Submitting the qualifying offer will affect the Kings in a couple of different ways. Sacramento essentially submitted a one-year, $6.2 million contract to Cauley-Stein’s camp, a deal they will likely reject, and that refusal will grant the Kings the ability to match any contract offered by another team, even in the unlikely circumstance that it takes them over the cap line.
Because the exact amount of Willie’s potential salary is unknown, the league places a $14 million cap hold (money they cannot spend) on Sacramento’s cap sheet until his status as a restricted free agent is resolved. Assuming Harrison Barnes’ new starting salary comes in at about $19.5 million, the Kings cap space will sit at just $27,833,271. If the front office needs access to additional spending money, they will need to renounce their rights to match Cauley-Stein’s pending offers, converting him to an unrestricted free agent, and that move move would increase their available space to $41,027,188. The Kings can also max out their cap space to $44,001,392 by waiving the non-guaranteed deals of Yogi Ferrell and Frank Mason III.
Outside of matching contract offers, the Q.O. also provides the opportunity for a sign-and-trade if another organization is eager to ink the former starter for Sactown. The compensations for such transactions has been historically small for players of Willie’s caliber, as most teams can find similar-level contributors without giving up any assets. In 2015, the Orlando Magic gained future second round swap rights and cash from the New York Knicks in exchange for Kyle O’Quinn. One year later, the Memphis Grizzlies acquired Troy Daniels in a sign-and-trade with the Charlotte Hornets, with the Hornets receiving only a $1.6 million trade exception in return. In that same offseason, the Milwaukee Bucks traded the rights of Albert Miralles, who will never play in the NBA, to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Matthew Dellavedova. The Cavaliers also created a $4.8 million trade exception through the transaction. Sacramento would likely receive a similar pittance in a sign-and-trade with another franchise.
Including Cauley-Stein as an inexpensive replacement for Clint Capela in the rumored three-team deal between Houston, Sacramento, and Philadelphia has gained steam in the Kings community, but that possibility isn’t particularly realistic. The transaction requires a third time because the Rockets cannot afford to receive any salary outside of Jimmy Butler, and it’s highly unlikely that the Sixers are interested in paying Willie as a backup, or that Cauley-Stein would agree to a deal that would immediately send him to the bench behind a top-3 center in the league. Other situations may call for Willie's voluntary inclusion as salary ballast in a trade, but the potential Capela acquisition is not one of those deals.
Submitting the qualifying offer to Willie Cauley-Stein carries very little risk for the Kings, although the strategy probably doesn’t align with the majority of the fan base that would prefer to see the former lottery pick in a different uniform next season. Sacramento has no obligation to match a contract offer they find unpalatable, and the front office can remove the $14 million cap hold at any time before July 13th if they need additional cap space. The Kings have treated minor assets in an indifferent manner previously, but hanging onto the rights of Willie Cauley-Stein is simply a smart business maneuver.