SACRAMENTO -- Willie Cauley-Stein’s four years with the Kings unceremoniously ended when they rescinded their qualifying offer to the 7-footer on July 1.
There were plenty of highs, but also more than a few lows for the No. 6 overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. After signing with the Warriors this summer, he walked into the visiting locker room of Golden 1 Center as an opposing player for the first time Monday morning for shootaround.
“It’s going to be cool coming back, playing in the spot that I grew up in pretty much,” Cauley-Stein said. “It’s weird being on this side of it though, I’ll be honest.”
Cauley-Stein was a polarizing figure with the Kings' fan base, and there is no telling what the reception will be like when he is announced. He went from a player looking to “get paid” to signing a two-year, $4.5 million deal with the Warriors.
Following his exit, he has taken a few moderate jabs at the Kings but nothing too harsh. Kings fans likely will have a response to his comments when he’s announced Monday evening.
“Shoot, probably both -- love, hate, that’s the way it goes when you leave an organization,” Cauley-Stein said. “A lot of love either way, a lot of love. I had a lot of support out here. A lot of people who believed in me off the court. It’s going to be cool.”
Kings fans are notorious for having a long memory. They would still boo Spencer Hawes if they saw him walking down the street, and Jason Terry drew the fans' ire years after knocking the Kings.
There likely will be a reaction from the Golden 1 Center crowd, but don't expect that to sway Cauley-Stein's former teammates.
“A lot of guys go back and get booed,” the Kings’ De’Aaron Fox said. “That doesn’t change what we think of Willie.”
“... Willie was great, he came in, he worked. Obviously, he was a different guy off the court just because he has a lot of different interests, but on the court, he came here, he worked hard. He is one of the best running bigs that I’ve ever seen, so his game definitely matched up with us.”
Cauley-Stein made the trek from the Bay Area on Sunday and spent time at Harry Giles house after his arrival. The pair spent two seasons together in Sacramento, with Cauley-Stein mentoring the Kings’ young big man.
“I’m definitely excited to play against my boy,” Giles said. “I’m excited for him just to come back here, to compete against the team he got drafted to. He had a lot of love for this city, regardless of the stuff that happened. His heart was still here and it’s tough with him leaving.”
Known for his strong relationship with the fan base, Giles was wary of what might be in store for Cauley-Stein in his first game back in Sacramento when asked about the crowd's potential reaction.
“I know people got a certain way of feeling, but still just give him a little love too,” Giles said. “He still got drafted here. He still put his time in too.”
In his first season with the Warriors, Cauley-Stein is starting and getting back to his defensive ways for coach Steve Kerr.
Cauley-Stein playing just under half the game for the 9-28 Warriors, averaging 8.1 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game.