What to do with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports /

Detroit Pistons have a difficult decision ahead; they must extend Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s contract before Oct. 31, 2016, trade him, or face free agency.

Although the leaves have not yet turned, and the kids are not yet back in school, it appears the summer is all but over for the Detroit Pistons and this summer, has proved to be a busy one.  Stan Van Gundy and Jeff Bowers have checked off almost every item on their list, except one last to-do; deciding what to do with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope?

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This season Caldwell-Pope will enter the fourth and final year of his rookie contract.  The Pistons have until October 31 to hammer out an extension, or he will become a restricted free agent this summer.

To complicate the matter, the Pistons have been very active this summer drafting Henry Ellenson and Michael Gbinije, signing Ish Smith, Jon Leuer, Boban Marjanovic, Ray McCallum Jr. and re-signing Andre Drummond to the largest contract in Detroit Pistons history.  While all of these moves are important steps in the right direction, they have left the Pistons in a potentially complex salary cap position.

When free agency opens on July 1, 2017, the Pistons are projected to be at or near the projected $102 million salary cap.  In fact, as it stands, the Pistons will have Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson, Tobias Harris, Marcus Morris, Stanley Johnson, Jon Leuer, Henry Ellenson, Boban Marjanovic, Ish Smith, and Michael Gbinije, under contracts at that time.  The team also will have a million dollar option on Darrun Hilliard and Aron Baynes will control his own future with a $6.5 million player option.

When free agency opens, the chances are good that Aron Baynes will opt out of his contract and land something closer to the $10 million mark with another club.  As for Hillard, any marked improvement this year, would likely lead the Pistons to pick up his minimal option.  This will lock up 11 roster spots and take the Pistons salary cap number to approximately $96.9 million, an estimated $5 million under the projected cap.  If you add the presumptive cap hold of their potential first round pick, the Pistons will have approximately $3.5 million in cap space.

And all of this leads to the question. What to do with KCP?

Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports /

But first, a quick review of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s career:

Year 1: Caldwell-Pope’s tenure with the Pistons has had its ups and downs.  It was a shaky start as Joe Dumars selected him 8th overall in 2013, ahead of fan favorite and local hero Trey Burke who had only months before taken the University of Michigan to the NCAA finals.  However, once he took the court, he quickly won fans with his fierce motor and ferocious defense.  Unfortunately, the season ended on a low note.  After being touted as the best pure shooter in the draft, he left fans disappointed shooting only 31.9% from beyond the arc and 44.7% from the field.

Year 2: His sophomore season was much better.  In fact, Caldwell-Pope improved in almost every statistical category.  His scoring particularly improved from 5.9 points per game to 12.7 points per game.  He managed to improve his three point shooting to 34.5% from downtown, and his ability to smother opposing guards on defense helped him to solidify a full time starting role on Van Gundy’s Pistons.  At the end of the season, he was even considered a candidate for the Most Improved Player Award.

Year 3: In his third year, Caldwell-Pope continued his advancement.  He improved to 14.5 points per game and increased his steals, from 0.9 steals per game in his rookie campaign to 1.4 steals per game in year three. His play even led him to become a stakeholder in the Pistons rotation, as he consistently guarded the opposing team’s best players, averaged the most minutes on the team, and regularly contributed to the first and second units.  Although, his third year he had much to be proud of, it did mark a regression in his three point shooting, falling to a career low, 30.9%.

Playoffs & Potential: Although the Pistons were swept in a tough four game series by the future NBA Champions, Caldwell-Pope’s playoffs were magnificent.  He played fierce defense on Kyrie Irving, averaging 1.9 steals per game, and he shot the lights out, going 44.4% shooting on 12/27 from the three point line.  This may only be the beginning, if you add in the fact that Caldwell-Pope played the 4th most minutes in the league last year amongst starters, it could be argued that his shooting is destined to improve as a result of the fresher legs he will have with the Pistons newly arriving depth.

Which once again, leads to the question: What to do with KCP?

Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports /

OPTION 1: Extend His Contract Now


The pros are simple. You get KCP.  You keep this young core together.  You lock up the top 10 players on the roster as a whole for the next 3 years.  In basketball, that’s hard to do.

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In fact, team chemistry might possibly be the single most overlooked aspects of success in the NBA.  If the super teams of the 2011-2012 Miami Heat and the 2014-2015 Cleveland Cavaliers have taught us anything, it’s that it is hard for even the top players in the world to come together and gel immediately.  In fact, much of the sustained success of the San Antonio Spurs and recent success Golden State Warriors has been stated to be due to long term team chemistry.

