July 12, 2017
The Lakers surprised everyone on Tuesday night signing free agent guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (KCP) to a one-year $18 million deal. The deal was first reported by ESPN’s Brian Windhorst.
Before we talk about those nerdy salary cap ramifications, let’s talk about how this helps the Lake Show.
KCP is a 24-year-old shooting guard who played for the Piston last season, averaging 13.8 points, 2.5 assists, 3.3 rebounds. Although he shot only 40% from the field last year and 35% from 3, he is a 3-and-D player that has improved his game every year in the league. His length and athleticism also make him an excellent defender. While he still has room for improvement in his efficiency and playmaking, his versatility make him a very useful player now for LA, and one that they might even continue to build with in Luke Walton’s vision of a position-less basketball system.
As for his contract, KCP signed a one-year deal for $18 million. That gives the Lakers roughly $54 million in contracts coming of the books next summer, allowing them to follow their plan to chase free agents like Lebron James, Paul George, and Russell Westbrook.
In recent seasons, we’ve seen the Lakers (as well as other teams aggressively planning for free agency) strikeout in free agency. If that happens again, don’t underestimate the significance of Caldwell. After sending D’Angelo Russell to Brooklyn to shed the Timofey Mozgov contract, the Lakers had one less young talented player on their roster. Caldwell adds to the Lakers young core, and could still be a significant part of that young core if LA doesn’t land the stars it hopes to.
Keep in mind, since KCP is on a one-year deal, the Lakers would not have his Bird Rights. Instead, they would either have to use cap space to sign him, or use the non-bird exception, giving him a starting salary of nearly $23 million next season.
In reality though, the Lakers and KCP are hoping he has a career-year, and keeps them in playoff contention. Since they are also hoping to lure some big-name free agents to LA next summer, if all goes well for both parties, he probably won’t be on the roster. Still, he’s another young asset for the franchise, even if it’s short-term.
Finally, the reported $18 million salary means the Lakers would have to shed a non-guaranteed contract to make it work. It also means that despite the fact they have no cap room left, they still have The Room Exception, allowing them to spend an additional $4.3 million to add another free agent. Rajon Rondo appears to be the strongest candidate for that, after he met with the Lakers on Tuesday. Rondo would serve as a nice backup and a mentor to Lonzo Ball, and could serve to make the Lakers more competitive in a season where they don’t have a 1st round pick.
An offseason in which the Lakers are able to sign KCP and Rondo would have to be considered a great success for Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka in their first off-season on the job.