Kings

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

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USATI

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.

Five things to watch from Marvin Bagley's breakout game vs. Spurs

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USATSI

Five things to watch from Marvin Bagley's breakout game vs. Spurs

Programming note: Watch the re-air of the Kings’ victory over the San Antonio Spurs from Feb. 4, 2019 tonight at 6 p.m. PT on NBC Sports California.

To pass the time while the NBA figures out it’s next moves, NBC Sports California is bringing fans some of the best games from the last few seasons.

In our eighth installment, we go back to last season when the upstart Kings were riding high heading towards the NBA All-Star break. 

While we know the final outcome, sometimes the details become murky over time. Here are five things to watch from the Kings’ 127-112 win over the San Antonio Spurs at Golden 1 Center.

Marvelous Marvin

Marvin Bagley has played in just 13 games this season, so it might be easy for some fans to forget how talented he is. This game is a reminder of the potential hiding in the 21-year-old power forward.

While Bagley already has posted a string of double-doubles, this was his breakout game. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft posted 24 points on 10-of-17 shooting to go with 12 rebounds, four assists and three blocks in 31 minutes off the bench. 

Bagley came up huge on both ends of the court against veteran LaMarcus Aldridge and his four assists are a career-high. 

Put them away early

The Kings have a bad habit of letting teams stick around in games, but not in this one. Sacramento got off to a fast start, dropping 37 points in the first quarter on the Spurs. 

They let San Antonio back in during the second quarter, but still took a four-point lead into the break. In the third quarter, De’Aaron Fox put on the jets, scoring 11 of his 20 points.

Fox played well enough in the third that coach Dave Joerger needed him for fewer than three minutes in the final frame. 

Yo-Gi ...Fer-rell

In his first season with the Kings, Yogi Ferrell not only played spark plug off the bench, but he became a fan favorite. Against the Spurs, Ferrell was lights out.

Ferrell scored 19 points on a perfect 7-of-7 shooting from the field, including four makes from long range, in just 17 minutes off the bench.

Ferrell has seen his role reduced in Year 2 with the addition of Cory Joseph, but he has had a few moments here and there. When the Kings need a bump off the bench, he has the ability to score quickly.

Value the ball

The Kings played at a crazy pace during the 2018-19 season, but that didn’t mean they were sloppy with the ball. This game is a prime example of the team valuing the possession against a solid veteran club. Sacramento turned the ball over just eight times on the evening and posted a 26-to-8 assists to turnover ratio. 

Sacramento was efficient in their offense, shooting 55.6 percent from the field and 40.6 percent from behind the arc in the 15-point win.

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Second team blows up

Bagley broke out, Ferrell was perfect from the field and Harry Giles and Bogdan Bogdanovic were solid as well. Overall, the Kings’ second unit was terrific in this game.

The Kings’ reserves dominated the Spurs, coming away with a 60-32 advantage in bench scoring. Those are numbers you would expect to see in a complete blowout, which this was not. 

Sacramento’s bench ranked fifth in the league last season, averaging 42.7 points per game. They were solid all season long, but this game was over the top.

De'Aaron Fox stepping into Kings leadership role as his game grows

De'Aaron Fox stepping into Kings leadership role as his game grows

The talk started before the 2016-17 NBA season ended. While the Kings were gearing up for another early summer, they were already out scouting players and one name continued to come up.

Sacramento was in rebuild mode and they tabbed Kentucky point guard De’Aaron Fox as their centerpiece long before they jumped to the third pick in the draft and slid back to five due to an earlier trade that didn’t work out as planned.

When Fox fell to the Kings at No. 5, general manager Vlade Divac couldn’t get his selection to commissioner Adam Silver quickly enough. 

In Year 1, Fox looked out of sorts. Long and athletic with elite speed, the 6-foot-3 New Orleans native needed to bulk up and find his confidence at the NBA level.

