During the busy 2019 NBA offseason, Willie Cauley-Stein was far from being considered a prized target in a free-agent class that included the likes of Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving. While he ended up signing a relatively cheap two-year contract with the Golden State Warriors, a new report suggests that the former Sacramento Kings center had a chance to leave California to sign a considerably more lucrative deal with another team — the Charlotte Hornets.
In an extensive report from the San Francisco Chronicle that profiled the 26-year-old former University of Kentucky star, Connor Letourneau wrote that Cauley-Stein was informed early on in this year’s free agency period that the Warriors were interested in his services. After recalling how he reportedly told Golden State head coach Steve Kerr that he’d mesh well with newly-signed guard D’Angelo Russell on the pick-and-roll, Letourneau pointed out that the young big man apparently received an offer from the Hornets around the same time, a deal that would have paid him about $9 million per year.
“[L]ess than 10 months after announcing at Kings media day that he was ‘ready to get paid,’ Cauley-Stein opted instead for the chance to start for a winning franchise,” Letourneau recalled.
According to Letourneau, Cauley-Stein’s arrival in the Bay Area “feels like a long time coming,” as he was supposedly told by Warriors stars Stephen Curry and Draymond Green during a January 2017 pregame warmup that the team “wanted to acquire him” from Sacramento. The big man was reportedly piqued by the informal offer, given how he wasn’t seeing meaningful minutes for the Kings at that time.
As explained separately by Bleacher Report, Cauley-Stein’s decision to sign a two-year, $4.6 million contract with the Warriors – only around one-fourth of what the Hornets supposedly offered – was quite an interesting one. When the former first-round pick made the above comments about wanting to “get paid” in September 2018, he seemed dead-set on making more money than he had ever made in an NBA career that is now in its fifth season. But by signing with the Warriors, the opposite happened, as his annual salary is even lower than it was during his rookie year in 2015-16.
It’s still far too early to say whether Cauley-Stein made the right move to turn down the Hornets in favor of a chance to join a Warriors team that won three NBA championships this decade. However, both Golden State and Cauley-Stein have gotten off to slow starts, with the team currently sporting a 2-6 record and dealing with multiple injuries and their newly acquired center averaging nine points and 5.3 rebounds in only 16.5 minutes per game, per his Basketball-Reference player page.