Hold onto your butts, because I’m about to fire off the most lukewarm Willie Cauley-Stein take you’ve ever heard.
The Sacramento Kings have a rich history of trading young talent at the wrong time. In the interest of time, here’s a quick rundown of the Vivek era, but I promise you there was plenty of poor decision making before that. They didn’t get the most out of Tyreke Evans as an asset. You could write a book about the Isaiah Thomas debacle. They chose the wrong shooting guard when they kept Ben McLemore over Nik Stauskas (you could argue the 76ers wouldn’t have done the deal with McLemore, but then you could double-argue the 76ers deal was misguided from the jump, but I digress).
I don’t really like referencing history for current decision making, anyway, because each individual player and trade is different, but I thought the quick refresher above was worth mentioning. You should learn from your mistakes, of course, but just because they dumped Isaiah Thomas at a terrible time doesn’t mean they should or shouldn’t trade Willie Cauley-Stein, etc. Anyway.
Willie Cauley-Stein is having a rough season. There ain’t no denying that.
There is definitely an argument to be made that trading Cauley-Stein now, before his stalled development becomes a bigger part of his narrative than it already is, is the right move. If the Kings had done this with Ben McLemore, for example, they could have cashed out before his value tanked to essentially nothing. I get all of that. Here’s the difference: We’ve seen Ben McLemore play 6,755 NBA minutes over the course of his career. We know exactly what Ben McLemore is right now and I’m still worried about what another organization can do with his talent once the Kings inevitably get rid of him. I’m terrified of trading Willie Cauley-Stein for one very simple reason - I don’t think we’ve seen enough yet.
A grand total of three players have played less total minutes than Cauley-Stein this season. Malachi Richardson, Skal Labissiere, and Georgios Papagiannis. For all intents and purposes, Cauley-Stein is the Kings’ 12th man. Vlade Divac has needed to make a trade since the offseason, and no player has suffered more than Cauley-Stein because that trade never materialized. The roster is still completely unbalanced, with good young and veteran talent wasting away in the front court, and next to no talent in the backcourt.
A trade still needs to be made, and I hope Cauley-Stein isn’t the one to go. That isn’t a blanket statement, I’m not against trading Cauley-Stein completely, particularly depending on who the Kings get in return, but if what I perceive Cauley-Stein’s value to be around the league right now is true, which is not much, I’d rather see the Kings keep him and move someone else.
This team isn’t contending for the title this season. If they make the playoffs, it’ll likely be because no one else at the bottom of the Western Conference wanted to. They’d get slaughtered by the Warriors, an outcome I’d be totally fine with because this organization could really use playoff experience, but not at the expense of young talent. Trade Kosta Koufos, trade Anthony Tolliver, and let’s see Cauley-Stein play. That is more or less my argument.
Cauley-Stein has 1,763 career NBA minutes under his belt. For the majority of those minutes, he’s looked like a decent NBA player, and certainly one worth developing considering his age, skill set, and raw physical attributes. Yes, most of those promising minutes were played last season. On paper, he’s a very intriguing prospect. I loved him coming out of Kentucky. I wanted the Kings to do exactly what they did on draft night in 2015. I wanted Willie despite most mock drafts suggesting that taking him 6th overall would be a reach. I’m rooting for him.
I find Cauley-Stein’s 351 minutes played to be his most relevant statistic this season. That is nothing. When you consider how many minutes of those were in garbage time, that is even more nothing.
I can hear the detractors now: He’s only played 351 minutes this season because he’s been awful. He hasn’t earned playing time! This is, admittedly, something I struggle with. It’s not that simple, even though I’d much prefer everyone earn their playing time. Where this point loses some of its steam, from my perspective, is that if you played this game with players currently in the Kings’ rotation, nobody would play. What has Ben McLemore earned? Arron Afflalo? Matt Barnes? It’s complicated, particularly at this point in the season because practice opportunities are so few and far between. How does Cauley-Stein jump Kosta Koufos, and the secondary crew playing the four, aka Matt Barnes, Rudy Gay, Omri Casspi, and Anthony Tolliver? Cauley-Stein’s path to consistent playing time is very difficult.
Here’s what I’d like to see happen. I’d like to see a lot of the veteran front court dealt at the trade deadline, particularly those without a long-term future in Sacramento. Rudy Gay, Omri Casspi, and Anthony Tolliver have contracts expiring this summer. As of now, it doesn’t seem like any of those guys are particularly interested in re-signing. Move them while you can get an asset back, as much as that pains me to say with regards to Casspi.
Kosta Koufos should probably be moved, too. I like Koufos a lot. I love him as a third big, but he’s going to be a real asset as we head towards the deadline. He would be a huge get for multiple contenders, and I think a trade will materialize that is just too good to pass up.
Let Cauley-Stein play out the season in Sacramento. Clear a playing time path for him by the deadline. Give him his first series of consistent minutes under Dave Joerger, and proceed from there. That’s what all of my useless words above ultimately boil down to.
Small sample size statistic dump numbers that might be interesting to you. Or not.
I’m not suggesting Cauley-Stein is having a better year than Koufos, or that he’s anywhere near the player Koufos is, just that I’d like to see exactly what Cauley-Stein’s numbers would look like with 20+ minutes per game. We might be pleasantly surprised, or severely disappointed, but at least we’d have a better understanding of what Cauely-Stein is, cause right now, I just don’t think we’ve seen enough.