Willie Cauley-Stein

Poll: Kings’ Hot Start

The Kings have been one of the season’s biggest surprises so far, as they have jumped out to a 6-4 start. As a result of strong 3-point shooting, the league’s second fastest pace and development from several young players, the Kings have impressed many through their first 10 games.

This is a Kings team that hasn’t won more than 33 games in a season since 2007/08, so a strong start is certainly something that has caught attention. While the team hasn’t been overwhelming on either end of the floor (they are just about league average on both ends), they have gotten strong play from De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Willie Cauley-Stein and Nemanja Bjelica.

In his second season in the league, Fox has made major strides. Heading into the Kings’ loss to the Bucks on Sunday, Fox was averaging 19 points, 7.8 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game. Meanwhile, Hield is providing another capable scoring option, averaging 19.8 points per game while hitting 48.9% of his 3-pointers. Bjelica has been a great addition for the Kings, as his floor-spacing has been much needed in the starting lineup. So far, Bjelica is averaging 15.6 points per game while shooting a staggering 55.3% on 3-pointers. Finally, Cauley-Stein has improved as a rim-running big, averaging 16.8 points and 8.7 rebounds per game.

However, teams have gotten off to fast starts only to fade throughout the remainder of the season. Most recently it was the Magic, who got off to an 8-4 start last season, only to finish 25-57. While that Magic team surprised many early in the season due to some unsustainable shooting, there are certainly ways for the Kings to fall back down to the bottom of the standings moving forward.

Perhaps the development from their young players, their key free agency additions and their style of play will lead them to more success than anticipated. What do you think? Vote in the poll below and share your thoughts in the comments!

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Pacific Notes: Rondo, Suns, Cauley-Stein, Bell

Lonzo Ball was once again named the Lakers‘ starting point guard on Saturday against the Spurs, but that doesn’t mean his status in the role will be permanent. Rajon Rondo made a solid return to the lineup after being suspended for three games, scoring 12 points and dishing five assists in 29 minutes. Ball struggled in his first start and shot 2-8 from the floor.

“I didn’t play well tonight,” Ball admitted, according to Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times. “Bad game. I’m human. I don’t play good every game.”

Both Ball and Rondo share similar playstyles, looking to play in transition and make their teammates better. They both struggle shooting from deep and prefer to attack the basket for points. The major difference lies in experience, where Rondo holds 11 more NBA seasons of playing time.

“Doesn’t matter who starts. They are both fine either way,” head coach Walton said. “They just want to win, is what they told me. They know that the decision is made by the coaching staff and they support each other and whatever it is they’ll go out and do their job.”

There’s more from the Pacific Division:

  • The Suns have a promising young core featuring Devin Booker, Josh Jackson and Deandre Ayton, but the organization still has a ways to go before reaching true success, writes Gina Mizell of The Athletic. “Teams don’t just overnight become championship organizations or great playoff teams,” Suns forward Ryan Anderson said. “It takes time to build. You have to allow some time for that, but you can’t really make an excuse for not playing hard.”
  • Willie Cauley-Stein has so far backed up his talk about getting paid next summer, James Ham of NBC Sports writes. Cauley-Stein has averaged an impressive 16.5 points and eight rebounds in six games for the Kings this season.
  • The Mercury News’ Logan Murdock details how Jordan Bell plans to work himself back into the Warriors’ rotation. The 23-year-old has seen limited time behind starting center Damian Jones in the team’s first six games. “It felt good to be out there,” Bell said. “It sucks when you’re watching the team do damage and you know you can help. But you got to understand how to be a pro and just realize some matchups aren’t right.”

Kings’ Frontcourt Logjam Worth Monitoring

The Kings are projected by most oddsmakers and NBA analysts to be the Western Conference’s worst team in 2018/19, but there are several young players on the roster who should be fun to watch. Marvin Bagley III, 2018’s second overall pick, is one of those players, while 2017 first-rounder Harry Giles, who generated buzz with his play this summer after missing his entire rookie season, is another.

However, Bagley only played 12 minutes in Sacramento’s opening-night game on Thursday, while Giles saw just 10 minutes of action. It’s certainly not unusual for rookies to have modest roles to start the season, but the Kings’ frontcourt rotation in their first game highlighted the logjam that exists at the four and five, as Jason Jones of The Athletic details.

With Willie Cauley-Stein and Nemanja Bjelica starting at center and power forward, respectively, and Justin Jackson also playing at the four in some lineups, head coach Dave Joerger suggests it may be “tough” to find minutes for Bagley, especially since the club is thinking long-term with its top pick, Jones writes. For his part, the No. 2 overall pick said he’s “trying to stay patient” when it comes to his playing time.

“I can only control what I can control,” Bagley said after Thursday’s loss. “And whenever my number is called, I’ve just got to go hard, go 100%, and try to do whatever I can to try to help us win. I think I did all right for what I did tonight, how much time I played tonight.”

