Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was arguably the third-best player on the Lakers over the course of the 2020 NBA playoffs, and certainly the most consistent player on the team outside of LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Because of that, it wasn’t a surprise when reports surfaced that Caldwell-Pope planned to decline his $8.5 million player option for the 2020-21 season and test the free agency market in search of a long-term deal, even if he and the Lakers reportedly have mutual interest in a reunion. It’s even less of a shock that those reports came true today, according to Sham Charania of The Athletic:
Lakers starter Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will decline his 2020-21 player option and enter free agency, sources tell @TheAthleticNBA @Stadium. He’s expected to have several suitors at start of free agency — and teams are under impression he’s open to offers.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) November 16, 2020
Caldwell-Pope started every playoff game for the Lakers, averaging 10.7 points and shooting 37.8% from distance, all while serving as one of the team’s primary defensive options to hound opposing creators on the perimeter. The spacing and scoring he provided was invaluable during the team’s run to the championship, and while obviously the Lakers have to be smart about doling out long-term deals, it’s hard to imagine they’ll find much better value for one than the 27-year-old shooting guard.
Although Caldwell-Pope will be an unrestricted free agent — meaning that he can leave if he wants to, regardless of how the Lakers feel — the team can at least offer to match any contract he receives by virtue of having his full Bird rights, meaning that while they can’t stop him from leaving against his will like they could with a restricted free agent, they can go over the cap to re-sign him.
Caldwell-Pope could obviously still choose to go elsewhere, but in what looks to be a fairly dry market this offseason -- no matter how "open" he is to offers -- it would seem to at least be a possibility that his camp and the team can come to terms on a mutually agreeable deal that rewards Caldwell-Pope for outperforming his contract while not breaking the bank long-term.
Still, anything can happen in free agency, so we’ll see. But expect the Lakers to prioritize keeping KCP when free agency begins, unless an obviously superior option unexpectedly becomes available.
This story will update with more information.