Kings

Is Willie Cauley-Stein still an option at center for Sacramento Kings?

Is Willie Cauley-Stein still an option at center for Sacramento Kings?

SACRAMENTO -- Nearly two months into the offseason and the Sacramento Kings have a looming decision regarding one of their starters.

Willie Cauley-Stein is set to become a free agent for the first time and Vlade Divac has a few options when it comes to the 7-footer out of the University of Kentucky.

During a sit down with the Sacramento Bee earlier this week, Divac went on the record regarding the future of Cauley-Stein with the Kings.

“It’s a tough question,” Divac said. “We would like to keep Willie in terms of his talent potential but he still needs to show us the consistency that we are looking for. We are talking.”

An NBA source has confirmed to NBC Sports California that improving the center position is a priority this summer for the Kings, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Cauley-Stein is gone.

The Kings have until June 30 to extend Cauley-Stein a $6.3 million qualifying offer. If they choose to do so, he becomes a restricted agent, which allows the Kings to match any offer for the 25-year-old big.

If Divac extends the qualifying offer, which it appears he will do at this point, it comes with a cap hold of a little over $14 million. The team has until July 13 to rescind that offer, which would allow him to become an unrestricted free agent.

The cap hold is an issue for Sacramento. They walk into the summer with an estimated $35 million in cap space, but that number can move substantially. Harrison Barnes has a $25 million player option for next season and the team has a $3.2 million option on guard Yogi Ferrell.

While Barnes has yet to express his intent to the team, there is a very good chance he is back in Sacramento next season. The team would love to sign him long term as either an opt-out and sign or with a possible extension later this summer.

Ferrell is a toss-up. The Kings could use more size and more of a true point guard off the bench behind De’Aaron Fox, but Ferrell is inexpensive and the team has until July 4 to make a decision on his future.

If Barnes opts in and the team takes a pass on Ferrell, the Kings have $38 million to spend in free agency. If Barnes opts out, that number jumps as high as $63 million, depending on the team’s decision on Ferrell.

Here is where the Cauley-Stein cap hold comes into play. If the Kings walk into free agency with the $38 million figure, they really only have $24 million to offer potential free agents, which might limit what the team can do on the open market.

Here is a look at the Kings’ options when it comes to former No. 6 overall selection in the 2015 NBA Draft.

Option 1: Offer Cauley-Stein an extension they feel matches his production

This is an unlikely scenario. The two sides have talked and the Kings likely have a good idea on where Cauley-Stein and his team believe his value lies. He wasn’t offered an extension last summer and despite improvements on the court, it’s likely there is a gap between the perceived and real value at this point.

Option 2: Decline to extend the qualifying offer

This isn’t a realistic plan for the Kings either. They’ve invested four years in Cauley-Stein’s development. He’s started 199 games for the team over the past four seasons, including 81 last year. While he can frustrate the team with his inconsistency, he posted solid numbers across the board and still has room to improve.

The Kings can pull back the qualifying offer if they find a stronger option at the five. Declining to extend the offer would be crazy unless the team is completely done with the athletic big.

Option 3: Sign and trade

Like the previous two options, this isn’t ideal. The sign and trade has lost a lot of its value over the past few seasons. If a team has a real interest in Cauley-Stein, they can make an offer to Sacramento before extending him an offer sheet. But with so much available cap money this offseason and the league’s mid-level exception rising to $9.2 million this summer, there will be other options for teams to acquire Cauley-Stein without giving up an asset.

Option 4: Extend qualifying offer and Cauley-Stein accepts

If the Kings extend the $6.3 million qualifying offer and Cauley-Stein doesn’t see a better option, he can accept the contract, play out the season in Sacramento and re-enter the pool of players next summer as an unrestricted free agent.

This is likely the last resort option for Cauley-Stein’s team. They believe he will get substantially more than this, but free agency is an unpredictable business.