Besides Cauley-Stein, Bjelica, Jackson, Bagley, and Giles, there are a few more big men on the Kings’ roster who would like to earn some minutes up front. Skal Labissiere didn’t play in the club’s opener, and neither did veteran Zach Randolph, who wasn’t even active for the game. Throw in Kosta Koufos, who should be healthy soon after battling a hamstring injury, and you have seven or eight players vying for playing time at two positions.

In other words, there will likely be “unhappy bigs every night” in Sacramento this season, as Jones tweets.

The Kings, who don’t have serious playoff aspirations, are unlikely to address their frontcourt logjam right away, but this is a situation worth monitoring over the course of the season. At least one trade before the deadline seems likely, and vets like Randolph and Koufos could ultimately be strong buyout candidates if they’re not moved by February. Stay tuned.

Pacific Notes: Lakers, Green, Cousins, Cauley-Stein

Lakers legend Kobe Bryant played a key role in bringing LeBron James to Los Angeles this summer, Sam Amick of The Athletic reveals in a new story.

Bryant, who spent his entire 20-season career with the Lakers, met with team owner Jeanie Buss in February of 2017 to deliver strong advice: Shake up the front office, start new and bring a new culture to the franchise.

“Jeanie, I know who we’re trying to get; we know who we’re trying to get, so that player is not going to come here with all of this s–t going on,” Bryant said, according to Amick. “It’s not going to happen. So if you do want to have that focus, and go after that player, then I’m telling you that you’ve gotta clean house, and you’ve gotta just reshuffle the deck and start anew. You have the new practice facility (the UCLA Health Training Center) that we’re just moving into (in the summer of 2017). We’ve got new management, and off we go. But that player is not coming here unless you do that.

“As a player, it’s like, listen, it’s a cultural thing. You’ve got to have the right culture around, especially for him at this stage of his career,” Bryant explained. “You don’t want to come to a team and deal with a bunch of bull—-, right? You don’t want to come here and be part of an organization where the walls are talking and stuff is getting out left and right and you have this camp and that camp. You don’t want to do that. So I said, ‘You’ve got to start anew.’”

Buss listened to Bryant’s advice, firing older brother Jim Buss and letting go of general manager Mitch Kupchak. In turn, the team promoted Magic Johnson to president of basketball operations and hired Rob Pelinka as new general manager. Fast forward to July of 2018, and the new-look Lakers convinced James to sign a free-agent contract.

There’s more from the Pacific Division:

Willie Cauley-Stein: “I’m Ready To Get Paid”

While most players on expiring deals downplay the extent to which they’re thinking about their contract situation, that’s not the case for Willie Cauley-Stein. The fourth-year Kings big man told James Ham of NBC Sports California that he’s entering his contract year “ready to get paid.”

“I’m ready for it,” Cauley-Stein said. “I’ve seen everybody else – all my peers. Alright, I’m ready for that. What do I got to do to do that? That’s what they’re doing? Alright, 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.”

Because he’s in the fourth year of his rookie scale contract, Cauley-Stein is eligible to sign a contract extension up until October 15. However, Ham writes that the Kings are unlikely to do a long-term deal for the former sixth overall pick at this point. He’s more likely to reach restricted free agency next summer, so his play this season could go a long way toward determining what his market looks like in 2019.

[RELATED: Players Eligible For Rookie Scale Extensions In 2018]

In 73 games (58 starts) last season, Cauley-Stein established new career highs in PPG (12.8), RPG (7.0), APG (2.4), and several other categories. However, his production was somewhat inconsistent on a night-to-night basis, which is something he’ll be looking to improve upon heading into 2018/19.

“Consistency, that’s the word of the decade for me,” Cauley-Stein told Ham. “Consistency. That’s what’s going to get you paid. So I’m going to say it until it happens. That’s how it works these days. Just keep on talking about it, eventually it’s just going to happen.”

While Cauley-Stein looks like the frontrunner to open the season as Sacramento’s starting center, the 25-year-old will face plenty of competition for playing time. Over the offseason, the Kings added Marvin Bagley III and Nemanja Bjelica to a frontcourt that already includes Zach Randolph, Skal Labissiere, and Kosta Koufos. The team also envisions a regular role for Harry Giles, who missed his entire rookie year while recovering from ACL injuries.

Pacific Notes: Jordan, LeBron, Harris, Cauley-Stein

The lack of teams with ample salary-cap space this summer will present a tough choice for Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, as Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer explains. Jordan has a player option of $24.1MM this summer and multiple league executives told O’Connor he probably wouldn’t receive an annual salary approaching that on the open market. Some of the teams that will have cap room, such as the Nets, Hawks and Sixers, aren’t looking to add a veteran center at a high salary, O’Connor continues. It’s plausible that Jordan will opt in and take his chances on the open market in 2019, O’Connor adds.

