Cauley-Stein shows what Sacramento's been waiting for in big win over Denver


Cauley-Stein shows what Sacramento's been waiting for in big win over Denver

SACRAMENTO -- It wasn’t perfect, but the Sacramento Kings looked like a team Saturday evening at Golden 1 Center. They were active and lively on both ends of the floor. They moved the ball and seven players finished in double-figure scoring. 

Playing without veterans George Hill and Zach Randolph, Dave Joerger turned to five young players to start the game and the energy on the floor was noticeably different. Denver struggled to complete passes and almost every shot they took was contested. 

“As a team we had 34 deflections, we were very active - forced 25 turnovers,” Joerger said in his opening statement following the team’s 106-98 win over the Nuggets. “Charlotte the other night had four turnovers. So our level of activity and aggressiveness was much better tonight and that’s a step forward for us.”

Sacramento finished with a season-high 16 steals, including a career-best seven from Willie Cauley-Stein. Eight of the nine players that saw the court notched at least one steal as the Kings forced the Nuggets into countless mistakes. 

Taken with the sixth overall selection in the 2015 NBA Draft, the Kings have been waiting for moments like this from Cauley-Stein. His offensive numbers have steadily increased, but the 7-footer out of Kentucky has more to give on the defensive side of the ball. 

Following the win, Garrett Temple, who had sounded off on the Kings’ defensive intensity earlier in the week, sang the praises of Cauley-Stein.

“I was counting them as he was getting them,” Temple said. “He’s probably the best defender on our team, man. His ability to guard five positions, not only the steals, but being able to change shots and being help side, he was just all over the floor tonight.”

Cauley-Stein is never bashful, but when told of the compliment from Temple, he was almost at a loss for words.

“That’s a lot coming from Garrett,” Cauley-Stein said with a smile. “I’m going to have to let him know about that, because Garrett’s one of the best in the league at defending, so that’s a big up to me, so I appreciate him.”

In his third year in the league, it all seems to be falling into place for Cauley-Stein. He’s hitting his jumper on a regular basis and his teammates are using him as an alley-oop machine. He has an ability to catch and finish at the rim that is helping to open up the Kings’ offense.

Late in game, Joerger reinserted him into the lineup and ran multiple offensive plays for his young center. Cauley-Stein abused Nikola Jokic on two consecutive possessions to push Sacramento’s lead from three, back up to seven.

“He’s starting to get a lot of trust in me in making plays,” Cauley-Stein said of Joerger. “It feels really good to be involved. Spending so many years of, ‘go to the corner and watch everyone else have fun,’ I’m finally in the mix and get to show my worth and it’s been a blast.” 

Cauley-Stein finished the night with 17 points, four rebounds and two assists to compliment the seven steals. Over his last eight games, he’s averaging 15.8 points and 8.1 rebounds per game for Sacramento, showing the team he’s ready for more responsibilities moving forward. 

With the win, the Kings snapped their three-game skid and moved to 13-25 on the season. They’ll finish their six-game homestand Monday night against San Antonio before hopping a plane to Los Angeles to face the Lakers on Tuesday.

Kawhi Leonard is not the answer for the Kings


Kawhi Leonard is not the answer for the Kings

The murmurs have already started. Teams are lining up for a potential run at one of the game’s best players. We aren’t talking about LeBron James, Kevin Durant or Paul George, who all have early termination clauses in their contracts this summer. That trio will dominate the news July 1 when the NBA’s free agency period begins. 

There is another player who has an ability to change the course of a franchise and the way things are heading, who might become one of the biggest trade targets in recent league history. 

No one really knows the entire story about what is going on with Kawhi Leonard. The Spurs have their side and Leonard’s team likely has a different version. What is known is that the 26-year-old small forward was cleared by San Antonio’s medical staff to resume game action a few months back. 

Leonard returned to the court for a nine-game stretch during December and early January. And then he shut it down again. 

The two-time All-Star and former NBA Defensive Players of the Year has been diagnosed with tendinopathy in his right quadricep. He’s bounced back and forth between San Antonio and New York City all season, having his injury evaluated and re-evaluated by both the Spurs and his own medical team.

Where the Spurs go from here is anyone’s guess. They have the best two-way player in the game and he has made the decision on his own not to play. 

A season ago, San Antonio rattled off a 61-win season before falling to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. They made additions in the summer to make another run, but without Leonard, they didn’t stand a chance.

To make matters worse, the Spurs roster is aging quickly. Manu Ginobili turns 41 in July. Pau Gasol is almost 38 and Tony Parker will be 36 soon and in the last year of his contract. Six players in their rotation are 30 or older and the clock is ticking.

Leonard’s decision wiped out any chance of winning a ring for the Spurs. It also threw away one of the few seasons left for a couple of his teammates.

