Almost two weeks into free agency, the Lakers have finally signed the top free agent on the market.
Who won, and what does this mean for the future in Los Angeles?
The Lakers’ Patience Will Have Paid Off … As Long As They Don’t Sign Rondo
The Lakers started the offseason by shipping away D’Angelo Russell, bringing in a serviceable center in Brook Lopez, and toying with the possibility of trading for Paul George one year early, just to be safe. George was traded to Oklahoma City, but the Lakers still had cap space. So, they waited for the right move and finally found it in the 24-year-old Young Pope.
The Lakers have already lost next year’s pick to either Boston or Philly depending on where it falls, so there’s no use in tanking this season. By signing KCP, this immediately improves their chances of rising out of the league’s cellar and into a respectable season. Simultaneously, the Lakers use their cap space without being tied to a bad contract in the long term — one they can still trade midseason to a contender if need be.
Caldwell-Pope is still a young player with upside. He hit career highs in 3-point percentage and effective field goal percentage last season, while remaining an above-average perimeter defender fueled by relentless effort, something the Lakers have lacked. KCP did suffer an injury halfway through last season, which led to a decline in his shooting and an irregular shooting pattern. The left side is apparently his good side.
Alongside Lonzo Ball, KCP serves a clear purpose — to defend the other team’s best guard and take that load off the inexperienced rookie. And as long as he finds his shooting groove from time to time, Caldwell-Pope should be in a position to put up solid scoring numbers whether playing next to Lonzo or Jordan Clarkson.
Following the news of KCP’s signing, Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Lakers were still trying to add Rajon Rondo via a $4.3 million exception they hold now that Caldwell-Pope’s deal pushes them over the cap. Could Rondo be a veteran mentor for Lonzo? The short answer: maybe seven years ago, but not today, and not for the sake of shortening Ball’s playing time and stunting his development. You’re supposed to build around Lonzo, not on top of him.
The shorter answer: Just don’t do it, Lakers.
What Does This Signing Really Mean?
Suspend reality for a moment. Put on your hard hat, turn on the headlamp, and watch your head on the way in. Follow me into the conspiracy corner.
KCP is represented by Klutch Sports, the sports agency manned by LeBron James’s friend and agent Rich Paul, who represents various other high-profile players around the league. This may be reckless speculation, but the Lakers being this staunch about giving nearly $20 million to KCP may be a deal that has some strings attached to it. Could it be possible that the Lakers did KCP a favor, hoping, or even knowing, that this would buy them some goodwill with LeBron, should he consider heading to L.A. in 2018? It’s not as far-fetched a theory as you may think. I can’t even take credit for it, because my boss, Bill Simmons, called this deal five days ago. If there’s any validity to this conspiracy, I guess we’ll find out next summer. If that’s the case, Magic and Rob Pelinka deserve even more adulation than they’re already receiving for closing down this deal.
If a return to the star-studded glory days in L.A. is what Pelinka and Magic want, then the duo have played all the right cards so far.
KCP Is the Big Winner
The man with one of the best names in basketball has rescued himself from free-agency purgatory. After turning down a $4.9 million qualifying offer from the Pistons, reportedly not being offered anything worth taking, and then being renounced by Detroit, KCP looked to be headed toward an unfavorable deal. Instead, he’ll now be one of the top-paid guards in the NBA. Even though he didn’t get the long-term guarantee of a three- or four-year contract, this is the perfect spot for his one-year value boost.
Caldwell-Pope is going to earn $6 million more in one season than he made throughout four years under his rookie contract. Think of this one-year deal as a quick, strong shot of espresso for Caldwell-Pope, who will now get to play in Los Angeles with a pass-first point guard who will put him in the perfect position to score and boost his chances of cashing out next summer on a longer, more lucrative deal — the venti double-shot latte of deals, if you will. It’s an ideal situation for a guy who, just a week ago, looked to have been a loser of free agency. Now, KCP’s only job is to get those checks, live in L.A., and makes sure he gets buckets. It’s true that patience is a virtue.
An earlier version of this story inaccurately described potential scenarios for the Lakers’ 2018 draft pick. L.A. won’t retain it; depending on where it falls, it will go to either Boston or Philly.