By Brian Robb, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — In acquiring a protected version of the 2018 Lakers first round pick from the Philadelphia 76ers as part of the package for the No. 1 overall pick in 2017, the Celtics made a calculated gamble. Boston negotiated receiving the Lakers pick if it falls between the 2-5 pick range following the 2018 Draft Lottery, otherwise the pick will carry over to a Kings or Sixers first round pick in 2019.
Essentially, the bet from the Celtics’ front office was that the Lakers would be a cellar dwellar for the third straight season. That hope took a bit of a hit early Wednesday after the Lakers agreed to sign shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to a one-year $18 million deal.
The Lakers had a lot of cap room to play with this offseason and no incentive to tank (they lose their pick to Philadelphia or Boston no matter where they finish), so it was expected they would upgrade a roster that finished with the third-worst record in the NBA last season. However, the addition of Caldwell-Pope could make a real impact in the win column for them. He’s a two-way guard who averaged 13.8 points per game on a disappointing Pistons team last year. When paired with rookie Lonzo Ball and big man Brook Lopez, the Lakers could start to look like a competent team again, and that doesn’t bode well for Boston’s chances of receiving a potential top-5 Lakers pick in 2018.
The Celtics obviously can’t control what moves the Lakers front office make, but there is a part of this sequence of events that might be hard to swallow. Boston may have been indirectly responsible for the Lakers being able to land Caldwell-Pope, thanks to a domino effect of their own roster moves in the last week. Let’s examine the path they took and how it could ultimately prove damaging to one of their own assets.
Celtics deal Avery Bradley to Detroit Pistons for Marcus Morris
Once Gordon Hayward agreed to sign with the Celtics last week, Danny Ainge needed to reduce some salary by trading away a key rotation player. After shopping Marcus Smart, Jae Crowder and Bradley all week, the Celtics settled on an offer for Bradley made by Detroit president Stan Van Gundy. Boston elected to trade their prized shooting guard to the Pistons for the 6-foot-9 Morris. From Boston’s standpoint, it was good value for Bradley, since Morris is a veteran on a cheap deal for two more years who will fill in a need right away in the frontcourt. However, Bradley’s presence in Detroit started a chain of events that paved the way for Caldwell-Pope being available to the Lakers.
Pistons renounce Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Hours after acquiring Bradley, the Pistons announcing they were renouncing the qualifying offer on their starting shooting guard Caldwell-Pope. Detroit reportedly gave Caldwell-Pope a final offer on a new contract the night before the Bradley deal at five years and $80 million. Caldwell-Pope turned it down, which led to Van Gundy giving the green light to the Bradley-for-Morris deal. With Bradley in place, the Pistons decided that Caldwell-Pope would no longer be a part of their plans. They made him an unrestricted free agent, a rare move that eliminated the leverage the Pistons had as a team on him. As a restricted free agent, Caldwell-Pope could only sign offer sheets for three or more seasons, which would have limited his appeal to a team like the Lakers that wants to hoard salary cap room for next summer. Having Bradley aboard eliminated the Pistons need to possibly include Caldwell-Pope in their plans though, and they did him a favor by letting him hit the open market as an unrestricted free agent.
The question the Celtics are probably asking themselves now is whether Caldwell-Pope ever gets renounced if Bradley hadn’t been traded to the Detroit. A look at the current climate around the NBA makes this an unlikely proposition. Limited teams right now have ample salary cap room to throw a big long-term offer at a guard, outside of the Brooklyn Nets. Since Detroit was capped out themselves, they didn’t have the means to go sign an alternative to Caldwell-Pope, so a trade was their only option. Caldwell-Pope could have settled for the qualifying offer (a one-year deal) if no other suitor came knocking, but the bottom line is it’s hard to envision the Pistons cutting Caldwell-Pope loose without Bradley in place.
Lakers sign Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
It didn’t take long for Caldwell-Pope to find a home after hitting the open market last weekend. Los Angeles had nearly $20 million of cap space and they found a player who will be playing his butt off to earn a lucrative long-term contract after signing a one-year, $18 million deal. Whether that big offer comes in LA or with another team remains to be seen, but it’s a carrot that will motivate his play all year long.
Make no mistake, the Lakers will still be bad. They are probably one of the two worst teams in a loaded Western Conference. However, this is the type of upgrade on a one-year deal that didn’t seem possible at the start of this offseason, mostly because Caldwell-Pope was never expected to become an unrestricted free agent. That happened in large part due to the Bradley trade. With a boatload of teams looking to tank in the East (Chicago, Atlanta, Indiana, New York, Orlando) the road to the Lakers landing a pick in the 2-5 range just got a bit tougher in 2018… and that’s bad news for one of Boston’s prized assets.