The Kings picked Willie Cauley-Stein with the No. 6 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft on Thursday. Given that Cauley-Stein is an NBA center and trade winds have swirled 'round Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins all week, you might think this means that the Kings believe they will move Boogie soon.
That could be right. If you're trading a center, you might like to have one in reserve. But it's more likely that the Kings are finally giving Cousins what he's wanted all along: the ability to play power forward.
Since his rookie season, Cousins has made it clear that he'd prefer to play next to a shot-blocking center. For a spell, Cousins paired with Samuel Dalembert and it was a good fit, defensively. Otherwise he's played next to Jason Thompson or Carl Landry, who are both smaller pick-and-pop types.
That requires Cousins to be the banger in the lane on defense. Thompson is a fair defender when engaged and against certain power forwards. (He's been solid against LaMarcus Aldridge, for example.) But he averages 0.7 blocks per game and struggles mightily rotating on defense.
Cauley-Stein is very different. He can conceivably guard all five positions ... perhaps on the same possession! He has enormous length, elite agility and a track record as a defensive stalwart. He's precisely the type of defender (flexible, quick and long) that is in vogue right now in the NBA.
So much is made of offensive spacing. In fact, in the immediate wake of the Cauley-Stein pick, smart analysts wondered out loud how the Kings' offensive spacing would be with Cauley-Stein and Cousins playing together. The flip side to that is that with Cousins ready to vacuum up rebounds and slide in for charges, and Cauley-Stein trapping or switching the pick-and-roll at will, the Kings will potentially be able to ruin opponents' spacing. Defense matters just as much as offense, and Sacramento's defense figures to be much better with Cauley-Stein in place.
There's no guarantee Cauley-Stein will leap into the starting five immediately: the Kings have been trying to replace Thompson since 2010 with no success, and coach George Karl is famously reluctant to play rookies. There's also a shot the Kings receive an offer for Cousins they can't refuse.
But if Cauley-Stein does become the team's second starting big man, Cousins will finally have the front line defender he's always wanted. It certainly takes some pressure off Cousins, allowing him to focus more on the end at which he's legitimately the best in the world at his position.
In one respect, Cauley-Stein can help Cousins and Karl bury the hatchet (preferably not in one another's back). After a local workout, Karl noted that Cauley-Stein's offense was better than he believed. But Karl showed little faith in Thompson, eventually giving Derrick Williams (!) a shot. Perhaps Cauley-Stein gets a shot at starting early, perhaps he and Cousins thrive and perhaps the Kings win some games. Winning is the best disinfectant in pro sports.
It remains to be seen whether the Kings will let that happen. Either way, Cauley-Stein looks to be a piece the Kings need to compete in this NBA.