Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was looking for a big payday in free agency. By many projections, he was in line possibly to get a maximum offer of four years and $106 million from another team, which the Pistons would have been able to match.
Caldwell-Pope got a new contract, but not quite that big, agreeing to a one-year deal for $18 million with the Los Angeles Lakers, according to a report by ESPN’s Brian Windhorst on Wednesday morning.
He played four years with the Pistons after being drafted eighth overall in 2013. Caldwell-Pope became a restricted free agent last summer and was looking to cash in on the escalating salaries in the market this year.
When his agent, Rich Paul, and the Pistons couldn’t come to an agreement — some reports indicated the Pistons offered four years and $80 million — he looked elsewhere to get a bigger offer sheet.
The Pistons changed course last week, acquiring guard Avery Bradley from the Boston Celtics for Marcus Morris and rescinding Caldwell-Pope’s qualifying offer of $5 million. That made Caldwell-Pope an unrestricted free agent, open to sign with any team; by that time, the free-agent market was tepid, with big-dollar deals drying up the available market.
Pistons president Stan Van Gundy said Monday that the Pistons were still looking to retain Caldwell-Pope, despite the fact that they would have been far above the salary cap and into the luxury tax. When a more economical opportunity arose, they moved in a different direction.
“It was never a point where it was a matter of what KCP was worth. It was not us saying he’s not worth that,” Van Gundy said. “It was a matter of balancing that we can get Avery Bradley and manage our luxury-tax situation a lot better, which allows us to do some other things and to keep flexibility and so that trade-off when the deal came up is when we decided to make it.
“It was not a strategy at the beginning of the summer that we don't want to pay KCP.”
Pistons owner Tom Gores had indicated during the season that the Pistons would have been willing to go into the luxury tax to re-sign Caldwell-Pope, which would have been the case if he had gotten a max offer sheet from another team. That also would have meant the Pistons would have needed to trade a significant piece of the roster to make cap room.
With the Bradley acquisition, things didn’t come down to that and the Pistons gained financial flexibility as well as roster flexibility to play some of their younger players.
“I’ll re-emphasize we've got great ownership and Tom was more than willing to go into the tax if he had to,” Van Gundy said. “It wasn't a financial thing where we had to stay out of the tax; we wanted the flexibility and we could do it with having a very, very, very good starting shooting guard so we were able to accomplish all of those things — and that’s what made the decision for us.”
After Caldwell-Pope’s departure, Van Gundy has just one player, center Andre Drummond, remaining from the roster he began overhauling three years ago when he took the job. Caldwell-Pope was having the best season of his career, until a shoulder injury in January caused him to miss four games — and derailed the rest of his season.
In the 39 games before the injury, he was averaging 14.9 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3 assists, hitting 40 percent on 3-pointers. In the 36 games following, he posted 12.9 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists, shooting 30 percent beyond the arc.