Kentavious Caldwell-Pope missed the first 11 shots he took this season. The 12th didn’t even go in, either, but still counted due to Malik Monk being called for goaltending. It was a brutal way to start the season for an already-polarizing player. Lakers fans gave him no quarter, beginning to boo Caldwell-Pope at home games and treating him even worse on social media. Things got so bad at one point that Dwight Howard felt he had to publicly defend his teammate, arguing with a fan begging the Lakers to trade Caldwell-Pope in the team’s Instagram comments.
We all know what happened next: Caldwell-Pope morphed into one of the team’s most consistent and productive playoff performers, anywhere from the third-to-sixth best player during their championship run, depending on who you ask.
During an appearance on ESPN’s “The Jump,” Caldwell-Pope was asked about going from most hated to fairly rated, and he explained where he thinks it all came from:
“I feel like L.A. fans, they have their expectations of the team, and I respect that. They hold you accountable. I just feel like they’re real, die-hard fans. They expect you to be at your best because of the organization, you’re in L.A. and it’s the Lakers. Kobe ran the town and the team for 20 years, so it’s a high expectation from the fans, and I respect that.
“It’s like a love-hate relationship. They’ll be on you, they expect your best, (but) they love you regardless.”
That was the correct thing for Caldwell-Pope to say from a political perspective, and some of it is even correct: All of those factors — especially the Bryant one — has given Lakers fans high expectations for the play and approach of the players on their favorite team. They are also a massive fanbase who it’s hard to make generalizations about. Some are meaner than others, and their size ensures there are both more supporters, and more bad actors. Not everyone is to blame for the latter, we should be clear.
All that noted, it would be hard to judge Caldwell-Pope for feeling the hate a bit more at times. His experience the last three years made him one of the first Lakers to publicly support and back Danny Green during his playoff struggles, and I think we can all agree that the treatment Green, Kyle Kuzma and other Lakers got during this playoff run was too often completely over the line. That also goes for the amount of hate Caldwell-Pope received during his rough start to the regular season.
But Caldwell-Pope took the high road here, and showed why he’s such a well-liked figure in this Lakers locker room. He holds himself to higher expectations than anyone, so he was likely more frustrated than any fan over his tough start. The work he put in to improve and become so reliable should not go unnoticed.
Still, it wouldn’t be surprising if this kind of stuff ultimately factored in to his next destination. Obviously not every fan responded to Caldwell-Pope with such vitriol, but with reports that he’ll test free agency after such a strong playoff run and plenty of speculation that teams will have interest, it wouldn’t be entirely shocking if he decided he wanted to go somewhere that doesn’t have so many fans with large platforms who believe they can “bully players into being good.”
Now, that will obviously in all likelihood be less of a factor in Caldwell-Pope’s eventual decision about his next destination than the role or money he’s being offered will, but even if it’s a small part of his reasoning, it’s something we should all keep in mind when considering whether or not it’s better to be a little more understanding of people’s struggles in the future. If you can’t be kind for the sake of it, at least do it so your team’s players will want to stay. Even if they’re understanding publicly, this is the type of stuff that can burn in private. The world would be a better place if we were all a little kinder, to sports figures, and to each other.