There is a chance—a strong one, really—that Lakers guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope returns next year, takes a solid contract with the team and is part of their NBA title defense. Caldwell-Pope is a Klutch Sports client, after all, and Klutch has the Lakers’ two big stars, LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The agency’s head, Rich Paul, has a lot of say over what the Lakers do and how they conduct business.
The problem, though, is that Caldwell-Pope likely wants to get paid. And at age 27, coming off the most efficient season of his career and with the scent of an NBA champion still on him, now is the time for Caldwell-Pope.
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He could have an irresistible suitor, too. As Shams Charania of The Athletic reports, Caldwell-Pope could join a younger team ready to take a step up in the East.
As Charania wrote:
After establishing himself as a key player heading into next season, Caldwell-Pope is expected to decline his $8.5 million player option, sources said. There’s significant mutual interest between Caldwell-Pope and the Lakers, but there will be some external suitors. A team such as Atlanta — searching for productive veterans around All-Star Trae Young — could emerge with interest.
Caldwell-Pope Showed Value With the Lakers
The Lakers would be right to want Caldwell-Pope, who is a willing role player, back next season. He 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 conference finals, when he averaged 11.2 points.
He was very efficient during the season, too, shooting 46.7% from the field and 38.5% from the 3-point line. He 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.
He is also an outstanding perimeter defender.
“I just pride myself on my defense,” Caldwell-Pope said. “My defense gets my offense going. I’ve been playing that way since college. Just try to get defensive stops, get out in transition, easy layups, either to get to the free-throw line or transition threes, open up my game. I try to start on the defensive end, get my energy going, get my teammates to either follow behind with the energy, and the offense is going to come eventually.”
Hawks’ Interest in Caldwell-Pope Is Very Real
But that is also why the Hawks could zero in on him as a free-agent target. Caldwell-Pope is still young but has enough experience to be a veteran leader for an Atlanta team ready to make inroads in the Eastern Conference. It helps, too, that Caldwell-Pope is a Georgia native who went to the University of Georgia and would welcome a return home.
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 budding star Young at point guard drawing defensive attention, Caldwell-Pope would figure to get big numbers shooting in the corners.
The Hawks, with more than $40 million in cap space, are also free to give Caldwell-Pope a major contract. One league source suggested he could attract a contract worth three years and about $35-40 million. The Lakers, seeking to protect their cap space for next offseason, would be reluctant to pay Caldwell-Pope what the Hawks might be willing to fork over.
And while the Klutch Sports angle is a big one in getting KCP back to the Lakers, it is worth noting that Young is also a Klutch client.
Caldwell-Pope would like to come back to the Lakers, and the team would like to have him. But the finances, and the lure of home, could prove difficult for L.A. to overcome.