One disgruntled player on the market is big man Willie Cauley-Stein. After spending four seasons as a member of the Sacramento Kings, the Kentucky product is looking for a permanent starting role. Ever since landing in Sacramento via the 2015 NBA Draft, Cauley-Stein has found himself in a constant shuffle of frontcourt players, and now ones younger than himself are receiving favor from the Kings’ coaching staff and management.
Cauley-Stein wants out of Sacramento so badly that he did not want the Kings to extend a qualifying offer to him. As it would play out, the Kings did extend a qualifying Offer to Willie. Now, he hits NBA Free Agency as a restricted free agent, thus the Kings will be able to match any offer Cauley-Stein receives.
Willie is a player that could receive a change of scenery, but he could become grossly overpaid in the process. He likely will not become an NBA All-Star, even if he were to be placed in a more favorable situation. Assess his archetype. He is athletic. Springy. He thrives off put-backs, rebounds, and rim-running in transition. He alters opponents’ shots with ease. While Cauley-Stein is not a star, he is a stellar role player, and that is exactly what the Memphis Grizzlies need. Plus, he is still young at the age of (almost) 26.
Memphis’ best case of landing Willie Cauley-Stein is if Jonas Valanciunas does not come to an agreement with the Grizzlies on a new long-term contract. Jonas initially declined his player option so that a long-term deal could be had, but there is still a ways to go in order to nail down the terms of his next contract. While it sounds favorable for a Valanciunas return to Memphis, things could quickly fall apart. After all, this is the unpredictable NBA Free Agency period.
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If Valanciunas moves on to a new team, that should be just fine for the Grizzlies. Cauley-Stein will be right there with open arms. At this point, Memphis would be able to offer upwards of $10 million per year, but that does not mean that they absolutely should. They should consider what Cauley-Stein has proven, which is nothing more than Valanciunas has done, especially when counting playoff appearances. Willie has zero to his name.
The big benefit behind Cauley-Stein would be the pairing with Jaren Jackson Jr. in the Grizzlies’ frontcourt. Willie does not demand the ball on offense and will not be looking to create his own shot. His strengths complement Jaren’s game. While Jackson Jr. focuses on scoring from all over the floor, Cauley-Stein can focus on doing some of the dirty work, such as collecting boards, blocking out, setting strong screens, drawing the double-team away from Jaren, and providing energy.
On top of it all, a starting spot would become available for Cauley-Stein. With Valanciunas gone, there would be virtually zero competition for the starting center position. It would be Cauley-Stein’s to lose. This should be music to Willie’s ears!