The Detroit Pistons threw a curveball into free agency when they announced that they had renounced the rights to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, making him an unrestricted free agent. Caldwell-Pope immediately vaulted to the top of the dwindling list of players available on the open market. Former top-10 picks who have started 87 percent of their career games and are still 24 years old just aren’t readily accessible to teams every offseason.
Naturally, speculation has begun regarding Caldwell-Pope’s next destination. His hitting the market at this time is like when your fantasy football league ran its first auction draft, and a player was forgotten until after everyone already had spent most of their money. At the moment, only a handful of teams have the cap space to accommodate KCP after he turned down an offer with an annual salary of $16 million from the Pistons:
Pistons' highest offer to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was 5 years, $80 million, per source. Salary "wasn't even close" to what KCP is seeking.
— Jake Fischer (@JakeLFischer) July 7, 2017
One of the clubs that could offer a potential fit is the Philadelphia 76ers. After agreeing to one-year deals with free agents J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson, and slotting space for first overall pick Markelle Fultz, the Sixers currently have roughly $15 million in available cap space. Obviously, that figure is not enough to attract Caldwell-Pope when an offer of that size from Detroit didn’t get it done. However, Philadelphia could unload Jahlil Okafor and Nik Stauskas to free up close to $9 million, which would get them close to KCP’s max of nearly $25 million.
The question becomes: Should the Sixers pursue Caldwell-Pope when he’s seeking a deal exceeding $20 million per year? Undoubtedly, he could be a terrific fit alongside the rest of the team’s young core. At 24 years old, Caldwell-Pope’s career arc aligns perfectly with Joel Embiid (23), Ben Simmons (20) and Fultz (19).
KCP is a long, agile defender who averaged over a steal per game last year while committing less than two fouls per game. He always accepted the tougher backcourt responsibility alongside Reggie Jackson, and would do the same with Fultz, allowing the rookie a grace period to get up to speed on that side of the ball. Slotting him those three young, potential stars, plus Robert Covington, would be the makings of a formidable defensive unit.
Caldwell-Pope’s offense is less of a known quantity. His biggest weakness, an inability to create offense off the dribble, would be mitigated by the fact that Fultz, Simmons and Embiid are going to have the ball in their hands as much as possible. In his four seasons, Caldwell-Pope has alternated between being a terrible shooter and shooting league average from behind the arc, adding up to a career mark of 33.4 percent.
However, KCP has been good in unguarded catch-and-shoot situations. The hope would be that the gravity of those other players would help create more such opportunities for him:
KCP's been pretty consistent catch and shoot guy when open. 62.1%, 61.6%, 59.6% eFG% on unguarded catch and shot over the last 3 years. https://t.co/SC740XD9ks
— Derek Bodner (@DerekBodnerNBA) July 7, 2017
With all that being said, though, Philadelphia would be wise to pass on Caldwell-Pope at a long-term deal at his requested price. The team’s front office has made it clear that signing Covington to an extension is a priority, which will take up around $12 million to $15 million in future cap space. After Covington, Embiid will be next up for an extension, and the Sixers would likely prefer to avoid the big man entering restricted free agency next summer.
Those transactions would leave the team with enough space for one additional player on a max contract. Signing Caldwell-Pope would eliminate that possibility, so the decision comes down to whether management feels it could sign a player of a higher caliber than what KCP could grow into with time. With Redick joining the Sixers this summer, signs are pointing to Philadelphia being a desirable free agent destination. The 76ers have a good shot at snagging somebody in the future better than whatever 3-and-D player Caldwell-Pope develops into, even under a best-case scenario.
Giving big money to Caldwell-Pope now would lock the Sixers into their core, eliminating their options going forward. With a big assist from general manager Bryan Colangelo this summer, even anti-Trusters have become to come around on Sam Hinkie’s Process. Well, one of the original principles of the Process was optionality. Even with a fresh opportunity presented to them, the Sixers should remember that, hold pat, and keep their options open.
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