Amid coach vs. player, coach vs. executive and all the drama that has defined the Kings lately, the NBA draft was approaching.
The Kings could not select peace and harmony in the draft but addressed one need, defense, by selecting Willie Cauley-Stein sixth overall Thursday in New York.
The 7-foot-1, 240-pound forward/center and Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year is eager to become the defensive agitator the Kings have needed for years.
“I love the idea of that role,” he said. “That’s what gets me, that’s what drives me, that’s what plays into what I like to do. I take a tremendous amount of pride on defense. If I’m supposed to be a defensive stopper and I have to guard the best player on the team and that’s my role, (then) that’s what it is.”
Cauley-Stein is considered a strong defender who can defend multiple positions. He played three seasons for Kentucky and averaged 8.9 points and 6.4 rebounds last season.
“I’m very happy with the pick,” said Kings vice president of basketball and franchise operations Vlade Divac. “I think it was a great opportunity for us to improve our team with our new player, and I think we did it.”
Divac has been less happy about rumors of a rift between coach George Karl and All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins, resulting in teams calling to see if Cousins can be had in a trade.
Divac said he felt bad that principal owner Vivek Ranadive’s name had been drawn into the apparent rift over his displeasure with Karl trying to negotiate trades without Divac’s approval.
“It was a problem but it wasn’t Vivek and George, it was me and George,” Divac said. “I’m here and can talk with the media; I’m here and will talk with agents. I respect my coach and I think he’s great, but he has to trust me to do my job. That’s all.”
Divac said the statement had to be made for the Kings to develop trust in the organization. That’s been lost, especially from Cousins, who became open to being traded after finding out Karl had secretly sought to deal him.
“(I had to) send a message not just for the coach but everybody over there,” Divac said. “I want to be in charge of everything, and if we make a mistake, I made the mistake, nobody else.”
Divac then focused on the draft while still hoping Cousins and Karl eventually can work together.
Divac emphasized that selecting Cauley-Stein was his decision. Divac bypassed promising point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, who spent last season playing in China after being one of the top high school prospects.
Mudiay played only 12 games in China because of an ankle injury.
“I heard a lot of good stuff about Mudiay,” Divac said. “He refused to come here and work out, and I just felt I didn’t know him enough to make the very important decision so I just stuck with something I know.”
The Kings know exactly what Cauley-Stein brings. They believe his offensive game will improve and that he’ll complement Cousins.
“(He does) everything,” Divac said. “Blocking shots, rebounding. He’s a tall guy, very quick. His footwork, he’s probably the fastest big guy I ever saw. He can run fast breaks.”
Cauley-Stein said he has played pickup games at Kentucky with Cousins, who starred for the Wildcats for a season before entering the draft.
Cauley-Stein said he’s not concerned about what might happen with Cousins.
“They’re going to work it out,” Cauley-Stein said. “Whatever happens, happens. I have no control over that. The only thing I can control is my attitude and my effort toward the team. And whatever beef they’ve got, that’s on them, so I can’t really speak on it.”