Warriors

Willie Cauley-Stein opens up about time with Kings, how things ended

Willie Cauley-Stein opens up about time with Kings, how things ended

SALT LAKE CITY -- Warriors center Willie Cauley-Stein bunkered up in a corner of the visitor's locker room at Vivint Smart Home Arena under unusual circumstances before Friday night's loss to the Utah Jazz. 

For the last four years, he has sat in a similar area twice a season, with "Sacramento" across his chest. Now, two days before his first matchup against his former team, Cauley-Stein is still reconciling his emotions. 

"It's going to be weird," Cauley-Stein said to NBC Sports Bay Area. "It's my brothers over there, and I went to the battle with them dudes and for them four years. So it's going to be cool just to see my guys again and be on the other side of it, it's going to be cool to just to see how different it is." 

Cauley-Stein’s time in Sacramento came as the Kings were in peril.

Six months before the Kings drafted Cauley-Stein, the team fired coach Mike Malone after a year-and-a-half on the job. Sacramento opted to hire George Karl midseason, reportedly to the dissatisfaction of the roster.

By the end of his tenure, Cauley-Stein had two head coaches in three years. The Kings never made the postseason, holding true to the perception he heard about Sacramento when he was drafted. 

"Before I got drafted there, [University of Kentucky] coach [John Calipari] kind of warned me what that organization was like already,” Cauley-Stein admitted. “So, I mean, I just went in there just trying to get better. Every year just try to keep on getting better, and that's the way I approached the game and every day.”

All the while, Cauley-Stein garnered the reputation of inconsistency, much to his chagrin. While he posted respectable numbers, local observers complained about his propensity to occasionally disappear during games. 

Nonetheless, prior to last season, with solid numbers in tow, Cauley-Stein stated his goal for his fourth season was to “get paid.” Despite him averaging 11.9 points and a career-high 8.4 rebounds per game, the Kings missed the playoffs, leading to the center’s former agent Roger Montgomery to tell The Sacramento Bee that his client needed a “fresh start.”

According to Cauley-Stein, his agent’s comments came after the team had all but given up on their former first-round draft pick. 

‘Yeah, because they decided to go a different route,” Cauley-Stein said. “So like we tried to jump the curve and be on top of it.

“I might as well move on and show my work somewhere else. That’s the way me and my agent approached it was just like, 'They really don't want us, so we might as well take our talents somewhere else.' That's the kind of way we went on with it.” 

The prospect of leaving Sacramento left Cauley-Stein with a conundrum. The capital of California gave him the center the luxury of living on the West Coast, while providing a hometown feel similar to his small-town Kansas roots. 

“Sac was home,” Cauley-Stein admitted. “I was here for four years. Like, I lived there. I didn't go away for the offseason. I could go to the same neighborhood and go to my little like corner store and jones with my guys there and it's all love.” 

On the business side, the Kings decided to extend a qualifying offer to the center, giving the team the first right of refusal on any contract tendered from another organization. The Kings relented in late June, pulling the offer on the eve of free agency in a move Cauley-Stein believes hindered his options. 

"I feel like that kind of screwed things up for me a little bit," Cauley-Stein said. "Because people didn't know. So, then it was just a waiting game after that, all the deals was gone by that time."

A little over a week later, he signed a one-year contract with the Warriors, equipped with a player-option, giving him an opportunity to make true on his proclamation last season. However, his performance hasn't helped so far.

Despite flashes, Cauley-Stein is averaging just 7.7 points and 6.4 rebounds, the lowest output since his rookie year. Nonetheless -- with Steve Kerr coaching -- he says he wants to stay in the Bay Area long-term.  

"He wants to build a relationship with you," Cauley-Stein said of Kerr. "I think, in the past I hadn't had a relationship with my coach. [Former Kings coach Dave] Joerger, me and him had a pretty good rapport, pretty good, like cordial, but we never had like in-depth conversations about life and stuff like that, and the first couple of conversations I had with coach Kerr was real-life stuff and that hit home with me like, 'Damn, he really tried to get to know me.'"

[RELATED: How Warriors' players recruited Cauley-Stein]

Until the decision about his future is made, the center remains fond of his former home, even if it's not his current place of employment. 

"I'll always have a place for Sacramento in my heart," Cauley-Stein said. "Like I said, it's never, it was never bad blood. It was just like a business decision on their side. So, I had to make one on my side."

