Kentavious Caldwell-Pope: 'Been waiting for this moment for awhile.' (Todd Kirkland / Associated Press)
Orlando — As Kentavious Caldwell-Pope rose to take a fourth-quarter, mid-range jumper in the Pistons’ summer-league opener, he got pushed in the chest, causing him to lose his balance, and the shot rimmed out.
“Hey … that’s a foul, ref!” Caldwell-Pope demonstratively barked coming down the floor, a rarity for a player who hasn’t been known to say much.
But when your team and its new regime agrees to terms with Jodie Meeks on a $20 million deal, placing yourself in direct competition with him, it’s not surprising to see different emotions triggered with a second-year player.
Pistons summer-league coach Bob Beyer saw Caldwell-Pope’s engine running hot Saturday, so the two had a little chat at the next stoppage of play.
“You could see out there -- we had a little talk -- his emotions almost went too far out there,” Beyer said. “Some guys don’t naturally have that; he does.”
Caldwell-Pope led the Pistons with 26 points and six steals in the team’s 95-89 win over the Houston Rockets -- a game Caldwell-Pope admitted he had been looking forward to for a very long time.
“Yeah, something like that,” Caldwell-Pope said. “Been waiting for this moment for awhile. Since the last game of the season. I just took that as motivation and started working hard for the summer.”
Caldwell-Pope, the eighth pick in the 2013 draft, insisted the change was birthed from the last game of last season, when he scored 30 points against the Oklahoma City Thunder, a breakout party that came 81 games too late.
He heard all the chatter last season, and was disappointed in his up-and-down play. Sometimes he looked akin to a chicken with its head cut off last year, going 100 mph with no plan on offense, or standing in a corner, waiting on a pass to come to him — passes that often never came.
“I had a chance to get through 29 games (of film) last season,” Beyer said. “And in Charlotte we saw him on three other occasions. You’re very impressed with his athletic ability, he has a good high motor, he competes out there. And you look at the things he can do out there … he can get out in the open floor.
“It’s his length and aggressiveness. He has a defensive mindset. Some guys don’t naturally have that (emotions); he does. His competitiveness, his will to win, is very strong. Some guys you wish had that.”
Saturday there was no waiting, and certainly no skittishness. Caldwell-Pope was used in a variety of ways by the coaching staff, coming off screens, creating his own offense and doing a lot of ballhandling -- things he didn’t do last season.
“I’m just trying to get more comfortable with the ball in my hands, and help my teammates out by being more vocal,” he said. “It’s something I really worked on this summer. Coming off screens, being patient, looking for my shot and my teammates’ shot. Just looking to be more comfortable with the ball in my hands.”
It was clearly an adjustment to the NBA last season, and there will be another adjustment time around, with Stan Van Gundy running the show on the sidelines and in the front office.
Last season, as he was shuffled in and out of the starting lineup, he went into a funk, appearing to lose his confidence.
The quiet kid got quieter, and when he got his opportunities, you could tell the game was weighing on him. It resulted in him shooting 40 percent from the field and 32 percent on 3-pointers -- the most disappointing part of his rookie season, in his words.
He still had flashes of activity — chasedown blocks on the fast break and the occasional score in transition. But Saturday felt like Caldwell-Pope was trying to reinvent himself, and with the lack of NBA experience on the summer-league roster, it was easy to be assertive without forcing the action.
“That’s one thing he worked on -- being more assertive,” said Peyton Siva, his backcourt mate. “He’s here to showcase why he was picked where he was picked. He did a great job knocking down shots and creating shots off the dribble.”
Defensively, he was all over the floor, and got deflections when the game was hanging in the balance, tied at 86 with a minute left. In a quiet arena closed to the public, it was often Caldwell-Pope’s voice everyone heard.
An observer said afterward, “I never knew he could talk.”
“It’s just coming more natural,” Caldwell-Pope said. “We have a lot of different players on our team right now. We have to learn how to communicate, how to talk to each other.”
Caldwell-Pope unleashed a wry smile when asked about the potential training camp competition between himself and his new teammate, Meeks, and almost couldn’t help himself.
“I am looking forward to (camp),” he said. “I mean, getting my game better for the season coming up and training camp.”