There is no doubt that, after a season in which he solidified himself as a starter on an NBA championship team and was essentially the third-best player on the Lakers throughout their playoff run in the league’s Orlando bubble, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is due for a raise. That is why he has chosen to opt out of the final year of his contract, which was set to pay him $8.5 million.
The Lakers have the capability to bring him back and pay him what he wants, even though they are over the salary cap, because they maintain his Bird Rights, an exception to the salary cap that allows teams to retain their own players. That has led to speculation that L.A. intends to bring him back, with a bulked-up payday.
But according to ESPN’s Lakers beat writer Dave McMenamin, it is still possible that KCP could be used as a trade chip for a major upgrade on the wing: four-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan, now with the Spurs.
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As McMenamin said on The Jump:
(Caldwell-Pope) should be looking at a salary in the $12-14 million range. The Lakers, because they have his Bird Rights, can offer that to him or he could be an an attractive sign-and-trade piece. Things might not be entirely dead in terms of their interest in a guy like DeMar DeRozan in San Antonio. Somehow, they have to be able to get up to a certain salary figure to acquire him, though, and that would require them to put a big offer sheet in the lap of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
A Trade for DeRozan Remains Complicated for Lakers
It would be simple enough for the Lakers to pay Caldwell-Pope, say, $14 million per year and bring him back to the purple-and-gold.
It would be more complicated to get Caldwell-Pope the kind of contract that could make it easier for the Lakers to swap him to San Antonio for DeRozan. Because both the Lakers and Spurs are over the cap, the contracts going out to San Antonio and coming in for the Lakers would have to come close to matching—within about $5 million. DeRozan is slated to make $27 million next season, so the Lakers would have to build a deal that sends out $22 million.
That would not have been too difficult with Danny Green’s $15 million contract on hand. But with Green gone to Oklahoma City in the Dennis Schroder deal, the Lakers would have a hard time building a trade package that can reach the $22 million needed to bring in DeRozan.
That is where a sign-and-trade deal for Caldwell-Pope gets interesting. If Caldwell-Pope were to get a deal that starts in the range of $16-18 million, a big jump for him even with his solid play throughout the postseason, the $22 million goal for a DeRozan swap gets easier to reach. It’s too much to pay Caldwell-Pope, but the deal could be structured to descend—most contracts go up in value with each year but teams can negotiate a deal that starts high and comes down in the years after.
As McMenamin stated, that keeps the possibility of a DeRozan-Lakers deal alive, even with Green off the books.
Spurs Have a History of Shunning Lakers in Trade Talks
But there is a bigger question here: Why would the Spurs want to get involved in sending DeRozan to the Lakers?
That question is two-fold. First, DeRozan was San Antonio’s leading scorer, at 22.1 points per game last season. He has flaws—he is a notably bad 3-point shooter (he made 25.7% from the arc last year)—but he is still an incredibly efficient midrange scorer. The Spurs would sink without him.
They probably could be persuaded to deal DeRozan, who can be a free agent next summer, is unlikely to come back to San Antonio and is 31 years old, if they get back at least one young asset in return. But the Lakers are short on young players and draft picks. The Lakers would have to include Kyle Kuzma with Caldwell-Pope in a deal, but even that might not be enough to get DeRozan to L.A.
That could change if there is a third team involved, but again, the Lakers would need to find a team that was high on Kuzma to make that work.
The bigger hurdle could be the Spurs’ organizational disdain for all things Lakers. Remember, coach Gregg Popovich spent much of his career battling the Lakers as his top rival in the Western Conference and he has long been stung by the insistence from former Lakers coach Phil Jackson that the Spurs’ 1999 championship deserved an asterisk because it came after a lockout.
Two years ago, when the Spurs had Kawhi Leonard on the trade market, San Antonio refused to consider offers from the Lakers, unwilling to give their star player to the franchise’s longtime nemesis. Leonard was sent to Toronto for DeRozan.
Now, even with the Spurs in need of a rebuild, it seems unlikely that they would willingly help the Lakers in their championship defense. KCP could be used in a sign-and-trade, no doubt, but in a deal for DeRozan could be a longshot.