Eastern Conference scout on the Kings’ Rudy Gay gamble:
“The Kings are relevant again. That’s why this was a good trade. Now they’ve got a point guard, small forward and center that can score 20 every night. This team still has to develop a defensive identity, but they’ve become very tough to beat on their home court and that hasn’t been the case for quite a while. They’ve taken the first step toward legitimacy.
“It’s easy to pile on and rip on Rudy Gay, but I’m not one of those people. Everyone thought Memphis was crazy for taking on Zach Randolph’s contract and he ended up changing his whole reputation. The perception of Z-Bo is much different now than it was when he was with the Clippers or New York. Why can’t Rudy do the same?
“I know the contract boxed [the Kings] in money-wise, but teams in their situation that aren’t going to get free agents have to pay more to get good players. This is still the honeymoon phase we often see when a player gets traded, but I’d be encouraged by what the Kings are getting from [Gay] so far.
“If you can get to 34-35 wins [this season], that’s a start. I thought Sacramento would be a little bit more like Charlotte in terms of improving their defense [under new coach Mike Malone] -- I thought there would be more of an immediate difference [as seen with the Bobcats under Steve Clifford] -- but it’s not an easy situation to navigate because the Kings have so many offensive-oriented players.
“[DeMarcus] Cousins is in better shape, so he has the stamina to finish games, which is very important. He’s a very good offensive player who puts up numbers every night -- he’s just bigger and stronger than everyone else -- but with him it all starts with his conditioning. And Isaiah Thomas ... you’ve got to give him a lot of credit. He’s fearless with the ball and he’s carved out a really nice niche. I didn’t think he could do this coming out of college.
“Does [Thomas] distribute the ball great? No. He’s not a classic point guard. But he gets to call most of the plays. He has some freedom and may not be as good if there was a ton of halfcourt structure. I’m telling you: When Sacramento’s top three guys are on, you’re not going to be able to keep up with them.
“But now the Kings need to give Malone some time. You’ve got your guy; let this group grow together. You can’t be changing everything every two years like the Kings were doing before the ownership change. Instability has been a big problem in Sacramento. They have a bit of a foundation now and the trade is working out better than I thought it would.”