Kentavious Caldwell-Pope: The Good, The Bad, The Conspiracy

Magic Johnson made it clear to every free agent who walked through the interview doors that the $18 million cap availibility was all that the Lakers had to offer, and, all he was going to offer. He wasn’t budging. The $18 million was a temporary contract, a one year deal. The Lakers consider cap flexibility in the summer of 2018 a priority. So Magic and GM Rob Pelinka dangled money on the one hand and a possible short stay on the other. Would someone bite?

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who is represented by the Rich Paul group, had to figure out if he wanted to be like Jimmy Butler. Butler said a few years ago, when he was playing out the last year of his rookie deal without signing an extension, that he wanted to gamble on himself. Meaning have a great year. In Caldwell-Pope language, the translation was simple. Start for the Lakers as shooting guard. Line up next to playmaker extraordinaire Lonzo Ball. Be on television in a big market. Embrace the scrutiny and praise. Bet on yourself, possibly cash in. The Lakers will have Caldwell-Pope’s Bird Rights. They then can negotiate with him (and Rich Paul) on a longer deal in 2018, if he earns it.

But choosing the Lakers over Brooklyn, who wanted to pair Caldwell-Pope with D’Angelo Russell, was one that came with more pressure, if not less money.  Could he rise and meet the moment in a tough all eyes on you market? Or, did Kentavious Caldwell-Pope  want the easy way out?

Caldwell-Pope was a Georgia high school scorer who put up over 30 points a game his senior year. Before entering the University of Georgia, he was the nation’s number three shooting guard. He entered the SEC with other NBA prospects like Bradley Beal, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis.

His second year at Georgia, he was SEC player of the year, 18.5 points, 7.1 rebounds. Caldwell-Pope was a lottery pick for the Pistons in the 2013 NBA draft. His calling card in his four year career has been defense, particularly guarding  perimeter players. He plays hard and with defensive energy but his offense can be spotty.

The three seasons after his rookie year: 12.7 points, 14.5 points and 13. 8 points. He is not an innately talented scorer, nor did he develop as one in Stan Van Gundy’s system who organized all actions around Andre Drummond. Caldwell-Pope’s best field goal percentage was 42% in 2015-16. This past season, he was a dismal 39% but 35% from three. The takeaway in his fourth season were assists. He had a career high 2.5 assists, which is 1.5 more assists than who he is replacing, Nick Young.

Caldwell-Pope was used to playing over 30 minutes a game as a starter for Detroit. In Brooklyn, he would log similar minutes. Not so in L.A. The Lakers have a quality shooting guard for their second unit in Jordan Clarkson. Expectations are a little different. Caldwell-Pope would probably fit into the 27-29 minute range in L.A. but play in the last three minutes because of his defense.

A lot would change in L.A.. In Brooklyn, nothing would change.

That Caldwell-Pope rejected the easy way out stunned those who think athletes only care about the money, that they lack long term vision.

In his short career, Caldwell-Pope is a 29% shot maker from 3-10 feet. His midrange game is okay but can get better and he has developed a better three ball since coming into the league. But there is this to think about.

His one year in the playoffs, against Cleveland, Caldwell-Pope shot 44% and 44% from three, plus 4.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists. Outside of Andre Drummond, he was the Pistons best player even as they were swept by the eventual champions.

For the first time in his career, Caldwell-Pope will be on the receiving end of an unselfish playmaker in Lonzo Ball. He’ll get the ball in spots where he will be his most productive. The Lakers starting five don’t have a ball stopper. However Caldwell-Pope will miss the first two games of the season because of a league mandated suspension for a DUI arrest that happened last March in suburban Detroit.

Because Caldwell-Pope is represented by Rich Paul, there is the thought that this is somehow the precursor to LeBron James next summer in purple and gold, also represented by Rich Paul. But if you look at Paul’s clients (Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith, Eric Bledsoe, LeBron James), he negotiated the most money possible. With the Lakers, the opportunity was more valuable than money. The chance to be a quality veteran on a young team had more value than empty wins in Brooklyn.

The Lakers now have a starting five that were all top-10 lottery picks.

photo via llananba