Lakers' LeBron James won't play Thursday vs. Warriors at Chase Center

lebroninjuryusatsi.jpg
USATSI

Lakers' LeBron James won't play Thursday vs. Warriors at Chase Center

LeBron James won't make his second regular-season visit to Chase Center this campaign.

The Los Angeles Lakers star has a sore groin and won't play against the Warriors on Thursday. 

James, 35, missed 17 games with a left groin strain last season. He first picked up the injury in a Christmas Day loss to the Warriors in 2018, in what ended up being his last trip to Oracle Arena. He scored 22 points, dished out 11 assists and grabbed eight rebounds on Feb. 8 in the Lakers' first regular-season game against the Warriors in San Francisco this season, leading Los Angeles to a 125-120 win. 

He and the Cleveland Cavaliers played against the Warriors in four straight NBA Finals from 2015 through 2018, upsetting the 73-win Golden State squad in a seven-game series win in 2016. James and two-time MVP Steph Curry were the faces of the one-sided Warriors-Cavs rivalry, but the two haven't faced each other this season.

Curry has missed all but four games since breaking his hand on Oct. 30, and he wouldn't have played against the Lakers on Thursday anyway. The Warriors guard is targeting a March 1 return, but Golden State coach Steve Kerr cast doubt on that possibility Wednesday. Kerr told reporters he thinks Curry "needs some more scrimmage time." 

[RELATED: Why a 'dap' is much more than a handshake in today's NBA] 

James and Curry were supposed to lead the Lakers and Warriors into a fierce Pacific Division rivalry, but that hasn't happened since James signed in Los Angeles two summers ago. The Lakers missed the playoffs last season and the Warriors are set to do the same this year. Curry and James should, at least, play against each other when Golden State heads to LA on April 7.

If they don't, the 2019-20 season would be the first since 2009-10 that James and Curry didn't play against each other at least once in the regular season. Curry was completing his last collegiate season at Davidson then. 

Warriors' Steve Kerr casts doubt on Steph Curry's March 1 return date

kerrcurryusa.jpg
USATSI

Warriors' Steve Kerr casts doubt on Steph Curry's March 1 return date

SAN FRANCISCO -- As the return of Steph Curry looms, Warriors coach Steve Kerr cast doubt on his targeted March 1 return date against the Wizards, citing Curry's lack of full-speed reps in recent days. 

"He’s only scrimmaged twice," Kerr said following Wednesday's practice. "In fact, I think he needs to scrimmage more before he’s ready to play. We’ll see how it all plays out."

Curry -- who broke his hand Oct. 30 -- participated in a scrimmage Wednesday morning, in a run that included Draymond Green, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Dragan Bender, assistant coaches Luke Loucks and Theo Robertson and Seth Tarver -- who played collegiately at Oregon State and is a longtime friend of guard Klay Thompson. This is the second scrimmage for Curry during his rehab process. On Saturday, Curry also participated in a scrimmage. As he progressed, The Athletic reported that Curry will indeed make his debut Sunday against the Wizards, in line with what Curry has said on record in recent days.

Nonetheless, Kerr pushed back on the notion that the date is a formality. 

"I think yesterday’s report, which was news to us, is not official," Kerr said. "Nothing’s official. Steph will play when he’s ready to go. That date has been something that’s for sure on Steph’s mind. But he’ll play when we all feel like he’s ready to go. I think he needs some more scrimmage time." 

[RELATED: Warriors excited to watch Steph, Wiggins together]

Sunday's targeted return date is a culmination of a rigorous rehabilitation stretch. In December, the two-time MVP underwent his second surgery to remove a screw in the second metacarpal. Since the surgery, Curry frequently has been seen on road trips participating in strenuous workouts following practices. Still, Kerr says the guard may not be ready.

"He’s been out for four months and he’s been doing a ton of individual work. But to put someone in an NBA game, you have to feel really, really comfortable that everything is there conditioning-wise, strength-wise," Kerr said. "And a lot of that you can’t simulate unless it’s actual basketball. He’s done everything that Rick [Celebrini] has asked of him and more. His individual workouts have been taxing but two scrimmages against non-NBA players -- no offense to them -- doesn’t exactly qualify as perfect preparation."

In the interim, Curry -- who was averaging 23.5 points in four-game prior to the injury -- will participate in scheduled practices Wednesday and Friday before his re-evaluation on Saturday.