Also around the Pacific Division:

  • The lack of elite, established players on their current rosters will make it tough sell for the Lakers and Clippers to land LeBron James this summer, Marc Spears of The Undefeated opines. The Lakers could sign two major free agents this summer, but the Clippers don’t have that much cap room, Spears notes. The Clippers may have hurt their cause to sign a top free agent by trading away Blake Griffin in the first year of his long-term contract, Spears adds.
  • Forward Tobias Harris has been traded three times during his career and he’s taken the latest one in stride, as he told Joel Brigham of Basketball Insiders. Harris was the top player acquired by the Clippers in the Griffin blockbuster. “My first trade from Milwaukee to Orlando was a situation where I just wanted to prove myself to the league,” Harris said. “When I was traded from Orlando to Detroit, it was a situation where I wanted to help the team get to the playoffs, and that’s similar to this one here, too.” 
  • Willie Cauley-Stein establishing his market value is among the storylines surrounding the Kings the remainder of the season, according to James Ham of NBCSports.com. Cauley-Stein has to emerge as the defensive stopper he was in college and improve his rebounding to earn an extension this offseason, Ham continues. The development of the De’Aaron FoxBogdan Bogdanovic backcourt and the need for Buddy Hield to become a playmaker are some of the other things to watch, Ham adds.

Kings Notes: Cauley-Stein, Giles, Draft, Bogdanovic

As losses continue to pile up for the Kings, Willie Cauley-Stein suggests that Dave Joerger run the team like a college coach, relays Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee. The Kings are now 1-7 in their last eight games with a roster that features 10 players with three or fewer seasons of NBA experience.

“If you’re not doing your job right, next man up, you get your turn next time it comes around,” Cauley-Stein said. “I think it’s got to happen like that, even for myself.”

The Kings have fallen to last in the West and are third in our latest Reverse Standings.

There’s more tonight out of Sacramento:

  • The team is being careful with first-round pick Harry Giles, who has yet to play this season because of physical concerns, Jones notes in a mailbag column. Giles hasn’t practiced much in front of the media, but team sources say he has shown impressive athleticism and shooting range in controlled settings. He is also a fast learner who has picked up the game through film sessions. Jones reports that Giles’ knees are in good shape and the Kings are focused on building up his strength to start playing.
  • The Kings’ only shot at picking up a first-round pick before the trade deadline is if a contender wants to take a chance on George Hill, Jones adds in the same piece. Hill is making $20MM this season, so matching salaries would be an issue, especially since Sacramento already has a full roster. Jones thinks the Kings might make a stronger effort to acquire a first-rounder next year, when their pick will be sent to the Sixers or Celtics.
  • Bogdan Bogdanovic isn’t a typical rookie, and the Kings aren’t treating him like one, Jones writes in a separate story. The Serbian shooting guard is 25 and has years of international experience, making him one of the leaders on a young team. The former draft-and-stash prospect agreed to a three-year, $27MM deal last summer. “He’s not a rookie,” Hill said. “To you guys he is, but to us, he’s a seasoned vet. He’s been battle tested and been playing high-level basketball his whole life now. He just knows how to play the game the right way. We feed off that. He plays with that edge, that grit, he just wants to win.”

Pacific Notes: Lakers, Young, Livingston, Cauley-Stein, Booker

The Lakers are in the midst of another losing season and it has taken a toll on the young team. Head coach Luke Walton held a meeting for the team instead of practice on Thursday to give players a chance to air their grievances, Bill Oram of the Orange County Register writes. 

Last week, Lakers veteran Andrew Bogut agreed that certain players on the team are frustrated and it has impacted their performance. A lot of L.A.’s focus is on the impending free agent market, where the team is expected to pursue top-notch talent. That has left some players on the roster with less playing time and the impression that they are mere placeholders.

“There’s some frustration,” Walton said. “But there’s frustration on every team unless you win every game. Whenever you lose games, there’s frustration, people want to play more as everyone in the league should want to play more.”

Entering play on Friday, the Lakers are 11-22, 13th place in the Western Conference. Much has been made of rookies Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma this season, and left others, such as Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle, in a bind. There is a likelihood that several players on the current roster will not be there after the trade deadline, thus making the team’s future clearer.

