San Antonio forward Rudy Gay is declining his player option to become a free agent this summer, league sources tell ESPN.
— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) June 18, 2018
San Antonio Express-News reporter Jabari Young confirmed the report.
A 12-year NBA veteran, Gay played well in limited duty for the Spurs, averaging 11.5 points and 5.1 rebounds in 21.6 minutes per game, mostly off the bench, for a Spurs team that won 47 games and reached the playoffs despite not having Leonard’s superstar services for all but nine games. The 31-year-old’s shooting statistics (31.4 percent from 3-point range) fell well below the career average he posted in 11 previous seasons with the Memphis Grizzlies, Toronto Raptors and Sacramento Kings.
Still, Gay assumed a starting role in the playoffs, averaging 12.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.6 steals in 32 minutes a night during their five-game first-round loss to the Golden State Warriors.
Gay signed a two-year, $17.2 million deal with the Spurs in 2017, with a player option for this summer, presumably to add veteran depth behind Leonard on a team with championship aspirations. He had appeared in the playoffs just once in his previous 11 seasons. San Antonio’s ceiling has lowered since news broke of Leonard’s impending trade request, and with that Gay’s situation changed drastically.
Gay may be challenged to find a team with enough cap space to beat the $8.8 million he would have earned by staying in San Antonio in 2018-19. That matters less to a player who has made more than $100 million in the NBA and made it clear he is prioritizing winning over earnings late in his career.
Gay made a similar decision last year, when he was coming off surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon and declined a $14.3 million option to escape Sacramento in favor of the Spurs. He arrived in San Antonio with a reputation for putting up solid statistics on losing teams, but after contributing to an injury-riddled Spurs team that exceeded expectations, another contender might be willing to invest.
As for the Spurs, depending on how the Leonard situation plays out, Gay’s decision could help them open up significant cap space this summer. Excluding Leonard, they have $56.5 million guaranteed committed to seven players in 2018-19, pending player option decisions by Danny Green and Joffrey Lauvergne in the coming weeks. Tony Parker, Kyle Anderson, Davis Bertans and Bryn Forbes are all free agents as well, and while they and whoever potentially replaces Leonard could eat up a healthy chunk of that space, there’s at least a path toward San Antonio becoming a serious suitor in free agency now.
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