What went wrong for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

AUBURN HILLS, MI - MARCH 30: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
AUBURN HILLS, MI - MARCH 30: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope /

This summer went sideways quickly for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in his negotiations with the Detroit Pistons. We’ll take a look at what went wrong.

Just over a week ago, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was a restricted free agent with the Detroit Pistons. He was poised to receive an offer sheet from a team, any team, and the Pistons were likely to grit their teeth and match that offer to retain his services.

As we all know now, the Boston Celtics made a trade with the Pistons that rendered him expendable, and off he went. On Wednesday night he signed a one-year $18 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, certainly fewer years and less money that he had anticipated entering the summer.

While it seems like a quick random event that led to this trade and his subsequent departure, this process began weeks ago, and the initial ripples had nothing to do with KCP, the Pistons or his free agency.

This series of events started on June 18th in Indianapolis. Paul George told the Indiana Pacers that he was going to depart at the end of the season, and that his preferred destination was with the Los Angeles Lakers. This caught the Lakers’ attention, as did the whispered rumors that LeBron James was considering a move to Los Angeles after his contractual obligation with the currently self-immolating Cleveland Cavaliers runs its course.

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This gave the Lakers an impetus to clear cap space in order to get two max contract slots for next season, and in order to do so they sent Timofey Mozgov‘s monstrosity of a contract to the Brooklyn Nets. The Lakers had to attach D’Angelo Russell in this deal, shipping out a young combo guard who was under team control on a rookie scale contract for the next two seasons. They received an expiring contract in the form of Brook Lopez and the 27th overall pick in this past draft.

The move of Russell to the Nets quickly stifled Brooklyn’s interest in KCP. Late in the regular season, the Nets indicated that he would be their top priority in free agency, and given the fact that they have nothing but money to spend and a history of firing massive overpay contracts at restricted free agent shooting guards coming off their rookie deal, it seemed like a match made in heaven between the two parties.

However, the Lakers had repurposed Russell to play primarily off the ball and had planned to do so alongside Lonzo Ball. With the Nets, they suddenly had a backcourt they liked in Jeremy Lin and Russell, and KCP was no longer a good fit for what they were trying to do.

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Another factor was the lowering of the salary cap from a projected $101 million (it had been projected as high as $108 million 12 months ago) to $99 million. While a drop of less than two percent seems like a menial reduction, it tightened the purse strings of all but the most cash-laden teams. With less money to go around than last year’s free agency bonanza, and even less money this summer than expected, belts were cinched around the league.

The Philadelphia 76ers were a team in need of a two guard, and they were a team that had a fortune to spend. They quickly took themselves out of the KCP market in the early stages of free agency when they signed J.J. Redick to a one-year $23 million contract.

It was around this point that the Pistons began to play a role in this progression when they signed Langston Galloway to more than the tax-payers mid-level exception of $5.2 million (they paid him $6.67 million). This hard capped them, meaning if they paid KCP anything more than $17 million they would have to cut salary first.

With the Sixers out of the market and the Nets being preoccupied with their new backcourt and already with a max offer out to Otto Porter, the Pistons refused to bid against themselves. As a result, there was simply less money available than KCP and his camp had expected entering free agency.

Things reached a boiling point when the Boston Celtics signed Gordon Hayward to a max contract on July 4th. The Celtics needed to cut about $3 million in order to consummate the deal, and suddenly the Pistons’ most valuable contract, that of Marcus Morris, became the best fit in order to both upgrade the two guard spot and take care of the Celtics salary issues.

Just like that, Marcus Morris was gone, Avery Bradley was a Piston, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had been rendered expendable. Of all possible options, the one where KCP walked for nothing was by far the least likely.

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Thanks to a series of unexpected events involving the Los Angeles Lakers, Brooklyn Nets, Indiana Pacer, Boston Celtics and the lowered salary cap, KCP hit the road and was quickly renounced by the Detroit Pistons so he could move on and maximize his free agency however he saw fit.

In perhaps the greatest nod to chaos, the Los Angeles Lakers now had cap space and a positional need thanks to having shipped out D’Angelo Russell, so where better for KCP to sign a one-year $18 million deal than with the Lakers, where this all began?