There is something about playing together, battling together, going through the ups and downs, night after night, together, for years.  To have an opportunity to foster that with a talented young core…and putting them into a position to peak together at just the right time, could be magic.


While the pros may be simple, it doesn’t mean it will be easy.  Signing Caldwell-Pope to an extension will be expensive.  There is no way around it.  Even Though Tom Gores has shown that he is not scared of spending money, and Van Gundy and Bowers have expressed their intent and interest in working out an extension, and even as it seems that Caldwell-Pope would like to stay in Detroit; this may be harder then it appears.

The spending this summer set an all time record.  Players were handed out more money and bigger contracts than ever in history, and this may just be the start.  I am sure Caldwell-Pope and his agent Rich Paul got the memo.  Paul is no stranger to contract negotiations.  In fact, his representation of LeBron James, Tristan Thompson, Eric Bledsoe, John Wall, Ben Simmons and more, has proven over and over, he knows how to help his clients capitalize.

The Pistons would love to get Caldwell-Pope in the $15-$17 million per year range, while Paul and his client are probably aiming for something closer to the near max, $20 – $22.5 million range. Although $5 million is less than 5% of the total expected cap next year, it could have major ramifications for the Pistons.  If the Pistons end up with with approximately $98.5 million in cap space, as we arrived at above, they will only have $23.5 million to spend before going into the luxury tax.  Meaning they will be walking a very thin line when it comes to salary negotiations. Furthermore, Paul may very well push Caldwell-Pope to wait and bet on himself and the rising cap in Free Agency.

Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports /

OPTION 2: Wait for Free Agency


The pros are straightforward here, the Pistons would get another full year to evaluate Caldwell-Pope’s potential and development.  This extra time would allow for the Pistons to gage his progress, and make a more accurate assessment of his value going into Free Agency.  At the same time, the Pistons would have time to evaluate Stanley Johnson further and experiment to see if he could be lower cost alternative to keeping Caldwell-Pope.  The biggest pro is that Caldwell-Pope is a restricted free agent, meaning, Detroit will have the option to match any contract offered and have final say in whether or not he comes back to Detroit.


Unfortunately, waiting is not all up side.  If this summer was any indicator, teams are willing and eager to extend max offers to potentially “up and coming” players, especially “Three and D” guys like Caldwell-Pope.  This summer Bradley Beal, Nicolas Batum, Chandler Parson, and Harrison Barnes all took home max contracts.  While they may be starter level players with potential, none of them are necessarily guaranteed to be All-Stars.  Even if this proves to be the case, I would not expect anything to change next year.  The cap will rise again, and teams who missed out this year, will once again, have more money than they know what to do with. This is likely to lead some eager team to offering Caldwell-Pope a contract in the $25 million dollar range. 

When that happens the Pistons are only going to be in a tougher situation.  They will have to decide if Caldwell-Pope is worth a $100 million contract.  Tom Gores may prove to be hesitant to set that precedent and go into the luxury tax.  Furthermore, if Johnson shows any growth at all, the pressure from the top to let Caldwell-Pope walk may be too strong.

While on the topic, letting him walk, is the worst possible scenario.  The pistons would get nothing in return for him and even worse the potential cap left over after his departure would leave the Pistons unable to mitigate any of the loss.  On the growth path to contention, losing a promising talent without any compensation is a game plan for mediocrity.

Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

OPTION 3: Trade Him


It guarantees the Pistons don’t lose him for nothing.  As well, if he shows improvement from distance early this season and you add in his restricted free agency rights, his stock could be as high as ever.  Looking deeper, with Stanley Johnson’s potential to take over the shooting guard position and the Pistons recent roster moves, they could have a good deal of flexibility in what they are willing to take in return.

If the right team has the right need, the Pistons could package Caldwell-Pope, another starter, and a draft pick or two, for an upgrade or star in the starting lineup.  On the other hand, the Pistons could punt to the future; get a young serviceable rotation player or two and draft picks.  The smaller contracts and future picks will give the Pistons the ability to add depth in the upcoming years, even without much cap space.


There are no guarantees. There might not be much of a market for a Caldwell-Pope trade.  If teams feel that Detroit is unlikely to match a near max offer and they have the cap space to do it, they will have no incentive to give up anything.  Instead they are likely to wait and swoop in in free agency.  Furthermore, trading for future picks can be a crap shoot.  If the Pistons begin shying away from the idea of re-signing him and other teams get word of it, Detroit is sure to lose the upper hand in any trade negotiations.

Next: Detroit Pistons talk Kentavious Caldwell-Pope extension

So we are left to contemplate: What to do with KCP? What do you think? Join the conversation, leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments sections below.