Free Agency in the NBA this year has been one of the most exciting in recent memory. Clearly, teams have taken notice at how dominant the Warriors have become, and now have to adjust. Meanwhile, the salary cap increased to $99 million for the 2017-2018 season, making way for record breaking contracts. One thing we learned from last year’s free agency period was, teams will overpay for young players with potential. For the most part, teams were a little bit more stringent this year with offers to free agents as opposed to last year. Still, the market is there for young guys like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to get paid.
Leading up to the offseason it seemed fairly reasonable to expect the Pistons to offer Caldwell-Pope, then a restricted free agent, a contract. Through his first four seasons has flashed the kind of potential teams hope for from a top-10 pick. Potential only goes so far though, and the Pistons had to decide if he was worth extending. Ultimately, they chose to find a replacement for Caldwell-Pope when they traded Marcus Morris to the Celtics in exchange for Avery Bradley. Money was clearly the motive in letting him head for unrestricted free agency, as the Pistons are already expected to be over the cap for next season.
Otto Porter, who was also a restricted free agent heading into the offseason, agreed to a 4-year $106 million offer sheet from the Brooklyn Nets. The offer sheet was soon matched by the Wizards, who were adamant in their desire to keep Porter on the team. From a production standpoint Caldwell-Pope matches up favorably to Porter, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he wants a similar contract. Even with the expected cap increases each year it will be interesting to see if a team is willing to pay him that kind of money.
What teams will have to determine is if Caldwell-Pope has shown enough on the offensive side of the ball. At 24 years old, there’s still room for growth, and the potential to be an elite 3 and D player. So far, Caldwell-Pope hasn’t done enough to garner a max deal. The strongest part of his game is on the defensive end. In four seasons, Caldwell-Pope has been one of the best, young perimeter defenders in the league. Lockdown defenders are incredibly important to teams, but they must play both sides of the ball to get big contracts. I mean, would anybody expect Andre Roberson or Tony Allen to ask for $20+ million per year? Even the Pistons’ new acquisition Avery Bradley has shown himself to be a serious offensive player, after being known as one of the leagues’ best defenders for years.
Offense is what I believe holds Caldwell-Pope back from deserving a max contract. I mentioned that he has the potential to become an elite 3 and D player, but that will only happen if he continues to improve his shooting. Caldwell-Pope is a 33% shooter from deep for his career, which is below league average. Last year, he shot a career high 35% from three but even that isn’t turning any heads. For a team to pay him that kind of money they would have to go out on a limb and hope that number continues to increase. Other than that, Caldwell-Pope hasn’t shown himself to be a very good passer, or somebody that can create within the offense. Most of his offense comes from running in transition and athletic drives to the rim.
Caldwell-Pope is the best free agent on the market right now, and it wouldn’t surprise me if a team does overpay him. I believe teams like the Lakers and the Nets should be interested in the idea of having a young, athletic wing. A contract in the 15 to 20 million dollars per year range would make a lot of sense to give him. Teams should avoid falling into the trap of offering him a max contract, and hoping for the longshot that it all comes together for him.