Willie Cauley-Stein made it clear at Kings Media Day: 'I'm ready to get paid'


Willie Cauley-Stein made it clear at Kings Media Day: 'I'm ready to get paid'

SACRAMENTO -- Media day usually is a lot of fluff and very little substance. It’s the equivalent of the first day of school. Everyone is wearing their favorite new outfit, which soon will be in the rotation and fade like every other garment in the drawer. 

Every once in a while, though, you hear something decidedly unique that stands out and becomes worthy of writing.

On Monday afternoon, Willie Cauley-Stein sat in the hot seat and bared his soul. In midseason form, the fourth-year center said exactly what was on his mind.

“I’m ready to get paid,” Cauley-Stein told NBC Sports California. “This is what we’ve got to do, that’s what type of focus I’m on.

“I’m ready for it. I’ve seen everybody else -- all my peers. All right, I’m ready for that. What do I got to do to do that? That’s what they’re doing? All right, I’m going to go ahead and do this now. I was doing it this way, obviously it wasn’t working, so now let's do it this way.”

It’s unlikely an extension offer for the 25-year-old center is coming from the Kings. He’ll likely play out the 2018-19 season under his rookie scale deal, and if Sacramento makes a qualifying offer, he’ll become a restricted free agent. 

A strong performance from Cauley-Stein could swing his future earnings by tens of millions of dollars, be it with the Kings or another team on the open market.

“Regardless of anything, I need this, right now, to change everybody’s lives that are believing in what I’m doing,” Cauley-Stein said. “That’s money. It’s richer than money, but I just need the money to do what I really need to do.”

The buzz word around the team is that they need to see consistency from the 7-footer if they are going to break the bank for his services. It’s a word that Cauley-Stein himself brought up in conversation.

“What I expect from Willie is to be consistent,” general manager Vlade Divac told NBC Sports California. “It’s a very important year for him.”

Cauley-Stein greatly improved in his third NBA season, posting 12.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 28 minutes per night. He started 58 games for coach Dave Joerger and played in 73 overall. 

The numbers are solid on paper, but there were nights when Cauley-Stein starred for the Kings and others when he almost completely disappeared. 

“Consistency, that’s the word of the decade for me,” Cauley-Stein said. “Consistency. That’s what’s going to get you paid. So I’m going to say it until it happens. That’s how it works these days. Just keep on talking about it, eventually it’s just going to happen.”

Cauley-Stein said that beginning two years ago when Joerger and his staff took over the Kings, he began investing in himself, hiring a mental coach, a physical coach and a nutritionist.  

“I just let myself go to the game, mentally and physically,” Cauley-Stein said of his preparation for this season. “Consistent work and that’s what I didn’t do in the past, was just consistently working on my game. I’d work on it for a while and then relax and kind of like, forget what I’m doing.”

Sacramento is loaded on the front line and has plenty of options if Cauley-Stein stumbles. If he plays to his potential, the Kings have an estimated $60 million in salary cap space to play with next summer. 

Through three seasons, Sacramento has been patient with Cauley-Stein's development. Taken with the sixth overall selection in the 2015 NBA Draft, he’s been given every opportunity to figure out the pro game.

If he wants to get paid, which clearly is a motivating factor this season, he’ll need to produce each and every night he steps on the floor.

Kings offseason outlook: Who will back up De'Aaron Fox at point guard?


Kings offseason outlook: Who will back up De'Aaron Fox at point guard?

SACRAMENTO -- De’Aaron Fox, and?

What is the Kings' plan for the reserve point guard position this season? Last year, it was a point of contention between head coach Dave Joerger and the front office.

Joerger wanted a true veteran point guard that could handle the offense when Fox went to the bench. The team acquired Alec Burks at the deadline, but he didn’t really work out for the team in his brief opportunity.

After averaging 31.4 minutes per game last season, Fox is expected to play even more next season. What does that leave for a backup point guard?

Not much. Whoever takes the job is going to have to make an impact with very little opportunity.

The Kings have three options in house and added another two during the draft, but there still isn’t a true floor general on the roster outside of Fox.

According to a league source, the team is willing to walk into the season with the group they had last year, but they’ll look at other options during the first few days of free agency before making a final decision.

Bogdan Bogdanovic is a playmaker, but he’s more of a shooting guard or small forward than a natural point guard. He’ll eat minutes at the position, but the team would be better with him playing on the wing.

Yogi Ferrell is an option as well and he’s affordable. The team has a $3.2 million option on the 26-year-old, which they have until July 4 to exercise. The fourth-year guard is more of an undersized two than a point, which was one of Joerger’s concerns last season. He can be a defensive liability and the team needs an offensive hub to run the ball through when he’s on the floor.

