The Lakers’ quiet off-season is now officially over. After having discussions with several free agents (George Hill, Dion Waiters), the team has found its man (and someone to take their money) in former Piston Kentavious Caldwell-Pope:
First, it’s important to note how unlikely this exact signing would have been a week ago.
KCP entered this summer as a restricted free agent with the Pistons. It was not until the Celtics secured Gordon Hayward in free agency and needed to off-load some salary did things shift. Danny Ainge executed a trade with the Pistons, sending Avery Bradley to Detroit for Marcus Morris. Adding Bradley meant that Stan Van Gundy found his “shooting guard of the future” and it made KCP expendable. Gone went his qualifying offer and with it his restricted status. He could now go to any team he wanted.
And he chose the Lakers and their one-year deal. Excuse me if I seem shocked. I am. Caldwell-Pope surely had longer term offers on the table. To eschew those to sign with the Lakers for one year seems almost unfathomable to me. Credit to the Lakers’ front office of Magic and Pelinka for getting this done. They got a young FA, about to enter his prime, to sign in LA for a single season. Yes, the dollar amount is high, but that seems irrelevant to me at this stage. Again, he could have made much more on a longer deal.
As for fit, KCP instantly slides into a thin backcourt at SG and can be slotted between Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram rather seamlessly. He’s a good (not great, but good) shooter from distance, hitting 35% of his 3’s — but he did so on nearly 6 attempts per game. That volume from distance is what intrigues me more than his percentage as it shows me a player who is comfortable taking the long ball and someone who, because of that volume, teams will defend him more seriously out on the arc.
As for the rest of his offensive game, he’s a decent mid-range shooter and can get to the basket some on straight line drives — especially when he’s attacking hard close outs. He’s a good ball handler and can come off screens and hand-off actions to get his own shot. He has the tools to do more offensively, but he’s not yet put it all together to form a more complete offensive package (for example, he averaged a career high 2.5 assists last season in Detroit).
Where I am more excited about KCP’s potential is on the defensive end. While his Real Plus Minus numbers aren’t super impressive, he has the physical tools to be an excellent defender. He has good size and length, is a rangy athlete, and has the ability to chase players off and around screens. He can cover ground on rotations and can close out on shooters well when locked in. Here’s some of his defensive highlights from the season before last:
The ability he has to slide his feet, lock and trail shooters coming off picks, and bother players handle makes him an ideal partner for Lonzo in the backcourt. It means he can switch onto opposing point guards when warranted, lessening the load on Lonzo and allowing the rookie to slide onto wings where, at this stage, he’s better suited as a defender anyway. From that standpoint, besides George Hill, there’s maybe not a FA who the Lakers met with who I like more as a partner for Ball next season.
I do not want to turn KCP into a world beater of a player or overhype him here. The Pistons choosing to remove his tender and set him loose is something that made me raise an eyebrow — after all, everyone can use more wing depth in this league. He has holes in his game and I don’t want to portray him as something he’s not. That said, he’s a former top-10 pick, is only 24, and can improve. Better yet, he’s on a one-year deal so of things don’t work out, no harm/no foul and both sides can walk away next summer.
So, for all these reasons, I am thrilled with the signing. The Lakers have a young player who is a willing defender and has shown to be a high volume three point shooter. He fits well with this core and bolsters an area of the roster where the depth was shallow. He will allow Jordan Clarkson to play some PG, getting him on the ball where he’s clearly more comfortable as a talent. All in all, he just fits and allows guys to be slotted in ways which, I think, will help optimize them.
Kudos to Magic and Pelinka for getting this done.