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Does Caldwell-Pope have the character to step up for the Lakers?

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It is not new news that Kentavious Caldwell-Pope spent 25 days in jail in 2017. We are neither surprised that he was allowed out on work release to play for the Lakers. The question that is interesting is why has this recently made the headlines again? Why are people interested in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and history with the franchise? It is likely something to do with the Lakers search for a solution to problems with the roster, as Avery Bradley won’t play for fear of the impact on his family. Caldwell-Pope has been used in the past to replace Bradley, stepping up when he was injured.

Therefore, with the possibility of more starting minutes, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is going to have to cope with the scrutiny that comes with being a hero of one of the top basketball franchises. Let’s explore what we know about this soon to be vital cog in the team roster.

His career so far

Caldwell-Pope played for Georgia while at college and was selected in the first round of the 2013 NBA draft. He was drafted 8th overall by the Detroit Pistons. This is certainly the pedigree of player you would expect to pique the interest of the Lakers. He is certainly well-suited to the position of a shooting guard, standing strong at 6 foot 5 with a decent physique. 

His rookie season was disappointing considering his illustrious beginnings. He had a gentle opening season, averaging just under 20 minutes and 5.9 points per game. However, he was a fixture in the starting lineup for Detroit and during his second season, he averaged 31.5 minutes per game and started all 82 games. However, he only made 40% of his shots.

His scoring average of 14.5 and 13.8 over the last two years for Detroit didn’t overwhelm the locals. The Lakers seemed to see something in him though – maybe his early potential still resonated – and they signed him to a one-year-free-agent deal worth nearly $18 million. There was a lot of money being thrown around for free agents at the time and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope certainly cashed in. Yet, the Lakers were also lauded for having landed such a prized catch – so maybe someone knew something that wasn’t evident in his stats. He re-signed with the franchise and has played a decent role from the bench for the last two seasons.

Maybe the reason for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s one-year deal has more to do with cash flow than it being a genuine representation of his ability. The Lakers were holding out to see if they could land LeBron James and Paul George the following summer and weren’t keen to sign anyone that wanted a longer deal.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope when he played for the Detroit Pistons with Bradley Beal playing for the Washington Wizards
Keith Allison / CC BY-SA

A question of character

So, why do we question if Caldwell-Pope has what it takes to live up to the character demanded of elite sportspeople? Well, when Caldwell-Pope was a member of the Pistons, he was cited for drink driving. The player sought a deal with prosecutors and was charged with a lesser offence of allowing someone else to drive his vehicle while they were drunk. He earned himself 12 months probation.

So far, so bad – no one wants a role model accepting such poor behaviour of themselves. However, he was young and part of an NBA starting lineup. So, we can maybe dismiss this as the folly of youth. It is a minor blip in a long career as a sportsperson at the elite level.

However, he then violated his probation by not submitting to mandatory alcohol and drug tests. This demonstrates a distinct inability to show accountability and responsibility that we want a Lakers player to represent. The violation ended up with a 25-day jail sentence at Seal Beach Police Department Detention Centre in Orange County, California. 

What surprises us is that Caldwell-Pope was allowed to continue playing home games, while having to return to jail after the game. The juxtaposition of an elite sports game and spending the night in a cell doesn’t strike us to represent the franchise too well.

Beginning to flourish as a starter

So, it has not all been rosy and now the Lakers need someone to fill Bradley’s immense shoes. Our first doubt is that shooting record. Our second doubt is whether he will stand up to the pressure, performing well under the scrutiny now coming his way. However, in 2018, the LA Times reported that Caldwell-Pope flourished as a starter after Avery Bradley injured his right leg. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope stepped up and filled the void with some flair.

What is most encouraging is that Caldwell-Pope recognised the support of his teammates when he was going through some serious down periods. He acknowledged the importance of the team sticking with him. He called his locker room buddies his “brothers” who “helped me get through it.” No-one was more supported of Caldwell-Pope that LeBron James, who himself is used to facing criticism in his career. If you want anyone to be your ally, James is the man. Indeed, when Kentavious Caldwell-Pope plays, James’ game is elevated too.

The improved play has given Kentavious Caldwell-Pope room to breathe. All the focus on the bad times has been put aside. We hope the renewed scrutiny won’t represent unwanted pressure as the season resumes.

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