Frank Mason is in a similar boat. While more of a point, he is undersized and struggled to make an impact when given a shot last year. After lighting it up from long range in college and putting up solid numbers during his rookie campaign, Mason struggled mightily from deep last season. Sacramento has until Oct. 15 to guarantee Mason’s contract for the upcoming season. He’s only due $1.6 million, so he’s an affordable option. He’ll likely get a shot to run the team in summer league and prove that he’s ready to contribute.

Vlade Divac and his team added a pair of guards in the second round, but they are inexperienced and neither is a perfect fit.

Justin James is a 6-foot-7 combo guard who ran the show at Wyoming. Kyle Guy is a big-time shooter, but not much of a distributor. They both were second-round selections, which means that they are on budget deals that likely are non-guaranteed this season. The team could use one or both of their two-way contracts on the pair and bounce them back and forth between their G-League affiliate in Stockton. They also could lock them down with three-year contracts with team options and see how they develop.

[RELATED: Koufos reflects on time with Kings before free agency]

None of these options is a perfect solution. Then again, the combination of three or four of these players might work.

If Divac doesn’t fall in love with someone new in the opening days of free agency, he might have to rely on a back-up point guard by committee approach and reassess his options next summer if it doesn’t work out.

There is talent at the position, but new head coach Luke Walton is going to need someone to step up and earn the minutes quickly or Fox will have to play even more than expected.

NBA free agency: Kosta Koufos reflects on Kings tenure, his future


NBA free agency: Kosta Koufos reflects on Kings tenure, his future

A pro’s pro.

After four seasons in Sacramento, center Kosta Koufos is about to enter NBA free agency for the first time in a while.

The veteran center took a back seat to the Kings’ youth movement over the last two seasons, but at 30 years old, he still has plenty to give, whether it’s in Sacramento or somewhere else.

“I’ve been in the league for 11 years. I’ve started a numerous amount of games, and when given time, I can put up numbers,” Koufos told NBC Sports California on The Kings Insider Podcast.

Sacramento undertook a major facelift during Koufos’ time with the team. He had to adapt, and more that anything else, he had to accept a role as the team started from scratch.

From a starter on a 57-win Denver Nuggets team to a role player with the Kings, Koufos has done it all. He takes everything in stride and never has complained, be it to the media or the front office.

“From my perspective, knowing your role, knowing your situation and maximizing your role, whatever time is given to you,” Koufos said. “Whether it’s playing well on the defensive end or getting guys open with screens or scoring when the opportunity is there, it’s just being the best player you can be in whatever time is given to you.”

With the Kings continuing their youth movement, minutes weren’t easy to come by this past season for the 7-footer out of Ohio State. But when he didn’t see the floor or he played less than 15 minutes, Koufos would hit the practice-facility floor and the weight room after games to stay in shape.

“Have your mindset that you’re going to play 25 minutes a game, even if you’re not, just to be ready and keep your body ready,” Koufos said of his approach to this last season. “If you don’t play, then after the game you get your conditioning in, get your lifting in, get your shots up so you can stay sharp for the next opportune moment.”

For the first time in eight seasons, Koufos failed to register a positive in the offensive/defensive rating, but it had nothing to do with his effort. He played just 502 minutes with the Kings and played with countless teammates on the second unit. It’s hard to find a rhythm as a player when you’re playing half the games.

Circumstances have changed almost every year in Sacramento, but Koufos has rolled with the punches and been a team player every step of the way. While he wants to play, he also knows the NBA business, and the veteran center hasn’t ruled out a return to the Kings.

“You keep your options open no matter what, I believe in that,” Koufos said.

The Kings are looking for a major piece to drop into the center of their lineup, and Koufos will have to use a wait-and-see approach. It’s very possible that there is a club on the open market looking for a veteran big who understands his role and is willing to do all of the dirty work.

Although he didn’t get the best opportunity over the last year or two with the Kings, he enjoyed the fan base and would recommend the city to potential free agents.

“Honestly, there are a lot of friendly people in Sacramento,” Koufos said. “It’s more of a Midwest vibe, in California, which I like. The city is growing, the real estate market is booming, obviously, and I had a great time.”

According to a source with knowledge of the situation, the Kings haven’t closed the door on a reunion with the team’s longest-tenured player. The Kings hope to improve their frontline in free agency, but that doesn’t exclude a return by Koufos.

[RELATED: Examining Kings' current roster construction]

Both sides will let the market dictate the next course of action. If they meet back up after the initial burrage of signings, and a deal make sense for both the team and the player, they will talk.

If not, Koufos should be remembered in Sacramento as the consummate professional who brought his hard hat to work every day and helped bring along the next generation of Kings players.