Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy on former Piston Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Rod Beard, The Detroit News
Los Angeles — It was almost like old times for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The former Pistons guard, who signed in the offseason with the Los Angeles Lakers as a free agent, made his way over to the visiting locker room to catch up with his former teammates.
After he helped the Lakers to a 113-93 win over the Pistons, Caldwell-Pope — dressed as Steve Urkel for Halloween — stood at the entrance to the locker room, grinning, with suspenders and pants showing his socks.
It was fun for him and he got to see many of his good friends, with whom he had played several years with the Pistons.
“This is family still; it’s just like playing against brothers,” Caldwell-Pope said. “I knew it was going to be competitive and I wanted to prepare (the Lakers) to come out here and fight.”
Caldwell-Pope finished with 13 points and six rebounds and hit 2-of-5 on 3-pointers. It was his quiet leadership that the Lakers valued in signing him to a one-year deal worth about $17.7 million.
In his fifth season, he’s looked upon as a veteran who can lead by example and help the Lakers’ young roster with learning the ropes of professionalism and getting prepared for the rigors of the NBA.
He honed his craft with the Pistons, but now is counted on in a different role to help the likes of rookie Lonzo Ball and youngsters Larry Nance Jr., Kyle Kuzma and Julius Randle learn how how to handle themselves.
So far, it’s working.
In the first four games, he averaged 10.8 points and 4.5 rebounds, but hasn’t found his shooting stroke yet, hitting just 28 percent on 3-pointers.
“He’s been great for us. A big part of our defense is what he’s brought and we’re making some strides in that. He practices hard, has great habits and is an aggressive defender,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “He likes to get up into the ball and when you’re playing with so many young players, when they get to see him do it every day, they learn better and quicker from that.”
That new role requires Caldwell-Pope to step out of his comfort zone. In his time with the Pistons, he was quiet and reserved and didn’t speak up much, letting others step to the forefront. Now, he’s the one whom the young players look to for his wise counsel and experience.
“I can’t be as quiet as I was; I have to be more vocal and just stay in their ear. I have a lot of young fellas over here and I have to try to be that leader,” Caldwell-Pope said. “They look at me as their vet — and I’m only 24. Looking up to me inspires me to be that leader.”
Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy reiterated that the Pistons didn’t part with Caldwell-Pope; rather, he and his agents were seeking other offers and when the opportunity to acquire Avery Bradley surfaced, they chose that option over giving Caldwell-Pope a bigger contract.
When Lakers team president Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka sought out Caldwell-Pope, they coveted his defensive intensity and leadership, and they like what they’ve gotten so far.
“He’s been great to work with, as far as following what we’re trying to get done as a coaching staff and keep the ball moving on the offensive end,” Walton said. “He’s had a couple off shooting nights and we’re not concerned about that.
“He’s been great to have on the team.”