EL SEGUNDO – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope seemed destined to join the Los Angeles Lakers.
Magic Johnson, president of basketball operations for the Lakers, first learned about Caldwell-Pope on a recommendation from his father, Earvin Sr. Caldwell-Pope was Johnson’s father’s favorite Detroit Pistons player, and Johnson repeatedly received calls from his dad saying he had to watch Caldwell-Pope play.
So when Caldwell-Pope became a free agent in the offseason, Magic and Lakers general manager took a hard look at him. Last week, the Lakers signed him to a one-year, $18 million contract.
“The two of us could not taylor-stitch more of a perfect two-guard,” Lakers general manager Pelinka said of Caldwell-Pope on Tuesday during an introductory press conference. “He has a mentality that is consistent with what Magic brought to the table, what Kobe Bryant brought to the table. KCP is about winning and he’s about playing the game the right way.”
Caldwell-Pope sent four seasons with the Pistons. Earlier this month, Detroit renounced its rights to Caldwell-Pope, making him an unrestricted free agent.
Sometime later, Rich Paul, Caldwell-Pope’s agent, contacted Johnson and Pelinka and expressed his client’s interest in signing a one-year deal with the Lakers. Johnson said it took one day to finalize the transaction, and that others have called the signing of Caldwell-Pope “a steal.”
“We never thought we’d have an opportunity,” Johnson said. “But we’re so happy. And my dad is happy.”
Caldwell-Pope averaged 11.7 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.6 assists with the Pistons, and was known for being a two-way player. It was his abilities at both sides of the court that had the Lakers interested, but Johnson also liked his toughness.
“I wanted somebody mean and tough that we can count on to get that big stop for us, fourth quarter, shut somebody down,” Johnson said.
Johnson also spoke to the style of play he wants to see from the Lakers, and said Caldwell-Pope fits the team’s desire to “run, run, run, run, run.” Caldwell-Pope agreed.
“I think that’s part of my game – just running the wing, defending,” Caldwell-Pope said. “I’m good for running. I run every day. That’s me. I like to run. When you get the rebound, I’m already gone down the court. When we get a stop, I’m gone. So I’m just so excited to get ready for this season.”
Caldwell-Pope averaged 33.3 minutes per game last season, per basketball-reference.com. Pelinka said he envisions Caldwell-Pope getting significant playing time due to his versatility.
“I think (Lakers head coach) Luke Walton has a vision for positionless basketball,” Pelinka said. “So not only is he going to play a lot of minutes, but he’s gonna play a lot of minutes at different positions and do different things.”
While Caldwell-Pope is only 24 years old, he’s entering his fifth season in the NBA, making him one of the players with the most experience on the team. He said he wants to bring leadership to the Lakers.
“Just try to get the guys’ motor going (and) try to get them going in different ways,” Caldwell-Pope said.
Johnson said Caldwell-Pope has already proven himself in he NBA as a member of the Pistons, and that could positively influence the younger players on the Lakers.
“We wanted somebody who could be the example to the others guys,” Johnson said. “So he’s one of those guys.”
Since his arrival in Los Angeles, Caldwell-Pope has worked with some of the team’s coaches, Pelinka said. Caldwell-Pope seemed eager to start working with his new teammates.
“I feel like I bring a lot to the table,” Caldwell-Pope said. “I play both sides of the ball. I’m ready to get to it.”