Ex-Cats

Willie Cauley-Stein intends to step up in DeMarcus Cousins’ absence

Sacramento Kings center Willie Cauley-Stein (00) looks to make a play against the Boston Celtics center Al Horford (42) during their game at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California on Wednesday, February 8, 2017.
Sacramento Kings center Willie Cauley-Stein (00) looks to make a play against the Boston Celtics center Al Horford (42) during their game at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California on Wednesday, February 8, 2017. The Sacramento Bee

. As the Sacramento Kings reconvened Tuesday for their first practice after the NBA All-Star break, players said they were still processing the blockbuster trade that sent former University of Kentucky star DeMarcus Cousins and Omri Casspi to New Orleans for three players and two draft picks, and what it means for the Kings going forward.

Forward Willie Cauley-Stein, another former UK star, said he was surprised by the trade. But he added he didn’t think the front office would have made it “if there was nobody here that they think could fill that void just a little bit, at all.”

“It’s a lot to do with the team now and not so much one guy,” Cauley-Stein said. “If we want to continue to win and progress, our team has to be good. Our team has to do all the little things right.

“It can’t just be one guy anymore. I think all in all it’ll make us better, more guys getting more roles and playing together. It’ll be interesting, though.”

Cauley-Stein, who figures to assume a bulk of Cousins’ minutes, said he personally felt motivated by the change.

“I think we’ve got enough guys that’s in it for the right reasons that I don’t see why we couldn’t make the eighth seed,” Cauley-Stein said of making the playoffs. “For me, that’s my mission the next 25 games. So you might see a different spark from me. Like, I’m trying to win.

“Before, I didn’t have no — playing 10 minutes, 15 minutes, I didn’t have a lot of say in what we do. Now we just lost two verbal leaders, somebody else has got to step up and be a verbal leader. So I think, ‘Why not me?’”

The Kings entered the break 1 1/2 games behind Denver for the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference but emerge from it without their leading scorer and lynchpin on offense. The Kings also waived forward Matt Barnes, a veteran locker room presence, and could make other moves before Thursday’s trade deadline.

“If your franchise player gets traded, what does that say about everybody else?” said guard Darren Collison, whose name has also surfaced recently in trade rumors.

“It’s been really emotional the last couple days,” Collison said. “(Cousins and Casspi) are my two closest friends on the team, and to see them go like that is unfortunate.”

With Cousins gone and Rudy Gay out for the season with an Achilles’ injury, Collison is now the Kings’ leading scorer at 13.7 points per game.

“Thirty points (a game from Cousins), you can’t find that nowhere else,” Collison said. “His rebounding, his determination, his competitiveness, his will, his fire – don’t even worry about filling those shoes.

“I think with us, we have to literally play team basketball. It sounds like such a generic statement, but that’s how we’ve got to try to win games.”

Kings forward Anthony Tolliver was settling in for a movie night with his wife Sunday when his phone started to receive notifications that the Kings were considering trading Cousins.

“I was like, ‘Yeah right, that’s not going to happen,’” Tolliver said.

About a half-hour later, the deal was done.

“We watched ‘SportsCenter’ pretty much the rest of the night,” Tolliver said.

The three players the Kings received in the trade – guards Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans and Langston Galloway – arrived in Sacramento on Tuesday but did not participate in a light evening practice. A team spokesman said they still had to pass physicals and would be on the court for practice Wednesday. The Kings resume play Thursday against Denver at Golden 1 Center.

“It’s going to be a little bit on the fly,” Coach Dave Joerger said of integrating the new players into his system. “There’s not a lot of practice time in 25 games (left). So you’ve got to stick with some of the things that you’ve been doing, even as you slowly work through some other things.”

Joerger said the Kings will likely play smaller now with Cousins and Barnes gone. Tolliver should see more time at power forward, with rookie Skal Labissiere a possible backup, though Joerger suggested even having one big — Cauley-Stein or Kosta Koufos — on the court with four guards.

Hield, a rookie, and Evans are shooting guards, and Galloway was New Orleans’ backup point guard. Joerger also said guards Arron Afflalo and Ty Lawson — who were injured entering the break — practiced fully Tuesday and Garrett Temple could be available Thursday. So the Kings have plenty of bodies in the backcourt.

Hield landed at Sacramento International Airport on Tuesday afternoon with a gaggle of Kings fans on hand to greet him. Grinning, the rookie out of Oklahoma told reporters, “Everybody embracing me like this, I kind of feel like I want to be here now.”

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