Rudy Gay was dealing on Wednesday night, getting to the rim and knocking down jumpers en route to 21 points on 13 shots to help the Sacramento Kings build a big lead over the visiting Indiana Pacers. But then, things went very, very wrong:
With just under 30 seconds left in the third quarter, and the Kings holding a 10-point edge over the Pacers, Sacramento guard Garrett Temple drove into the paint before kicking the ball out to Gay in the far corner. The veteran forward caught the pass and instantly began to drive the baseline — a move he’s made countless times in his basketball-playing life — but this time, something wasn’t right. Gay took one step and went right down, losing the ball.
As play moved to the other end of the court, Gay remained down, clearly in serious pain; when he turned onto his stomach, he slapped the floor in frustration. Gay needed to be helped off the court and back to the locker room by teammate Willie Cauley-Stein and team director of sports medicine Pete Youngman.
Given the non-contact nature of the fall and the fact that he couldn’t put any weight on his left leg, watchers instantly assumed the worst … and, soon after Gay’s exit, the Kings reported that our fears seemed to have been realized:
Preliminary evaluation by the Kings medical staff indicates Rudy Gay suffered a torn left Achilles’ tendon in the third quarter of tonight’s game versus Indiana. An MRI scheduled for tomorrow will confirm the diagnosis.
A torn Achilles tendon is one of the most devastating injuries an athlete can suffer, as detailed by Dr. Steven M. Raikin for Sports Illustrated in 2015:
Once the tendon ruptures, it is usually never back to 100% again. Even in professional sports, 36% of NFL or NBA players sustaining an Achilles tendon rupture never return to pro sports, and those who do usually take about a year before they are playing competitively. Additionally, players who do return typically have a decrease in their power of about 50% and only play for an average of 3-4 more seasons.
There have been success stories. Dominique Wilkins famously made his way back from a 1992 Achilles tear to return to All-Star form. Wesley Matthews bounced back to return to prominence as a starting-caliber swingman for the Dallas Mavericks. Kobe Bryant played only six games following his eight-month Achilles rehab before suffering another injury, but did eventually return to play parts of two more seasons before retiring on his own terms.
Even so, an Achilles tear is terrifying, which is why several NBA players quickly took to Twitter to share their well wishes for the 30-year-old forward:
Prayers up for Rudy Gay.
— Jamal Crawford (@JCrossover) January 19, 2017
@RudyGay8 not u too bro. Speedy recovery brother. Been battling since we was young boys.
— BigDawg (@Roy_Meets_World) January 19, 2017
Gay hard started his 11th NBA season strong, averaging 19.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.5 steals in 34.4 minutes per game through his first 22 appearances while shooting 45.8 percent from the field, 36.3 percent from the 3-point arc, and 84 percent from the foul line. But he suffered a right hip flexor strain during a Dec. 12 win over the Los Angeles Lakers that sidelined him for 10 of Sacramento’s next 11 games, and he’d been up-and-down in the half-dozen games since his return to the lineup on Jan. 6.
After Thursday’s MRI confirmed Gay did tear his Achilles tendon, his 2016-17 season is over, and he now faces a difficult decision come the summer. Gay holds a $14.3 million player option for next season, and made it very clear back in September that he planned to exercise that option and, in all likelihood, leave a team whose inner workings have left him confused and dismayed over the years, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical:
Forward Rudy Gay has informed Sacramento Kings management that he plans to use his 2017 player option to become an unrestricted free agent and considers himself unlikely to negotiate a new deal to return to the franchise, league sources told The Vertical.
Gay’s pledge to the Kings’ ownership and front office that he’s strongly leaning against re-signing with Sacramento is a declaration that could increase pressure on the organization to trade Gay sooner rather than later.
Now, though, opting out would mean Gay hits unrestricted free agency as damaged goods, on the verge of his 31st birthday, coming off a devastating injury and unlikely to open the season with anything resembling his previous athleticism, burst and lift. That might depress his value, and that might change his decision-making process:
Rudy Gay's torn Achilles will seriously change trade deadline and free agency. He planned to opt-out of $14.2M for 17-18. Complex choice now
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) January 19, 2017
Then again, we have in the recent past seen a player coming off an Achilles tear get a max deal just four months after suffering the injury …
Remember, though: Portland's Wes Matthews tore his Achilles in March of 2015 and signed a $70M free agent deal with Dallas that July.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) January 19, 2017
… so it’s possible Gay might believe that a team would be willing to take a similar chance on him once free agency opens in July.
Gay’s injury comes at a brutal time for the Kings, who will also be without reserve forward Omri Casspi for the next week or two as he works his way back from a calf injury, and who are about to embark on an eight-game road trip that will keep them away from California through the end of January. Sacramento will enter that trip on a three-game losing streak, as that 10-point edge the Kings held when Gay went down — which had already been chopped down from 22 in the second quarter and 19 at halftime — disappeared completely in the fourth quarter.
Paul George scored 11 of his 24 points in the final frame, teaming with point guard Jeff Teague and big men Myles Turner and Al Jefferson to turn the game on its head, as Indiana outscored Sacramento 35-21 in the fourth to come away with a 106-100 win. DeMarcus Cousins finished with a triple-double, scoring 25 points with 12 rebounds, 10 assists, three blocks and nine turnovers, but it wasn’t enough to keep the Kings from imploding down the stretch.
Sacramento now sits at 16-25, 1 1/2 games behind the Denver Nuggets for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West … and now, they’re going to be without their second-leading scorer for the balance of the season. Bad news, all around.
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