With NBA free agency upon us, or almost upon us, or maybe almost upon us—depending on how negotiations between the union and the league unfold this week—the Lakers will be in a good position to take care of their top priority, a new contract for star big man Anthony Davis.
But what remains unclear is how their second-most important priority, keeping their role players on board and replacing those who depart, will play out. And one of their most important role players in the postseason was wing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, expected to opt out of the final year and $8.5 million of his contract so that he can test the market.
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According to former Memphis Grizzlies executive John Hollinger, now an NBA insider for The Athletic, Caldwell-Pope’s future is likely as a Lakers returnee. But one team looms with the potential to give Caldwell-Pope the kind of contract that the Lakers can’t match—the up-and-coming Hawks, whom Hollinger describes as having “oodles of cap room and need 3-and-D wings desperately.”
The Hawks should have about $40 million in cap space this offseason.
Caldwell-Pope Would Be Major Part of Lakers Title Defense
KCP certainly has been happy with the Lakers and having a chance to win a ring in Los Angeles alongside LeBron James has bolstered his reputation around the league. He would be a big part of the team’s repeat effort next season.
While Caldwell-Pope was uneven over the course of the playoffs, but he showed up well for the Lakers in the final two rounds of the championship chase.
He is a willing role player who defends hard and was very good in the NBA Finals against the Heat, averaging 12.8 points, third on the team after James and Davis. He was also the No. 3 option against the Nuggets in the Western Conference finals, when he averaged 11.2 points.
After a sloppy start to the season in which he shot 35.8% from the field and 22.7% from the 3-point line—he was the subject of fan ire and trade rumors because of that—KCP recovered and posted a solid season. He shot 46.7% from the field and 38.5% from the 3-point line.
Caldwell-Pope had to sacrifice overall shot attempts (he had averaged 10.3 field-goal attempts in his first six seasons but only 7.3 per game with James and Davis) but he responded by making them more frequently.
Atlanta Hawks Are Caldwell-Pope’s Hometown Team
While the potential for a Lakers return would be the obvious sentimental choice for Caldwell-Pope—not only for a chance at another ring but because he is represented by Klutch Sports, the agency that represents James and Davis—the Hawks cannot be ruled out.
Certainly, as a veteran role player alongside dynamic point guard Trae Young, Caldwell-Pope would have an excellent chance to take on a bigger role. Defensively, he would help the team address a major issue from last season. The Hawks allowed opponents to shoot 36.3% from the 3-point line last year, 10th-worst in the NBA. Caldwell-Pope could help change that.
He is also an excellent shooter on corner 3-pointers—40.2% on his career. With Young at point guard drawing defensive attention, Caldwell-Pope would figure to get big numbers shooting in the corners.
Oh, and Young, too, is a Klutch Sports client.
And another important factor: Caldwell-Pope was born in Georgia, went to high school in Greenville, Georgia, and attended the University of Georgia for two seasons. The Lakers have sentimental lure for him, but beware—so do the Hawks.