NBA Rumor: Willie Cauley-Stein Free Agency

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Willie Cauley-Stein: In Sacramento, they put a tag on me that I wasn’t invested or I didn’t care about hoops like that. A lot of stuff that this platform exited out. You can’t go to one coach or one trainer in that facility and say I don’t work hard. But that’s one thing that they used to say. ‘Oh, he don’t work hard enough, blah, blah, blah.’ Dude, you don’t know how hard I’m working. So, that was like the biggest thing for me was the clout that this team has. The championship. Got wins. But most importantly, they get it. They get it from a perspective that some teams can’t even get close to touching. … If I wasn’t invested in hoops, I would not come to the Warriors. The stage is too hard. Everybody’s looking at this. If I didn’t really like hoops, I’m going to go get a bag somewhere else. A little pretty bag.

Vlade Divac and his team aren’t going to respond to the report with anything of substance, nor should they. They have until June 29 to make a decision on the 25-year-old big and his $6.3 million qualifying offer, and according to a league source, they’re still mulling their options. Cauley-Stein, like every other first-round pick to come into the league, is under team control for his first four seasons and can become a restricted free agent in Year 5. By failing to extend a qualifying offer, Divac would walk away from an asset without any hope of compensation.

Willie Cauley-Stein wants out of Sacramento

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.”

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.”

Cauley-Stein — still sitting, thankfully — insisted he just wanted to get out of the locker room, saying the “vibe” wasn’t right that night, a valid explanation that allayed my skepticism. So maybe he doesn’t want out. Now what? “I just want to hoop freely,” Cauley-Stein said. “That’s kind of the biggest thing for me, just going somewhere, whether it’s here or anywhere else, and taking that next evolution to the game where you’re not just a rim runner.”

The Kings have to make a decision on Cauley-Stein this summer, when he will be a restricted free agent. It’s a difficult choice. Sacramento has to either tear down the team and build around Bagley or keep him in a smaller role off the bench that he won’t be happy in. Neither choice is appealing, especially since the team has to give its first-round pick in this year’s draft to either the Celtics or Sixers. This is the franchise for the near future. The Kings’ future would look different if they could plug in a high lottery pick who clicked with their young core.

Cauley-Stein’s candor can rile those who see a lot of talk without the credentials to warrant his self-confidence. He has no problem admitting he’s out for a big contract, when the politically-correct approach would be to say he’s focused on winning, not getting paid. The Kings want to see consistency before committing big bucks to Cauley-Stein and the big man knows if he heeds Divac’s wishes, he has good reason to have money on his mind. “By all means it’s not out of it,” Cauley-Stein said. “I have a complete goal of what I want to get and how to get there and they’re giving me the tools to get there and that’s dominating both sides of the floor. They’ve made it clear, dominate both sides of the floor and what you think is going to happen is going to happen. So that’s what I came in to do.”

Every once in a while, though, you hear something decidedly unique that stands out and becomes worthy of writing. On Monday afternoon, Willie Cauley-Stein sat in the hot seat and bared his soul. In midseason form, the fourth-year center said exactly what was on his mind. “I’m ready to get paid,” Cauley-Stein told NBC Sports California. “This is what we’ve got to do, that’s what type of focus I’m on. I’m ready for it. I’ve seen everybody else — all my peers. All right, I’m ready for that. What do I got to do to do that? That’s what they’re doing? All right, I’m going to go ahead and do this now. I was doing it this way, obviously it wasn’t working, so now let’s do it this way.”
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