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I mean, kudos to him and his agent Rich Paul, who clearly did his job, but Lakers fans know what I’m talking about. He’s a good dude but a barely .400 shooter is not the hallmark of an untouchable player.
Then came the NBA Finals and a three-game stretch that elevated him from target to treasure. In fact, a crucial Game 4 — and the series —may have pivoted on Caldwell-Pope's late back-to-back burst that moved the L.A. lead from two points to seven in what LeBron James would later describe as a must-win.
Now that KCP is reportedly opting out of his contract to become a free agent this sum…, er, fall, the tune has changed from “don’t shoot” to “don’t go.”
It’s easy to see him or Danny Green miss an open shot and in our disappointment forget he’s a lot better than just about everyone else in the world. So while tweeting “KCP sucks!” may feel good in the moment, there wasn’t a moment in which that was actually true. And now that the confetti has been left behind in Florida, the work on repeating begins.
That starts with Anthony Davis, of course. The rumor mill is already aflutter about trades for Chris Paul or Bradley Beal. My hope is that the once-maligned KCP doesn’t get squeezed out because he worked so hard to fit in.
“I try to stay within myself,” Caldwell-Pope said about his hot stretch in the Finals. “If I’m on fire or not I still try to play within my game, take my normal shots that I usually get. If I’m open, shoot it. I try to stay away from being too excited.”
The arrival of James was doubtlessly the turning point for a franchise in the midst of one of the worst five-season stretches in NBA history. But give Caldwell-Pope credit for signing up back when the Lakers didn’t have chips to be down. He, along with Kyle Kuzma and Alex Caruso, are the team's longest tenured players. But unlike the other two, KCP’s signing was motivated as a ploy to lure his fellow, more famous Klutch Sports client.
Caldwell-Pope rejects the rumors. “I didn’t have anything to do with [James coming],” he said. “We have the same agent but he has his own team, his own mind. He already knew in his mind where he wanted to be and where he wanted to go. I had nothing to do with it.
“I came because I thought it was a good fit. Playing fast, getting up and down the floor, fastbreak layups and transition threes… I felt my game matched. Obviously when he came I was excited. Who wouldn’t be excited to play with LeBron?”
We’ll save that conversation for another column.
As for now, the focus needs to be on the players who do want to be part of this brewing magic, the kind of players who are not afraid of the pressure that comes with being a Laker or being held accountable for falling short of expectations.
I would say players like KCP.
When James sent the now-famous group text emphasizing the importance of winning Game 4, Caldwell-Pope said he was already locked in. However, when you look at his three performances that preceded the text (9.6 ppg on 29% shooting) and afterward (16 ppg on 45% shooting) clearly something was unlocked.
“I already had the motivation because I knew how I performed in Games 1, 2 and 3,” he said. “I knew what I needed to do. I watched and re-watched film [trying to understand] what defenses were giving me and figuring out how to make quicker decisions.”
It’s an aspect of his professionalism that should not be overlooked. Whether he’s starting or coming off the bench, hitting his shots or struggling, his effort has consistently been there as a Laker. That is something he confesses he could not say about himself before.
"As a rookie [with the Detroit Pistons in 2013-14]," he said. "I don’t feel like I gave it 100 percent.
“I’ve learned to stay in the moment. Stay focused, take it day-by-day and try not to get ahead of myself. Do what the coaches ask, try to do what the team needs, and give it my all. That’s my mind-set now.”
If he does opt for free agency, there will be takers for a 27-year-old 3-and-D guy who came up big on the biggest stage. The NBA is a business and no one can blame him for going after the bag. He should grab the purple and gold one.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.