What impact did Kentavious Caldwell-Pope have with the Lakers this season?
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s job takes him away from his family often.
So in December, when a judge’s order kept him away from his family on the days he wasn’t with the Lakers, he and his wife were able to shield their 5-year-old son from the reality a child that age might not have been ready for. When little Kenzo Caldwell-Pope asked where his dad was, they told him he was on a long trip.
The extra time away from his family was the hardest part of this season for Caldwell-Pope.
“I’m glad he understood that I travel a lot,” Caldwell-Pope said. “He didn’t feel like I left him. I’m always traveling and I’m always working so he knows where I’m at and I’ll still be able to get to see him.”
The contract that Caldwell-Pope signed to play for the Lakers was a stopgap in many ways. Caldwell-Pope had entered free agency late when the Detroit Pistons renounced their rights to him in mid-July. The Lakers had only one-year contracts to offer. They gave their remaining cap space, $18 million, to Caldwell-Pope for a one-year deal that would allow the fourth-year guard to hit the market again as soon as possible, after taking home a nice one-year salary. There was the added bonus for the Lakers that Caldwell-Pope’s agent, Rich Paul, also represents LeBron James.
For many reasons, the season didn’t go as either party expected. But by the end of the season, Caldwell-Pope had become one of the team’s more reliable offensive players, and a solid presence defensively. He’ll go into free agency with his options open.
“I could’ve done more at the beginning of the season,” Caldwell-Pope said. “We started off slow. Everybody started off slow including myself. Trying to figure out chemistry. Other than that I picked it up as the season went on. I feel like I finished the season better than I played my first four years. I think I left it all on the table, showed what I can do.”
From purely a basketball standpoint, there was an adjustment process for Caldwell-Pope. He had always been a strong one-on-one defender, but the Lakers system required players to switch on screens, which he had never done. Offensively, their high-octane style with a premium on passing until the open shot materialized, was also new.
But basketball wasn’t all that hampered Caldwell-Pope.
In December, he left a Lakers trip for a court appearance to address a probation violation that arose from a scheduling conflict. Over the summer, Caldwell-Pope missed a court-ordered drug test that stemmed from a March 2017 arrest on suspicion of driving under the influence. He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of allowing someone to operate a motor vehicle under the influence and was sentenced to 12 months of probation that included strict travel provisions and drug and alcohol testing requirements.
Caldwell-Pope didn’t expect his court appearance to result in a jail sentence. But he called the Lakers as soon as he got the order and they all set to work in getting the court to allow him to serve his sentence at the Seal Beach Detention Center with work release.
That situation dominated his thoughts.
“I couldn’t really get it out of my head,” Caldwell-Pope said. “It was stuck with me. I want to thank the Laker organization. They helped me through it. They had my back throughout the whole situation. Once it was over I could just focus on basketball that’s how my game just turned around. … They pretty much never turned their back on me.”
With his sentence behind him, Caldwell-Pope began playing better. After the All-Star break, he became one of the league’s best three-point shooters. He began to fit better with the Lakers’ system overall.
“You’ll see so many times, he’ll come off, we’ll run plays for him and instead of jacking up a shot he makes the extra pass,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “We’re always preaching the swing-swing and he’s one of our best guys at making that extra pass. A lot of times that extra pass still hasn’t gotten back to him. I tell him we notice it, we appreciate it.”
Caldwell-Pope isn’t sure what he’ll want to do this summer or what opportunities will shake out for him during his second consecutive free-agency summer. He does know he’ll be more calm this time around, putting his trust in Paul.
And as for the James question, Caldwell-Pope chuckled at his mention. When he talks to James, he tries not to bother him about what his decision will be.
“We talk but it’s not about what his decision will be, his making up his mind,” Caldwell-Pope said. “I try to get advice.”
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli
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