When he returned to the court before his sophomore season, Fox turned heads in camp. He added 12 to 15 pounds of muscle, but he came into camp with a swagger that wasn’t there just a few months earlier.

The added muscle and moxie helped earn him a top-three finish in the NBA’s Most Improved Player award and gave the Kings a glimmer of hope that they had found a star to build around.

In Year 3, Fox has taken another step forward. He’s averaging a team-high 20.4 points and 6.8 assists. An early-season ankle injury cost him 17 games and also slowed his progress, but since Jan. 1, Fox has been on a tear.

If and when the NBA season returns amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Kings' chances of snapping their 13-year postseason drought likely begin and end with their 22-year-old leader. 

How good can De’Aaron Fox be as a player? 

This is the $150 million question for the Kings, with all likelihood, the team will offer him a five-year, max contract extension later this summer. Fox likely will sign on the dotted line.

And then the real work begins.

The good news for Kings fans is that Fox might be ahead of the curve. In a recent conversation on the Purple Talk podcast, NBA lifer Jerry Reynolds had some thoughts on where Fox’s career path is heading. 

“He’s better in almost every phase of the game, but he knows he’s the leader,” Reynolds said. “He clearly didn’t his first year.”

The Kings brought in veteran George Hill to help tutor Fox in his first season and that didn’t exactly work. Hill struggled with splitting time and the Kings were lucky to get out from underneath his contract midway through the season. 

Last summer, Divac and his group brought in Cory Joseph, a high quality player, but a career reserve, to support Fox. The pair work well together and it has been a much better fit.

“This year, there is no doubt that De’Aaron knows it’s his team, he’s the point guard, he’s supposed to make things happen and he seems to be releshing that role,” Reynolds said. “Having said that, I think he can get better. I would like to see him be even more of a leader -- get on guys a little bit, be a little harder edge to him like a [John] Stockton, like a Chris Paul.”

Fox is developing this aspect of the game. You can see that he has the talent to be one of the best the league has to offer at his position. The question is, can he translate all of that into not only points and rebounds, but wins for his team. 

Developing as an NBA point guard takes time. Very few walk right into the league and instantly dominate in every aspect of the game

Fox is ahead of where players like Mike Conley and Kyle Lowry were at the same point in their careers and right on par with All-Star players like Damian Lillard, Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook. He’s even well beyond where Hall of Famers like Stockton, Gary Payton and Steve Nash were through three seasons.

But that doesn’t always point to future success. 

“What does that mean?" Reynolds asked when comparing Fox to players like Curry or Nash. “Well, it doesn’t mean anything actually. It means he’s on the right track and you don’t know where it’s going to go.”

For every player like Lillard, Stockton, Nash and Curry, there are other players who peaked after their third season and for one reason or another never continued to improve, or ever regressed. 

Injuries robbed Derrick Rose of his star potential early in his career. Players like Tyreke Evans and Steve Francis fell apart after success coming into league. Predicting future success or a player’s arc is extremely difficult.

[RELATED: Kings launch 'In this Together' campaign]

“There is no assurance that anyone is always going to keep getting better,” Reynolds said. “That’s what you’re hoping for though.”

Fox has all the talent in the world. That is why the Kings selected him with the No. 5 overall pick and he would probably go even higher than that if the league were to redraft the 2017 NBA Draft. 

With the Kings, he will be given every opportunity to grow into his role. Be it Dave Joerger or Luke Walton, the coaching staff has had a strong grasp that this team will go as far as Fox can take them. 

“The potential is almost unlimited,” Reynolds added. “Here again, that doesn’t mean it will be reached. I’m hopeful, but also, I’ve been to the county fair and realistic that it isn’t always the case.”

There will come a moment when you know what Fox will bring to the table every night as an NBA player. We haven’t really come close to that moment. What year will we see it? Is the player we see now as good as it gets? Only time will tell.

If there is a saving grace for the Kings, they have the opportunity to get it right with Fox. They can bring him along in a way that he can grow into the player they hope he can become.