Sacramento would likely have no issue with this plan. They would get a serviceable player on a lower end contract. They would need his permission for a trade during the season, but it’s a low-risk situation for the team.

Option 5: Extend the qualifying offer and wait

According to a league source, this is the most likely option for the Kings, even if they find an upgrade at the center position on the open market. If Cauley-Stein receives a big-time offer, they let him walk. If he receives a reasonable offer that doesn’t hamstring the Kings’ bottom line, the team will likely match and let the rest of the offseason play out.

Once the dust settles, Luke Walton can figure out how to use Cauley-Stein, either as a starter or reserve. If they have a glut at the position, they can rework the roster down the road. They could move Cauley-Stein after Dec. 15 if things aren’t working out and retain at least some value after spending time developing the center.

Conclusion

It’s hard to know how all of this will work out, but it only takes one team to give an offer the Kings won’t match.

[RELATED: Harrison Barnes receives free agency advice]

Cauley-Stein posted 11.9 points, 8.4 rebounds 2.4 assists and 1.2 steals in 27.3 minutes per game last season in Sacramento. While his inconsistency is frustrating, he was still a major contributor and fits the scheme.

The Kings would like to add a big-time player at the five, but that might not happen in free agency. Cauley-Stein wants to get paid, but that might not work out either. It’s possible the marriage between these two continues out of pure convenience.

Kings player profile: Can Nemanja Bjelica be effective in reduced role?

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Kings player profile: Can Nemanja Bjelica be effective in reduced role?

Nemanja Bjelica was on his way back to Europe when he got the call from fellow Serbians Vlade Divac and Peja Stojakovic last summer. After three seasons in Minnesota, the sharpshooting big joined the Kings on a three-year, $20.5 million contract and instantly stepped into Sacramento’s starting lineup. 

While he struggled for a stretch in the middle of the season, Bjelica became a valuable member of the rotation and posted career-high numbers across the board for the Kings. 

His ability to create space and spread the floor opened up the Kings’ offense. His high basketball IQ made the players around him better.

Bjelica’s role is likely to change dramatically in Year No. 2 in Sacramento, but his ability to hit the 3-ball and impact the game in multiple ways will earn him minutes during the season. 

Strengths

Before a midseason slump, Bjelica was one of the Kings’ most efficient players. He started 70 games for Dave Joerger at power forward and he figured out ways to impact the game on a nightly basis. 

Through the first two months of the season, Bjelica knocked down 51.5 percent (35-for-68) from 3-point range. He finished the season at 40.1 percent from long distance on 257 attempts, providing some much needed spacing from an unlikely spot on the floor. 

Bjelica was particularly deadly from the top of the key as a trailer in the Kings’ uptempo offense. As the season wore on, he continued to attempt shots from further and further out, which hurt his 3-point percentage, but allowed gaps for De’Aaron Fox to work with

Not known as a leaper, Bjelica is crafty around the rim, hitting 63.5 percent on 189 attempts inside of three feet. He also was efficient from three to 10 feet, knocking down 52-for-118 for 44.1 percent. Bjelica took just 29 shots from 10 feet out to the 3-point line, showing nice shot discipline. On the offensive side of the ball, he knows who he is and plays to his strengths.

Despite limited athleticism, Bjelica averaged 5.8 rebounds in 23.2 minutes per. His 12.8 percent rebound percentage was fifth on the Kings last season and his per-36-minute average of 8.9 isn’t bad for a player who plays heavy minutes away from the rim.

Bjelica is a smart player who rarely gets out position. His opponents ran a -1.6 field goal percentage against, including a -5.3 percent from behind the 3-point line. He also blocked 0.7 shots per game, which ranked second on the team last season.

Weaknesses

Bjelica is who he is, which is a solid NBA stretch four. While he is an intelligent player, he lacks elite athleticism and quickness, which limits his ability to play multiple positions. 

