SACRAMENTO, California — The Sacramento Kings hope they found their defensive stopper when they drafted Kentucky big man Willie Cauley-Stein. Tranquility in the organization could still be a work in progress.
The Kings capped a tumultuous week filled with reports about the status of coach George Karl and star player DeMarcus Cousins by using the sixth pick on one of the top defenders in the draft Thursday night.
"We're going to continue to have ups and downs," Vice President Vlade Divac said after making his first major move as the head of basketball operations. "Less of them between now and October would be great."
Divac downplayed reports of tension between owner Vivek Ranadive and Karl but did say that his relationship with Karl still needs work. While praising Karl as a coach, Divac said he had to send a message that he was in charge of the organization and that Karl needed to trust him to do his job.
"You have to have good chemistry," Divac said. "That's what we try to do. Maybe we didn't have it yesterday or two years ago but we'll attempt to have good chemistry heading into training camp."
Divac said he didn't even tell Karl or Ranadive who he was picking until just before the selection was announced.
Karl and Cousins have reportedly been at odds with Karl reportedly looking to ship the talented, but sometimes combustible, big man out of Sacramento.
Divac and Ranadive want to build around Cousins and Divac said he gave his star player that message in a phone call earlier this week. Divac was less certain when asked whether he believed that the relationship between Karl and Cousins was salvageable.
"Let me put it this way, I want to believe," Divac said. "We'll see how it goes."
The Kings went through three head coaches and posted a 29-53 record last season. Sacramento has missed the playoffs for nine straight seasons and has the second-worst record in the NBA over that span.
The Kings fired coach Michael Malone 24 games into the season and replaced him with Tyrone Corbin. That tenure lasted just 28 games before Karl was hired to coach the franchise.
Karl posted an 11-19 record down the stretch but has far from solidified the franchise. General manager Pete D'Alessandro left in the offseason for Denver and Divac took over running the team.
Cauley-Stein said he was not worried about the turmoil in the organization.
"They'll work it out. Whatever happens, happens," he said. "I have no control over that. The only thing I can control is my attitude and my effort to the team and the organization. Whatever beef they have is on them."
Cauley-Stein averaged just 8.0 points per game in three seasons at Kentucky but is considered to be a top defender capable of blocking shots, playing in the post and defending pick and rolls. Cauley-Stein averaged 6.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game in college while shooting 59 percent from the field.
There were some concerns about Cauley-Stein's health after he underwent surgery for a stress fracture in his ankle late in the 2013-14 season. But Cauley-Stein was able to play all 39 games last season and was a first-team AP All-American, averaging 8.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game.
Cauley-Stein gives Karl the defensive stopper he has sought to help a team that allowed the third-most points per game and seventh-highest shooting percentage last season.
"I love the idea of that role," Cauley-Stein said. "That's what gets me. That's what drives me. That plays right into what I like to do. I take a tremendous amount of pride on defense."
Cauley-Stein said he believes his offensive game is underrated because of the talent he had surrounding him at Kentucky with three other first-round picks on the roster.
Cauley-Stein averaged just six shots per game last season and hit double-digits just twice.
"I could have gone to a different school and taken 20 shots a game and we wouldn't be talking about my offensive game," he said. "With the NBA and the way it's spread out, it fits right into the way I play, which is trying to use my speed and quickness on dudes that are guarding me on the other side."
Divac called Cauley-Stein one of the fastest big men he's ever seen and that he was the top choice available when it was time to pick.
Divac said the decision to take Cauley-Stein over guard Emmanuel Mudiay was an easy one because Mudiay refused to work out for the Kings.
This story has been corrected to show that Cauley-Stein played all 39 games last season, instead of 31, and averaged 8.0 points per game for his career, instead of 7.9.