Kings

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

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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.

How Kent Bazemore proving to be Kings' missing ingredient during surge

How Kent Bazemore proving to be Kings' missing ingredient during surge

LOS ANGELES -- Every once in a while, a player comes along who seamlessly fits in and instantly improves a team. Veteran guard Kent Bazemore has been that player for the Kings.

Bazemore and experienced big man Anthony Tolliver officially joined Sacramento in a Jan. 21 trade from the Portland Trail Blazers, and Bazemore, 30, has been a catalyst for the Kings' recent surge. They are 8-5 since his arrival, clawing their way back into the playoff picture.

In the Kings' 112-103 win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday afternoon, Bazemore scored 23 points on 7-of-13 shooting. He added six rebounds, four steals and played strong defense from the moment he stepped on the floor.

Bazemore also shoved coach Luke Walton after the Kings' win. Not only has he been a viable option off the bench, but his personality is helping to push the Kings’ culture in the right direction.

“You’ve got to relish these moments, you’ve got to bottle it up and really understand what it feels like and take it over to the next day,” Bazemore said Saturday. “It’s hard to win in this league. It’s hard to be a good team in this league and when you go on the road in big games like this, you’ve got to feel it.”

Walton has been a target in Sacramento after the Kings got off to a slow start. Like any coach, he wants to win and be part of the first Kings team to make the postseason since 2007.

Victories like the one over the Clippers shows that the team is still fighting for their coach despite the rocky start to the season.

“We here, we here -- we’re behind him 110 percent,” Bazemore said of Walton. “He’s just as fiery as any coach I’ve ever played with. Sometimes it looks like he wants to get out there, but he’s kinda chubby now, so those days are over.”

Walton feels the same way about Bazemore. The coach knows exactly how much Bazemore's addition has helped stabilize his club, both on and off the court.

“He’s been great -- the things he says in the locker room, his participation in film sessions, the energy and passion he plays the game with, his versatility,” Walton said when asked about Bazemore’s contributions.

What the Kings are seeing from Bazemore is what they were hoping to get when they signed Trevor Ariza during the offseason. While Ariza brought value to Sacramento, he didn’t have the same type of impact and he’s not nearly as versatile.

On any given night, Bazemore is asked to come off the bench and defend the best the opposition has to offer. Against the Clippers, he guarded Kawhi Leonard and Lou Williams. Bazemore held his own against both, which was a big reason the Kings came away with a victory.

“He’s been huge, the way he’s been playing,” De'Aaron Fox said. “He’s been scoring the ball for us as well in situations, but defensively, he’s out there guarding Kawhi, he’s guarding Lou, he’s doing a lot of things.”

There was something missing from this team, and Bazemore might have been the missing ingredient. His intensity and professionalism are contagious. He also has a light-hearted side that his teammates seem to enjoy.

“It wasn’t much that needed to be changed,” Bazemore said. “But sometimes fresh blood does help and I hadn’t been having the best year, so I think it was a match made in heaven.”

With 26 games remaining, the Kings are getting to test drive Bazemore as a player and he is doing the same. A free agent at the end of the season, NBC Sports California has confirmed that the Kings have already had internal discussions about re-signing him, although there is plenty of time between now and July 1 when he becomes an unrestricted free agent.

[RELATED: Kings' Harry Giles earns first double-double in road win vs. Clippers]

For now, the focus is on winning. The Kings entered Sunday five games out of the Western Conference's eighth and final playoff spot, and they are playing very well coming out of the All-Star break. 

“We’ve got 20 some odd games left and it’s a crapshoot right now,” Bazemore said. “Some teams are injured. It’s a sink or swim moment. You see it every year, some team gets hot and makes it interesting at the end. We have some lofty goals and we have the group to get it done.”

If Bazemore continues to play well and the Kings get a player or two back from injury, there is a chance they can make this season interesting down the stretch. It starts with wins like Sacramento's last two, and Bazemore was vital to both.

Kings' Harry Giles earns first double-double in road win vs. Clippers

Kings' Harry Giles earns first double-double in road win vs. Clippers

LOS ANGELES -- Don’t look now, but the Kings are on a roll.

With a 112-103 victory over the Clippers on Saturday, Sacramento now has won two in a row and eight of its last 12 games. There are plenty of reasons for the push, but flying under the radar is the improvement of second-year big man Harry Giles.

“There’s a lot of growth happening,” Kings coach Luke Walton told NBC Sports California after the win. “One, I think his conditioning and his body looks, and I’m assuming, feels pretty good right now.”

Giles went toe-to-toe with a huge Clippers frontline and managed to post his first career double-double. He finished the game with 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting and chipped in 12 rebounds, which matched his career high.

“It feels good, man,” Giles said. “I feel like I already had one, I should have had one. I’m glad I can finally put one in the books.”

On Jan. 30, Giles struggled to stay on the floor against the Clippers, picking up two quick fouls against Montrezl Harrell and then sitting for all but three minutes of the game while the Kings’ 3-point shooters rained down on Los Angeles.

“You have to give him a lot of credit for continuing to improve and do what we as a staff are asking him to do,” Walton added.

With very little support behind him because of njury, Giles came into Saturday’s game knowing that he had to stay on the floor. The only hope of doing that was to play defense without fouling.

[RELATED: Marvin Bagley visits foot specialist, out at least three more weeks]

“With time and reps, I’m just going to get better,” Giles said. “The fouls -- it varies. It’s tough. It depends on how you play and how the refs let you play. I’m going to keep getting better at that and just keep playing hard.”

In a career-high 32 minutes of action, Giles picked up just three fouls. He set good screens, moved his feet on defense and limited his mistakes overall. More importantly, he played valuable fourth-quarter minutes in a huge team victory.

Richaun Holmes and Marvin Bagley continue to miss time because of injury, and the Kings are extremely thin upfront. Giles has started six of the last eight games, and he’s starting to build momentum.

“I’m just trying to build on the opportunity and keep winning,” Giles said.

With just over a minute left and the game still undecided, Giles got an opportunity to shine off the lob.

[RELATED: Jabari Parker ready for Kings debut, Alex Len getting closer]

The Kings decided not to pick up Giles’ fourth-year option back in October, but they’ve kept the door open for a possible return for the 21-year-old big next season. He has another 26 games to show what he can do, and he’s auditioning for all 30 teams at this point.

Giles wasn’t the only center to play minutes for the Kings. 7-footer Alex Len made his Sacramento debut and played very well for a player who has missed 11 straight games with a hip pointer.

“I wasn’t planning on playing him that much, I wanted to just get him out there a little bit,” Walton said. “I was going to come in with Jabari [Parker], but he looked good. He was moving well. He was clogging up the paint. He was putting out fires for us. So I pushed it a little more than I wanted to with his minutes, but he said he felt good, and it was nice to have a real big 7-foot body out there to help control the paint.”

Len, who came over from the Atlanta Hawks at the NBA trade deadline, finished with three points and eight rebounds in 16 minutes of play. He was active and made a nice impact on the game in his limited time on the court.