The Los Angeles Lakers are riding high into the final stretch of the summer. The franchise has shifted operations back to Southern California after capturing the Las Vegas Summer League championship, and just as the bus arrived back to the team’s training facility, Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka were ready to trot out their other big win of the summer.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was officially introduced as a member of the Lakers Tuesday afternoon, with the entire summer league team, plus Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson, all in the building to welcome their new teammate. Magic opened the press conference congratulating the summer league Lakers on their title, but the attention quickly shifted to how much bringing Caldwell-Pope into the fold means to the franchise.
“We needed a two-guard, and a special two-guard that can play both sides of the ball, but also has a high basketball IQ. Brings some toughness to our team and to the floor. He can guard the one position, the two position, the three position... can hit the three ball and take it to the basket,” Johnson said of what made him the ideal player for the large one-year contract they had to use this free agency period.
Pelinka reflected on the process of signing Caldwell-Pope, his first free agent acquisition since becoming general manager of the Lakers, under a different light.
"I guess I'll start as I often do with a story,” Pelinka said. ”I would venture to guess there's people in the room that are familiar with the stories in the Book of Genesis, where there was a time when the Israelites were wandering in the desert and all the sudden bread came down from heaven. That's kind of what today feels like for us to have KCP join.”
Whether it was written in fire and brimstone, who knows, but Caldwell-Pope is a great fit for the Lakers on the court. The only real knock on him are his inconsistent shooting numbers, but the hope has to be that 35 percent from outside looks a lot more 39 percent because of the Ball effect that was on full display in Las Vegas.
“I think just being a better defender,” the newest Lakers said when asked if it was more important for him to be lock up opponents or focus on his three-point shooting. “Being great on that end, improving, that’s going to bring my offense. I’ve been rolling that way since I was in college.”
It was clear during summer league that the Lakers still need help in their backcourt. Josh Hart remains an unknown, barely able to see the floor in Las Vegas after suffering an ankle injury. Guys like Matt Thomas and Alex Caruso are still out to prove they were more than mirages in the Las Vegas desert.
Caldwell-Pope is the young player that fits the mold now, and he can make a huge impact defensively. The Lakers currently plan to start him alongside Brandon Ingram on the wings, which they hope becomes a nightmare for opponents to deal with. Kentavious brings another established player who fit perfectly into the 2018 free agency plan.
“I think Luke Walton has a vision for position-less basketball, and so not only is he going to play a lot of minutes, but he’s going to play a lot of minutes at different positions and do different things. We ran some analytics where he’s one of the top performers in dribble hand-offs,” Pelinka said of Caldwell-Pope’s fit on the roster.
“When we push the ball ahead he’s going to have a lot more opportunities to finish around the rim. He’s not just a catch-and-shoot guy, put him in the corner and spread the floor. We don’t see him that way, he’s a dynamic attacker,” Pelinka said.
The 24-year-old swingman addresses the fact that the Lakers only had one NBA proven guard in their rotation in Jordan Clarkson heading into free agency. This should allow Clarkson to settle into a first-guard-off-the-bench role initially as the Lakers feel out how Caldwell-Pope and the rest of the team fits together.
More importantly, it gives the Lakers a defensive specialist to take some of the heat off Ball as he gets his feet wet in NBA waters. It’s another tool the Lakers have needed in their shed for the past several seasons, and another reason to be excited to see what this team looks like when it finally comes together.
*All quotes transcribed via Periscope