Reports: Willie Cauley-Stein gets his wish to ‘hoop freely’ with new team

Willie Cauley-Stein wanted a change of scenery. He got it, and he won’t have to travel far.

The Athletic’s Marcus Thompson was the first to report that his sources have the former University of Kentucky star and Sacramento Kings center agreeing to a free-agent deal with the nearby Golden State Warriors.

According to his agent, Cauley-Stein let the Kings know ahead of free agency that he wanted out of Sacramento.

“I just want to hoop freely. That’s kind of the biggest thing for me, just going somewhere, whether it’s here or anywhere else, just taking that next evolution to the game where you’re not just a rim runner,” Cauley-Stein told The Sacramento Bee in March. “You’re a pick-and-pop guy sometimes. You can get rolling with what the defense gives you. I wanna be that dude.”

The Kings selected Cauley-Stein out of Kentucky with the sixth pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. He was the first player Kings general manager Vlade Divac drafted after he joined the team’s front office.

Cauley-Stein averaged 11.9 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.6 blocks last season.

“I really think Willie needs a fresh start,” said Roger Montgomery, a representative of Roc Nation Sports, told The Sacramento Bee last month. “Based on how things have gone for him there in Sacramento, I just think it’s time for Willie to move on and we’d really like him to move on.”

The Kings initially balked at Cauley-Stein’s request by deciding to make him a restricted free agent. But after making several early free-agent agreements, the team elected to rescind its offer.

ESPN’s Zach Lowe, who said his sources confirmed the deal, said “Cauley-Stein will sign for something slightly above the minimum salary.”

Initial reaction to the news included Logan Murdock, the Warriors reporter for the NBC Sports Authentic in the Bay Area, tweeted: “With Willie Cauley-Stein the Warriors get a starting caliber center who’s still just 25. A chance for him to get a sizable deal next summer as well. Warriors somehow putting together a solid offseason despite Kevin Durant’s departure.”

“Part of what appealed to the Warriors about Willie Cauley-Stein, I’m told, is his pick-and-roll ability. Personnel will force them to run more this upcoming season,” The Athletic’s Anthony Slater tweeted. “WCS can operate up top with both Steph Curry and — especially when Curry/Draymond sit — D’Angelo Russell.”

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Dennis Varney is the assistant sports editor for the Lexington Herald-Leader and Kentucky.com. He is a Pike County native and Western Kentucky alum. He has also worked at The Times of Northwest Indiana, The Seattle Times and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.