Willie Cauley-Stein’s time as a member of the Sacramento Kings appears to be coming to an end.
According to Cauley-Stein’s agent, Roger Montgomery (by way of The Sacramento Bee‘s Jason Anderson), the center wants to play elsewhere next season. Cauley-Stein spent the first four seasons of his NBA career with the Kings, where he was the team’s primary starting center in each of the last two seasons.
While he’s a restricted free agent, it would be a mistake for the Kings to match, or sign Cauley-Stein to a contract if he’s going to be unhappy playing for them. His free agent situation will be an intriguing one to keep tabs on, as Cauley-Stein is a talented and energetic player.
Here are three ideal landing spots for the big man.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers will have roughly $54 million in cap space this summer. Even if they don’t sign any of the big fish (Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, and others), they need to improve their roster. Cauley-Stein would be a sensible signing.
Cauley-Stein is one of the most athletic centers in the NBA. He finishes off fast breaks, soars above the rim, and finishes relentlessly inside. He also averaged an efficient 8.4 rebounds in just 27.3 minutes a game this season. A frontline pairing of Cauley-Stein and Montrezl Harrell would be deadly. Harrell is physical inside, a tenacious defender, and versatile player. The big men would draw a bevy of fouls inside.
The Clippers won 48 games last season, have one of the best head coaches in the NBA in Doc Rivers, the savvy Lou Williams, an outside sniper in Landry Shamet, and intriguing youngsters such as Harrell and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Adding a center would make them one of the most athletic and well-rounded teams in the Western Conference.
Plus, while he will likely reel in a contract worth eight figures per season, Cauley-Stein wouldn’t hinder the Clippers from signing other big-impact players. Perhaps the Clippers utilizing their money on three second-tier free agents is the best course of action considering the success they found last season and the continued development of their youngsters?
Kyrie Irving and Al Horford seem poised to leave Beantown, while Terry Rozier and Marcus Morris will also test free agent waters. The Celtics can’t feel sorry for themselves; they have to construct a competitive roster, and signing Cauley-Stein would boost that effort.
The Celtics still have a sturdy foundation to build through with Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, and Marcus Smart in place. Cauley-Stein would be the perfect complement to those wings. Tatum and Brown are each athletic players who can blow by defenders in half-court sets and also run the fast break; Cauley-Stein is adept at finishing in each of those scenarios.
The Kentucky product is also an underrated passer. Given how he doesn’t pose a towering post threat, Cauley-Stein can pass out of said situations. With Brown and Tatum cutting, Cauley-Stein’s assist total could potentially double with the Celtics. He’s also an ideal pick-and-roll center — though the Celtics need someone to be on the passing end of that play.
The Celtics need to determine two players this offseason: a long-term point guard and center. Maybe president Danny Ainge can convince Rozier to stay, but both of those solutions won’t come internally. Cauley-Stein would be a great replacement for Horford and give the Celtics an offensive spark.
Dewayne Dedmon and Alex Len had plausible 2018-19 campaigns, but Cauley-Stein would be an upgrade over the two centers and spark the Hawks rebuild.
Last year, rookie point guard Trae Young and second-year forward John Collins dazzled on the offensive end. However, the Hawks still need an inside force. Drafting De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish adds wing scoring, but Cauley-Stein’s ability to score in the paint and aggressively pursue dunks is a skill set the Hawks don’t have. Cauley-Stein’s seven-foot stature would also provide a much-needed body who can gather rebounds at a high rate, as the bulk of the Hawks’ rebounds came from wings this season (Collins led the Hawks, as a whole, averaging 9.8 rebounds per game.)
In today’s NBA, you need an athletic center who can do the dirty work, regardless of the outside shooters you may have at your disposal. He has to improve defensively, but Cauley-Stein has the physical makeup and energy to become an anchor on that end of the floor. He’s just a little fine-tuning away from being one of the elite big men in the sport.
The bottom of the Eastern Conference is always up for grabs, and after showing some fire late in the season, the Hawks have a chance to crack the postseason in 2020 with continued additions to their rotation. Adding Cauley-Stein would give them a high-octane offense, as well as the most compelling young starting five in the NBA.