The summer of 2018 is a weird time to be a free agent in the NBA. The top-tier players, ranging from LeBron James to Paul George and Kevin Durant, are in no danger of suffering under what appears to be something of a financial crunch.
However, the league’s “middle class” could have some trouble finding big money this summer, if only because many teams attempting to contend will have only the mid-level exception to offer in a landscape where few teams have legitimately enticing salary cap room. Seven teams enter this summer with significant cap space and at least one of those figures to spend the majority of it on one of the very top free agents.
With that as the backdrop, veteran forward Rudy Gay has reportedly decided to make the interesting decision to enter the free agent fray by declining a player option worth $8.8 million for the 2018-2019 season.
On the heels of an Achilles injury, Gay performed well in his first season with the Spurs, averaging 11.5 points and 5.1 rebounds per game with strong efficiency in a supporting role. However, he will turn 32 years old in August and there is no guarantee that a player with his recent injury history and mileage will be able to command a starting salary at or above the $8.8 million that he is turning down.
It is important to note that Gay could be weighing a number of considerations and this is where any NBA agent makes money with interesting decisions. Gay could be looking for a deal that locks in multi-year security and, even if he does not get a starting salary at the same level, the ability to secure multiple seasons of guaranteed money could be alluring. In addition, the Spurs do not have Bird Rights on Gay at this point but, if he wanted to remain in San Antonio, the Spurs could offer up to 120 percent of this season’s contract, placing him in the $10 million range for a team that may want to bring him back to the fold.
Beyond Gay’s individual choice, the sudden flexibility could be interesting for the Spurs, particularly in the event of a Kawhi Leonard trade. San Antonio does owe big money to LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol and Patty Mills but the decks are relatively clear after that and the fallout from Gay’s decision will be intriguing in the coming days.