For the last four decades, San Antonio has been the model NBA franchise. They don’t get into situations like this. And now they have to make one of the most difficult decisions a team has to make. 

To complicate matters, Leonard has two years left on his five-year, $94 million deal he signed in 2015. The final year is a player option worth $21.3 million and it’s very unlikely that Leonard will exercise that option.

Why is this of interest to the Sacramento Kings? It might not be, but that won’t stop fans from turning to the trade machine to find a way to land Leonard in purple and black.

Anytime a player of this ilk comes available, it’s within every team’s best interest to at least make a call. It’s possible the Spurs would turn the Kings down three seconds into the conversation. Then again, they might listen.

While San Antonio is going to want a star in return for Leonard, that isn’t the way these things usually work out. The question then becomes, do the Kings have the assets to acquire Leonard?

It’s very possible that the Spurs can get more than what the Kings would be willing to offer. Sacramento has a group of young players, two or three of which might draw interest. They also have a top seven pick in the upcoming draft.

Due to the Stepien Rule, the Kings can’t trade their draft pick prior to the 2018 NBA Draft. League rules prohibit teams from trading draft picks in back-to-back seasons and Sacramento has already given up their 2019 pick in a salary dump in the summer of 2015. 

The Kings can make a selection for another team and consummate a deal once the new season begins in July, so there is still an opportunity to include the pick in player form. 

San Antonio would likely ask for multiple young players, as well as the Kings’ 2018 selection. Sacramento also has cap space and a few veterans on expiring contracts to make the dollars and cents work. 

Whether the Kings could come up with the pieces to make a deal work is debatable. The real question is, should they try and chase Leonard if he becomes available? 

The simple answer is no. 

No, the Kings shouldn’t offer up a top 10 pick and two or three of their young core to acquire one of the game’s best players. 

Take all of the issues that Leonard has had this season and throw them out the window. At 100 percent health, the risk is still too much for a team like the Kings to take.

It’s about the contract and it’s about the talent that you would have to give up. The Los Angeles Lakers might be able to absorb the risk of trading for Leonard. They would likely have to give up Kyle Kuzma and plenty more to make something happen. But they would also have a fighting chance of retaining Leonard once he opts out of his current deal and becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer.

Kings fans will reach deep on this, bringing up that Chris Webber made the decision to stick around in Sacramento back in 2001, inking a seven-year, $122 million deal. 

Not only were those different times, but the Kings’ franchise was on a roll. Webber was the best player on one of the best teams in the league. He was also surrounded by quality teammates, many of who remain extremely close more than a decade later.

Leonard would come to a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2006. It is also a franchise that would have to give up plenty of assets to acquire him. He wouldn’t make the Kings an instant success and although the team would have plenty of money in the summer of 2019 to not only pay Leonard, but add a few more pieces, the risk would never be worth the reward.

If the team truly believes that Leonard is an option, they might as well draft a high quality player in 2018, develop the current talent base, make a move or two to improve the roster and then chase the All-Star wing a summer later when they have upwards of $70 million to throw around.

It’s a fun conversation, but one that can only lead to ruin for a team like the Kings. The best chance to turn things around for Sacramento is to stay the current course and continue to develop the players on the roster. 

If the team can begin to build something, landing the right player and then keeping them around will happen for the Kings.

Kings lose coin flip to Bulls, hold No. 7 overall pick heading into NBA Draft Lottery


Kings lose coin flip to Bulls, hold No. 7 overall pick heading into NBA Draft Lottery

The Sacramento Kings’ win over the Houston Rockets in the season finale has officially cost the team a spot in the NBA’s Draft Lottery. After posting identical 27-55 records, Sacramento and the Chicago Bulls were part of the NBA’s coin flip rule Friday afternoon at the Board of Governors meetings. 

Unfortunately for the Kings, the Bulls picked up a victory in the game of chance and now sit in the sixth spot in the pre-lottery standings. Sacramento holds the seventh position, but both teams have an equal opportunity to move up into the top three positions when the lottery is officially held on May 15. 

Once the top three selections are drawn, the draft goes in order of worst remaining record, taking coin flip results into consideration. If the Kings do not move into the top three and no one slated behind them in the draft move up, they will draft No. 7 overall. 

There is also a small chance that Sacramento doesn’t move up and one or more lottery teams behind them in the standings jump up. In this scenario, the Kings could draft as low as 10, but the statistical probability of them falling that far is astronomical. 

Here are the odds for the potential draft positions for the Kings this season. Both the Kings and Bulls have an 18.3% chance of moving into the top three picks.

No. 1 overall selection: 5.3%
No. 2 overall selection: 6.0%
No. 3 overall selection: 7.0%
No. 7 overall selection: 57.3%
No. 8 overall selection: 22.6%
No. 9 overall selection: 1.8%
No. 10 overall selection: less than 0.0%