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.
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.