Editor’s Note: For as long as the NBA season is stopped, we’ll be taking a daily look back at players from Lakers history that we can’t stop thinking about. Today, we appreciate Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
“I guess I’ll start as I often do with a story,” Rob Pelinka said to a room full of reporters at the Toyota Sports Center, where the Los Angeles Lakers practiced for 17 years. “I would venture to guess there are 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 dessert and, all of a sudden, bread came down from heaven.
“That’s kind of what today feels like for us to have KCP join.”
For those that are confused, no: The Lakers didn’t sign some All-Star player with the same initials as Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in the summer of 2017 — Pelinka was talking about Caldwell-Pope, and, to an extent, he was right.
After the Indiana Pacers traded Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder on June 30, the expectation was that the Lakers were going to let their cap space roll over to 2018, when George, LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard were set to hit the open market. While the Lakers were able to maintain financial flexibility for 2018 and sign James, they made a splashy move in 2017, too, by signing Caldwell-Pope — one of the league’s most promising “3-and-D” guards — to a one-year, $18 million deal.
The Detroit Pistons had hoped to retain their restricted free agent, but they reportedly weren’t willing to offer Caldwell-Pope more than $80 million over five years, and their differences led to the Piston renouncing their rights to him. In hindsight, Caldwell-Pope probably should have taken that deal, but it’s safe to assume the Lakers are glad they didn’t because Caldwell-Pope was the bridge between the organization and James because James and Caldwell-Pope shared the same agent, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports.
More than that, though, Caldwell-Pope’s signing was a step in the right direction for the Lakers, whose two biggest signings the year before were Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng, and their investment in him is finally paying off four years later. Things had to get ugly before they got to where they are now, though.
Caldwell-Pope’s first year with the Lakers went as well as it could have, as he provided the team with solid perimeter defense and reliable 3-point shooting (38.3% on 5.6 attempts per game), something they didn’t have in year’s past. His second season was less successful.
While Caldwell-Pope’s perimeter defense stuck around for the most part, his 3-point shooting fell to 34.7%. A lot of that can be attributed to the lack of spacing the Lakers put around James (read that again and try to make it make sense), but he also just seemed to be losing the mental battle, too.
Despite how much Caldwell-Pope struggled in his second season in Los Angeles, the Lakers brought him back on a two-year, $16 million this past summer, and the hope was that he’d look better on a team with more shooters and James as the primary ball-handler. While that ultimately ended up being the case, as Caldwell-Pope is posting the highest net rating of his career (+5.6) and shooting a career-high 39.4% from behind the arc on 6.6 attempts per game, he went through a really, really rough patch to start the season.
Like, it can’t be understated how bad he was.
Through Caldwell-Pope’s first 10 games of the 2019-20 season, Caldwell-Pope averaged 5.2 points per game on 36.2% from the field, including 23.8% from behind the arc, while averaging 19.6 minutes per game. Had he not been one of the team’s better perimeter defenders, it would have been hard for Frank Vogel to justify keeping him on the floor.
It probably didn’t help that Caldwell-Pope started the season off by getting torched by Kawhi Leonard. Was it his fault that his head coach put him on a bigger, stronger and better wing player? No, but it didn’t matter — first impressions are everything, and Caldwell-Pope’s first game left a sour taste in Lakers’ fans mouth, which is probably he was so heavily scrutinized for the way he played in the following games.
Luckily, with the support of his teammates, Caldwell-Pope was able to break out of his shooting slump and himself as one of the most important guards on the team with his two-way play. For the way he was able to keep his head down and bounce back, Caldwell-Pope is a Laker worth appreciating.
Also, because of this video.