One of the league’s more underrated 3-and-D shooting guards who’s just now entering his prime, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, will have a complicated market once he hits unrestricted free agency this summer due to the lack of spending money league-wide.
The Georgia product is coming off a solid year that saw him average 13.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 2.1 triples nightly on respectable 42.6/38.3/78.9 shooting splits.
Those decent totals, plus the fact he’s still just 25 years old, could help Caldwell-Pope land long-term security this offseason, though not at the big-money price that many similarly talented free agents received in the summer of 2016.
Nevertheless, Caldwell-Pope could help two types of teams: rebuilding franchises and those ready to contend for, at worst, postseason action. He’s young enough to join the former kind of squad without being an awkward fit on anyone’s timeline, while possessing the requisite skill set to contribute on the latter type as well.
We broke down Caldwell-Pope’s likeliest landing spots.
San Antonio Spurs
It could be time for the San Antonio Spurs to find a new two-guard.
After converting on an astounding 42.3 percent of his three-pointers over his first four seasons in Texas, Danny Green has hit just 35.7 percent of them over his past three. Coupled with his worsening defensive prowess, Green quietly played just 20.6 minutes per game in the playoffs this year, his lowest total since his sophomore campaign.
Accordingly, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Green choose to opt out of the final year of his deal and hit unrestricted free agency this offseason in search of a better situation.
San Antonio will have some options to replace him, as the shooting-guard market won’t be totally barren among players set to be available.
One such player could be Caldwell-Pope.
Though not the three-point shooter Green was in his prime, Caldwell-Pope is coming off a career campaign from beyond the arc, hitting 38.3 percent of his triples as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers in 2017-18 – his most accurate mark since reaching the NBA.
The 6-foot-5 guard is also an underrated stopper on the less glamorous side of the floor, with a keen aptitude for getting skinny, going around screens and staying glued to his man.
If the Spurs believe Caldwell-Pope’s three-point prowess is sustainable (or even if they don’t, since San Antonio assistant Chip Engelland is one of the league’s premiere shooting coaches, who is credited with making Kawhi Leonard’s outside jumper lethal), they could see Caldwell-Pope as a good fit for what they need if they lose Green.
As far as the financials go, it’s likely the Spurs will have the full mid-level exception, worth roughly $8.6 million, to offer Caldwell-Pope, which should be enough to get a deal done. Especially if they offer it for two years, with a player option on the second year, i.e., the exact deal Rudy Gay signed to join San Antonio last summer.
A deal of that size may seem lacking for a player like Caldwell-Pope, but it could be about the richest he gets on annual-average-value basis. There won’t be much money flowing around the Association this summer, so the monstrous contracts we saw other role players receive over recent offseasons will be a thing of the past, at least for the foreseeable future.
For reference, Lou Williams, a far deadlier scorer than Caldwell-Pope who also has a lot more playoff experience, re-signed with the Los Angeles Clippers for three years and $24 million before the regular season ended.
Caldwell-Pope should be happy to get a similar deal, especially if the offer comes from a franchise as stable (at least until recently) as the Spurs.
Los Angeles Clippers
Speaking of the Clippers, they’re another team who could find themselves needing a new 2-guard this summer.
As part of the Blake Griffin deal, Los Angeles received Avery Bradley in the package from the Detroit Pistons. Bradley was only able to play in six games for head coach Doc Rivers’ team before shutting things down due to an injury to his abdominal area. Even before that, though, Los Angeles were reportedly interested in dealing their new shooting guard at the trade deadline, so clearly, they’re not totally enamored with the 27-year-old.
If they do move on from him this summer (possible, as Bradley will be an unrestricted free agent), they could look to replace him with a shooting guard with similar skills, albeit one who’s two years younger.
The Clippers are in the midst of a sort of rebuild that has them well-positioned to win games, but also acquire young talent. They’ve got two late lottery picks in the 2018 draft, along with a slew of players, chief among them Tobias Harris, who are just now hitting their peaks.
Caldwell-Pope would fit in nicely with that burgeoning core.
Financially, the other Los Angeles team will have the mid-level exception to offer the five-year vet, just like San Antonio.
As long as Caldwell-Pope signs for just one year or gets a player option on the second season of any contract, it would make sense to see him agree to that price, as it would allow him to test the market out again in the summer of 2019 when a lot more teams will have available cap space to use.
For now, he may be stuck at around the price range (between $8 and $9 million annually).
One of the league’s worst three-point shooting teams last season and a franchise looking to get back to the playoffs, the Memphis Grizzlies could eye Caldwell-Pope as part of the solution to both problems.
The athletic guard is, after all, coming off a career season from deep, and for a team that shot just 35.2 percent on three-pointers in 2017-18 anything, even Caldwell-Pope’s streaky shooting, could help.
With Mike Conley returning, Marc Gasol having a healthier relationship with his head coach and with the No. 4 overall pick in 2018 en route, Memphis could very well find themselves in contention for a Top 8 seed in the Western Conference again next year.
They just need more help at the 2-spot.
The Grizzlies won’t find that help in the draft, as we currently don’t project any shooting guard to go higher than 10th overall, and they certainly don’t have the solution on their roster at the moment. Marshon Brooks did show promise late in the season, but he’s already 29 years old; how relied upon can he be moving forward?
A player like Caldwell-Pope, with his underrated-but-nasty defensive toughness, could fit right in with the Grit-and-Grind Memphis squads of yesteryear, and help the Grizzlies recapture that identity moving forward.
Like the prior two clubs mentioned as potential Caldwell-Pope suitors, Memphis will only have the standard mid-level exception to offer the 2-guard. But, as also previously mentioned, that should be enough to land him as long as they don’t try and tie Caldwell-Pope down for longer than one season.
Los Angeles Lakers
Due to a variety of factors, when discussing a player’s free agency options, the best bet is usually a return to his current team.
Caldwell-Pope’s situation, however, isn’t quite that simple.
The Lakers are set to have the most cap room available of any team this offseason. And with that space, it’s not exactly a secret that team president Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka plan to go after the two biggest names on every team’s board: LeBron James and Paul George.
Besides the two superstar forwards, Los Angeles also has to worry about re-signing Julius Randle, who, for the first time in his career, looked like a potential franchise cornerstone in 2017-18.
Whatever ends up happening with the Lakers’ three most important free-agent targets will then affect what they do with their own free agents, primarily Isaiah Thomas, Brook Lopez and, yes, Caldwell-Pope.
Because of how hard it is to predict what goes down this summer (many pundits believe it’ll be particularly hectic offseason), Los Angeles’ plans with Caldwell-Pope at the moment are quite foggy.
And that won’t change until signatures start hitting dotted lines.
If the Lakers only manage to bring Randle back while missing out on James and George, it’s likely they’ll work hard on re-signing the rest of their core, including Caldwell-Pope, on one-year deals, just so they can try to strike gold in free agency next summer – when players like Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard and Kyrie Irving may come available.
That strategy isn’t mere speculation, by the way. Johnson publicly stated that would be the franchise’s likeliest course of action if they strike out this offseason.
You can find Frank Urbina on Twitter @FrankUrbina_.
HoopsHype’s Alberto de Roa contributed to this article.