Jan 4, 2014; Sacramento, CA, USA; Sacramento Kings forward Rudy Gay (8) holds onto a rebound against the Charlotte Bobcats in the second quarter at Sleep Train Arena. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Rudy Returns: What's next for the Sacramento Kings?

As has been reported by Yahoo!’s Adrian Wojnarowski and confirmed by USA Today’s Sam Amick, Rudy Gay has elected to return to the Sacramento Kings by picking up a player option worth $19.3 million.

The initial reaction is happiness. Gay established himself as a vital member of the team last year, and he’s a stable, standout player on a roster that needs talent. And yes, the money was obviously hard to pass up, but it shows a commitment of sorts from Gay to be a part of the rebuilding process in Sacramento.

On the flip side, the $19.3 million cap figure pushes the Kings team total to approximately $66.55 million, which is over the projected cap of $63.2 million. That doesn’t include a reasonable team option on Quincy Acy ($915k), the restricted free agency of Isaiah Thomas or the upcoming salary of the No. 8 draft pick.

So where do the Kings go from here?

As it stands, Sacramento is fielding a rather uninspiring roster of…

PG – Ray McCallum, Jason Terry
SG – Ben McLemore, Travis Outlaw
SF – Rudy Gay, Derrick Williams
PF – Carl Landry, Reggie Evans
C – DeMarcus Cousins, Jason Thompson

Not exactly an encouraging picture. Vivek Ranadive and Co. have expressed a willingness to commit money to the rebuild, but it’s hard to see over-the-cap Sacramento being a viable player in the free agent market.

First off, it means the likely departure of Isaiah Thomas. Thomas, even as a bench player, should command at least $6 million per season on his upcoming contract. Unless the Kings find a taker for some bad contracts, they don’t have the means to pay Isaiah what he’s worth. It likely means the Kings let Thomas find a contract elsewhere and retain the right to match should anything shake loose with the current roster.

The Kings best chance of improving their current roster suddenly becomes the trade market. We’ve heard some big names thrown out there this offseason — Kevin Love, Al Horford, Rajon Rondo — and if Sacramento is serious about taking a step up, a package involving the No. 8 pick, McLemore and expiring contracts may be its best chance to add talent. Smaller deals are of course possible as well with the expiring money from Williams, Terry and Outlaw possibly intriguing to a team looking to unload a longer deal.

As for the draft, the Kings are still likely committed to grabbing the best available player. But with a glaring hole at point guard and a clear weakness at power forward, it’s hard to envision the team straying away from those two positions. As noted, cap space is nill. The draft is Sacramento’s best shot at adding talent to a position in need.

Marcus Smart was already thought to be a target, but could the Rudy Gay news push draft-riser Elfrid Payton up the priority list? Payton, a quick, defensive-minded lead guard, has been thought to be picked in the teens of Thursday’s draft. But there have been rumblings from draft experts that Payton could be in play for mid-lottery teams like the Kings.

It all shapes up to a big summer challenge for Pete d’Alessandro. He’s got little cap flexibility and little roster talent, but what you have to love is the willingness of Kings management to make the big move. And you know they have been scouring the league, searching for ways to improve the team and start winning games. They aren’t going to take a wait-and-see approach. For better or worse, they are proactive.

For fans who love rumors, it figures to be an exciting time in Sacramento.

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