As Cacok left the Thomas and Mack Center at UNLV after the Lakers’ first game of Las Vegas Summer League — a 96-76 loss to the Chicago Bulls — Cacok, wearing team-issued gear that made him instantly recognizable as a Laker, paused to sign autographs for every kid that asked him.
Stopping for autographs after an end-to-end loss on a team’s first Friday night in Vegas isn’t unheard of, but it certainly is unusual. However, it’s also an unsurprising decision for Cacok, who is just as generous with his time when working with his summer league teammates as he is with young Lakers fans.
When he isn’t providing a spark on the court with the energy and bruising physicality that has enamored the Lakers organization while averaging 13 points and 9.3 rebounds while shooting 58% in 22.3 minutes per game, Cacok has been pushing his teammates off of it.
His efforts may not have resulted in wins so far — the Lakers are 0-3 in Las Vegas — but Cacok being awarded with an Exhibit 10 contract on Tuesday night is evidence that his approach both on and off the court has caught the front office’s collective eye.
Cacok’s fellow undrafted Lakers big man Nick Perkins — who is only seven days younger than Cacok, and both are just 22 years old — says that even in the few weeks they’ve been together, Cacok has already been in his ear and teaching him how to improve.
“He’s been amazing. He does it all for us. He rebounds the ball well for us, he’s always in the right spot at the right time. I’ve kind of been learning from him. He’s a guy who plays hard 110 percent of the time,” Perkins said. “I’ve been talking to him, picking his brain a little bit. He’s been good for us.”
And what tips has Cacok given Perkins when the latter has picked his brain?
“Just to go hard,” Perkins said. “If I’m going to mess up, just go hard. He’s taught me a lot over these last 10, 12 days and I’m going to keep learning from him.”
Those are, to be frank, not normally the types of quotes one hears from summer league players that are ostensibly competing against each other for roster spots. Guys won’t trash talk each other to the media per se, but normally they’ll offer far more cliche platitudes. That doesn’t seem to be the case with Cacok, who has clearly, actually and seemingly genuinely impressed and endeared himself to his summer league compatriots.
“He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve seen. It’s crazy his work ethic,” said Lakers guard Jordan Caroline. “It’s just the way he carries himself and plays so hard. It affects the whole team because everyone wants to play at the same level, that same type of toughness.”
Cacok himself puts his goals for Las Vegas in simpler terms, saying he just wants to show the Lakers and other teams that he can rebound, finish around the rim, play strong team defense, and do it all with energy and physicality.
“Being an energy guy. I’ll do the dirty work, I’ll dive on the floor, try to get extra possessions for my team, and just playing hard,” Cacok said. “That’s a skill for me and that’s what I really want to show.”
Cacok’s contract is evidence the team has seen, but even the night before the Lakers made that signing official, Lakers summer league head coach Miles Simon was raving about Cacok’s potential.
“Because he’s more of an undersized guy, he’s probably gonna have to play like a small-ball five, like a Kenneth Faried type,” Simon said. “I think he can really flourish in that role because he rolls to the rim. He runs the floor, he defends at a pretty good level right now. And then he’s an elite rebounder.
“I think he’s a guy that will have a chance to play in the NBA one day if he just continues to develop. And I think he’s a guy that will relish that role. Being a screener, a rebounder, a defender, and a finisher around the basket.”
An Exhibit 10 contract doesn’t count against the Lakers’ final roster. This could be just a glorified training camp invite with a potential bonus for staying with the South Bay Lakers, or it could be something more. All it’s guaranteed to be for Cacok is a chance to make an impact and chase his NBA dream, and after signing the deal on Tuesday night, Cacok said that he plans to make the most of his opportunity with the Lakers.
“Only the beginning,” Cacok told Silver Screen and Roll, and after fighting his way towards (at least) a training camp spot for a team featuring Anthony Davis and LeBron James after going undrafted just a month ago — and after listening to everyone around the Lakers rave about him — it’s hard not to take Cacok’s word for it.
And if he’s right, those kids he stopped to sign for will be even more appreciative of those autographs someday.