs since January, but only escalated when rumors of his trade desire surfaced. Now, the Silver and Black have a decision on their hands: move their would-be face of the franchise or try to keep him.

It’s a strange saga for the Spurs, who have avoided media-centric problems for the past two decades. They did not receive the press that the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers or other big market organizations had, and with good reason. Five championships and players who did not cause a stir helped.

Trading Leonard or not, is it something Gay wants to be part of? He joined a team led by Leonard. 11 months later, it’s a team that’s in the headlines, because of this player, for the wrong reasons. It has painted an unknown future for this group, with uncertainties that stretch into free agency and how well it can compete with LaMarcus Aldridge as the centerpiece.

Gay can find stability elsewhere and without the speculation. That may be Phoenix or the Lakers or the Clippers, all of whom do not have issues of a superstar wanting out and putting an organization’s immediate future at risk. How appealing is it?

Next: Finding a title contender

CLEVELAND, CA – JUN 8: the Golden State Warriors pose with the Larry O’Brien Championship trophy after defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game Four of the 2018 NBA Finals won 108-85 by the Golden State Warriors over the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Quicken Loans Arena on June 6, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, CA – JUN 8: the Golden State Warriors pose with the Larry O’Brien Championship trophy after defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game Four of the 2018 NBA Finals won 108-85 by the Golden State Warriors over the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Quicken Loans Arena on June 6, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images)

1. Finding a title contender

When Rudy Gay joined the San Antonio Spurs, they seemed one Kawhi Leonard ankle injury away from challenging the Golden State Warriors in the 2017 playoffs. Maybe, Gay was the piece to put the Silver and Black over the top, if this bunch had full health. That never transpired.

If the Spurs trade Leonard this summer, unless they receive a superstar in return or manage to get LeBron James in free agency, this squad is not a title contender. Maybe a middle of the pack playoff team, but after the sweep by the Golden State Warriors and the trouble the Houston Rockets gave them in the regular season, no one will consider a Leonard-less Spurs team a contender.

With the way the NBA has trended — players who provide mismatch advantages and can stretch the floor — Gay will provide a contender this trait. He may not be the most athletic player, but at 6-foot-8 and the ability to shoot 3-pointers, it’s a valuable asset for a team that wants to win a title or a team that just won a title.

Yes, the Warriors may make sense for Gay, pending money is not an issue. With a center-filled bench, they can use another wing to back up Kevin Durant, play in small-ball lineups or even outsize other teams.

The Philadelphia 76ers make sense for Gay, as well, with their need for a scorer in between Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. They have the open cap space to make this happen.

Next: Top 25 players in SAS history

Even if it’s not the Warriors out West or the Sixers in the East, Gay can find a situation that’s closer to the NBA Finals than the Spurs. He may not be in it for the money, similar to what he did last summer. Will this offseason be the same?

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