Sacramento Kings

Seeking a fresh start: Agent says Willie Cauley-Stein doesn’t want to be a King anymore

Willie Cauley-Stein on effort against the 76ers’ Joel Embiid

Sacramento Kings center Willie Cauley-Stein talks about matching up against the Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019 after the Kings’ 115-108 victory at Golden 1 Center.
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Sacramento Kings center Willie Cauley-Stein talks about matching up against the Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019 after the Kings’ 115-108 victory at Golden 1 Center.

After spending the first four years of his NBA career in Sacramento, Kings center Willie Cauley-Stein has decided he wants a new opportunity with another team.

The Kings could extend a qualifying offer to make Cauley-Stein a restricted free agent, but Cauley-Stein feels it’s time for both sides to move on, his agent told The Sacramento Bee on Saturday evening.

“I really think Willie needs a fresh start,” said Roger Montgomery, a representative of Roc Nation Sports. “Based on how things have gone for him there in Sacramento, I just think it’s time for Willie to move on and we’d really like him to move on.”

The Kings issued a brief statement to The Bee on Saturday night in response to Montgomery’s remarks.

“Willie is a great player who has shown he can fit our style of play,” the team said. “Beyond that, we can’t comment further.”

Cauley-Stein, 25, just completed the final year of his four-year, $15,350,475 rookie-scale contract. The Kings have until June 30 to extend a $6,265,631 qualifying offer that would make Cauley-Stein a restricted free agent, giving them the right to match any offer he receives from another team. A restricted free agent can sign an offer sheet with any team, but the player’s original team can retain him by matching that offer within 72 hours.

“We’ve kind of hoped that things would change over the years and Willie would get a chance to expand his game, get a chance to get some consistency there in terms of the roster turnover and the coaching turnover and the things that have not been steady there,” Montgomery said. “That being said, I’m hopeful they will not even give Willie his qualifying offer so Willie can be an unrestricted free agent.”

The Kings selected Cauley-Stein out of Kentucky with the sixth pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. He was the first player Kings general manager Vlade Divac drafted after he joined the team’s front office.

Cauley-Stein averaged 11.9 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.2 steals while starting 81 games last season. Cauley-Stein is physically gifted and widely regarded as one of the fastest centers in the league. He’s an agile 7-footer who can switch defensively and excels in Sacramento’s run-and-gun offense as a rim runner and lob threat, but he ranked 29th among centers in scoring, 24th in rebounding and 55th in blocked shots last season.

In some ways Cauley-Stein is the perfect center for Sacramento’s uptempo system, but he has been hampered by inconsistency and fans have clamored for a stronger defensive presence inside.

There are a number of centers the Kings could pursue when free agency begins at 3 p.m. June 30, including Nikola Vucevic, DeAndre Jordan, Jonas Valanciunas and Dewayne Dedmon. Divac recently told The Bee the team faced a difficult decision.

“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.”

In March, Cauley-Stein told The Bee it would be difficult for him to leave Sacramento, but he felt the Kings had underutilized him.

“Sacramento has been my home for the last four years,” he said. “It would be hard to leave, but at the end of the day it’s a job, and whoever is the best fit for me to take that next leap in my career – that’s what it’s all about.

“I just want to hoop freely. That’s kind of the biggest thing for me, just going somewhere, whether it’s here or anywhere else, just taking that next evolution to the game where you’re not just a rim runner. You’re a pick-and-pop guy sometimes. You can get rolling with what the defense gives you. I wanna be that dude.”

Montgomery said it would be best for Cauley-Stein to evolve his game somewhere else.

“We haven’t felt that he’s been able to get what has been necessary for him to be able to lead the franchise the way he wants to,” Montgomery said. “We are very, very thankful for the opportunity that was presented to him, but we just think it’s not working. It’s not going to work. It’s just time for a fresh start. We need a fresh start and maybe the Kings do, too.”

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Jason Anderson is an award-winning sportswriter for The Sacramento Bee. He started his journalism career at The Bee more than 20 years ago and returned to cover the Sacramento Kings in September 2018.