The rigors of an 82-game schedule appeared to wear down Bjelica, especially with the pace the Kings play at. He needs to come into camp in great shape and ready to run, even if it’s as a trailer in the uptempo offense.

While he’s passable on the boards, second-year big man Marvin Bagley projects as a very good to excellent rebounder at the same position. With starting center Dewayne Dedmon more of a perimeter player, it’s unlikely the two play minutes together. 

On the defensive side of the ball, Bjelica is more of a stretch four/five than a three/four. His inability to guard small forwards will hurt him when Luke Walton goes to switching defenses.

Path to Improvement

It’s possible that playing deep into the summer with the Serbian national team will help the 31-year-old come into camp in prime shape. With the pace the Kings play at, it’s a must for everyone on the roster, but specifically for a player like Bjelica, who plays a different speed than most of his teammates.

There is a very good chance that Bjelica will see reduced minutes, which might be a good thing. If he can continue to be extremely effective in a reserve role, he can carve out a niche as a floor spacer alongside young bigs like Harry Giles and Richaun Holmes.

Projection

Bjelica was a quiet difference-maker for the Kings during the 2018-19 season, but he might get lost in the shuffle in head coach Luke Walton’s uptempo offense. 

Bagley is going to play 30-plus minutes per game at the power forward spot. Harrison Barnes will steal minutes at the four as well. Bjelica’s shooting is an elite skill that will keep him in the rotation, but he’s in a dog fight for minutes.

[RELATED: Is Ariza lost in Kings' shuffle?]

Walton is going to need a floor spacer to play alongside Giles and Holmes, but as the season develops, he might have other options. 

A conservative projection has Bjelica averaging 5.5-6.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and an assist in 12-14 minutes per game off the Kings’ bench. He’ll shoot over 40 percent from 3-point range, but it’s likely he’ll lose minutes to more versatile players.

Kings player profile: How good can Marvin Bagley be in sophomore season?

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Kings player profile: How good can Marvin Bagley be in sophomore season?

Vlade Divac took a huge gamble when he passed on Luka Doncic to draft Marvin Bagley with the second overall selection in the 2018 NBA Draft. Doncic went on to win the Rookie of the Year award, but Bagley showed flashes of brilliance, as well.

The final grade on this move will likely take years to resolve, but the Sacramento Kings feel very confident in their decision. Bagley is a perfect fit for the Kings' style of play and his potential is through the roof.

The 20-year-old will be asked to do a lot more in year two, although he’ll also need to show that he can stay healthy throughout an 82-game schedule. He has elite scoring and rebounding skills and an advanced game for a player moving into his sophomore season.

Can he lead the Kings in scoring? Can he be a perennial 20-10 player? Can he be a star? The answer to all of these questions is yes.

Strengths

Seldom does a one-and-done college player walk into the league with an advanced offensive game like Bagley. At 6-foot-11, 235 pounds, he runs the floor like a gazelle and he has low post moves of a 10-year vet.

He favors his left hand, but there are plenty of successful players with a dominant side. He has a half hook, a power move off the dribble and when he elevates in the lane, there isn’t a player in the league that can stop him.

For a rookie, the former Duke star had a remarkably compact shot chart. Bagley shot 69.1 percent at the rim on 256 shot attempts. From 3-10 feet, he knocked down 43.4 percent while shooting 95-of-219 from the field. Of his 706 shot attempts, 475 came inside of 10 feet.

While he didn’t take a ton of midrange jumpers, Bagley still managed to hit 40 percent on 135 attempts from 10 feet out to the 3-point line. He has a high release on his jumper and a refined shooting stroke.

The sample size was small, but there will come a time in Bagley’s career when he will be able to stretch the floor with a 3-point shot. He knocked down 31.2 percent on 96 attempts, although he was streaky during the season.

Despite his age and inexperience, Bagley still managed to get to the free-throw line 4.2 times per game, which was second on the Kings behind De’Aaron Fox. He has the potential to double that number as he becomes established in the league and gets more calls.