Check out other Pacific Division news below:

  • Warriors guard Shaun Livingston spoke to Logan Murdock of the Mercury News to discuss his role on the team, adjusting with Stephen Curry injured, and dealing with his own injury. Livingston said that Golden State expects to win even if one of their All-Star’s is out. “I think what we’ve been able to accomplish, it’s been expected to be honest with you. For us, as players, we believe in ourselves, we believe in our game,” he said.
  • In a wide-ranging interview with Marcus Thompson II of The Atheltic (subscription required and recommended), Warriors sharpshooter Nick Young discussed his adjustment to the Warriors and appreciation for life in Oakland.
  • Willie Cauley-Stein has played so well recently, the Kings are starting to see the development of the supreme talent they thought they drafted three years ago, Ailene Voisin of the Sacramento Bee relays. “These last games, I’m seeing what I was hoping for when I drafted Willie,” Kings general manager Vlade Divac said. “He runs, he scores, he blocks shots, he scores in the post. He does everything. And we noticed last summer how much harder he was working. There were questions, but I don’t think so anymore. If he keeps developing like this, he will be an elite center in this league.”
  • Devin Booker, who is just 21 years old, will be a key piece of the Suns‘ future and he will have input into all of the team’s decisions, including coaching and free agency signings. Scott Bordow of the Arizona Central Sports writes that Suns general manager Ryan McDonough views Booker an important “partner in the process” of competing over the next decade.

Kings Notes: Hill, Mentoring, Cauley-Stein

The Kings own the second-worst record in the league and free agent signee George Hill isn’t happy with the team’s level of success. He sent out an emotional tweet after a recent loss to the Bucks, though he shoulders the blame for Sacramento’s woes.

“The way that we started the game, down 14-0, just didn’t sit well with me,” Hill said (via Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee). “I’m one of the leaders here, so that affected me. I felt like I let my team down.”

Sacramento’s roster is full of inexperienced players, and inconsistent play has been a staple of the team’s season so far. Hill’s never encountered this type of situation at the professional level and he acknowledged that it can be challenging.

“I think on every team I’ve been with, we’ve had that cohesiveness and a lot of veterans that played multiple years in the league, so it was easy to kind of fill in,” Hill said. “I feel like here we’re so young it’s kind of difficult to figure out what’s going to be my direction, what’s going to be my style of play, what’s this guy’s role or my role. We’re still trying to learn those things.”

Here’s more from Sacramento:

  • Hill added that many of his teammates are “still babies” professionally and he knows he was brought in to help them develop, Jones writes in the same piece. “Right now we’re just trying to teach the young guys and mentor them,” Hill said. “In the long run, our whole job is try to build this for them to take over and have the keys. It’s not about me, (Vince Carter), (Garrett Temple) or any of us. It’s about how can we develop the young guys to the best of our ability.”
  • Willie Cauley-Stein, who will be eligible for a rookie-scale extension after the season, has thrived since being relegated to the bench, Nate Wolf of NBAMath explains. Wolf notes that the success is driven by the team splitting Cauley-Stein and $24MM addition Zach Randolph.
  • Currently, Cauley-Stein is sidelined with a back injury, and head coach Dave Joerger said earlier this week that the team will “use caution” when it comes to bringing him back (Twitter link via Sean Cunningham of ABC10). That comment suggests that the young center’s absence may extend beyond the Kings’ two-game road trip.

Pacific Notes: Ball, Looney, Cauley-Stein

When Lonzo Ball ignored an on-court scuffle between some of his Lakers teammates and members of the Suns on Friday, the rookie took heat for not stepping into the fray to defend them. As Jordan Greer of the Sporting News writes, however, head coach Luke Walton doesn’t have any issues with how the first-year guard handled the situation.

I don’t really care about how that looks because our guys love Zo,” Walton said. “I think [the rest of the Lakers] all know what that looked like isn’t what Zo is about and isn’t symbolizing what his feelings are on that type of situation. I know the general public and the internet world likes to do what they do.

Fellow Lakers rookie Kyle Kuzma went so far as to call out a double standard between Ball and other players in the NBA. “He’s my teammate and he’s very misunderstood as a person,” Kuzma said. “There’s a lot of media out there and people that expect him to be something that he’s not right now and that’s okay because he’s a rookie.”

There’s more from the Pacific Division:

  • Despite the fact that his team option for next season was declined, Kevon Looney has impressed with the Warriors so far this season, Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle writes. “Obviously, it’s a tough situation to not get your option picked up. But it’s on you to do something about it, and he’s doing something about it. … The success that he’s having, I’m looking forward to him keeping it up. He’s been helping us win games,” teammate Draymond Green said.
  • In addition to learning the NBA game after years of international ball, Kings rookie Bogdan Bogdanovic is learning three positions. Combined, it’s led to a bit of learning curve, Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee writes. “The basketball is really different here. A lot of athletes, the size is different as well. Those are all things that come by time, that’s part of the adjustment,” Bogdanovic said.
  • The Kings have experimented with new lineups over the course of the season, one of the latest being to move Willie Cauley-Stein to the bench and giving him an expanded role on offense. Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee writes that even though Cauley-Stein seemed to enjoy the new challenge, the club will likely continue to experiment with different personnel combinations.