As a rebounder, Bagley crashes the glass and isn’t afraid to go outside of his zone for the board. He has an incredible second leap, which helped him finish the season tied with Kosta Koufos for the best offensive rebounding percentage on the squad.

Bagley averaged 7.6 rebounds per game in 25.3 minutes. That equates to 10.8 rebounds per 36 minutes, which is a good start for a rookie. As he gets stronger and learns the NBA game, that number has a chance to improve dramatically.

On the defensive side of the ball, Bagley was better than advertised. He has work to do as a team defender and he was vulnerable from the perimeter, but he held his opponent to minus-1.3 percent on 2-point attempts and minus-3.1 percent inside of six feet. He also averaged a block per game. 

Weaknesses

Bagley can’t go right. He’s really good with his left, but his inability to use both hands may limit his ability to reach his highest potential. He also missed 20 games with two separate knee injuries.

As a scorer, Bagley is a force to be reckoned with, but he has plenty of room to grow. If he can extend his range out to the 3-point line, he can open the floor for everyone else. He could also get stronger and do a better job of fighting through contact, but at 20-years-old, it will take time to grow into his body fully.

Sacramento moves the ball around well and everyone has an opportunity to get involved. Of the regulars, Bagley ranked last in assist percentage at just 5.9 percent. In fact, only Troy Williams, Ben McLemore and B.J. Johnson averaged a lower percentage on the team.

Bagley is going to draw double-teams and he needs to do a better job of finding his teammates and not forcing his offensive game. He finished the season with just 62 assists and that isn’t going to cut it. 

While Bagley did a nice job on the offensive glass, he has plenty of room to grow on the defensive side of the court. He posted a defensive rebound percentage of 15.5 percent, which is about half of what elite rebounders average. The Kings need Bagley to post double-figure rebounding numbers on a nightly basis if they are going to move up in the standings.

Like the rest of the young players on the Kings' roster, Bagley needs to improve on the defensive side of the ball. He often gets lost in rotations and is slow as a help defender. The makings of a good defender are there, but it will take time for him to develop.

Path to Improvement

Add minutes.

Bagley is an offensive star in the making, but he needs to get bigger and stronger if he hopes to stay healthy and play 30-35 minutes a game. He’ll likely move into the starting lineup alongside Dewayne Dedmon on the frontline, which should be a solid combination.

He likely spent the offseason further refining his shot, which will help him stretch the floor for Fox and others. It also will help him stay on the court longer as the Kings turn to players like Harry Giles and Richaun Holmes, who have less range.

While he is the focal point of the offense, he needs to move the ball and keep others involved. Averaging just a single assist per game might work in Year 1, but eventually, his teammates will key in on the issue.

Bagley has an incredible motor and the size and athleticism to be an elite rebounder. He needs to hit the defensive glass and impact the game on both ends of the floor.

[RELATED: Bogi named to 2019 FIBA World Cup team]

Projection

The sky’s the limit for Bagley. He was limited in his first season by injury and a lack of minutes, but it’s likely the training wheels are coming off in Year 2.

A perfect fit for the Kings’ style of play, Bagley is expected to take a huge leap. Conservative numbers have him posting 18-19 points and nine rebounds per game as a sophomore, but there is a chance for even bigger numbers than that, especially if he can get to the line more frequently.

Luke Walton will have the Kings flying up and down the court and there will be plenty of touches to go around. Bagley will score on the break due to his speed and athleticism, but he also also be a huge part of the team’s half-court offense.

He’ll need to work on the defensive side of the ball, especially when Walton turns to switching, but he is a high-effort player that should catch on quickly.   

Bagley should lead Sacramento in rebounding and there is a possibility for him to be the top scorer as well. He has All-Star potential and if his first season was any indicator, it won’t take long for him to become a go-to option for the Kings.