If Kentavious Caldwell-Pope does not sign an extension by 11:59 PM of October 31, 2016 he will become a restricted free agent at the end of the season, and sources within the team, including head coach Stan Van Gundy, have said an agreement by the deadline is highly unlikely. Caldwell-Pope will be a Restricted Free Agent (RFA) during the offseason, meaning that while other teams will be able to offer him a contract, Detroit will have the right to match any offer sheets and retain Caldwell-Pope. Backup Shooting Guard Reggie Bullock was also unable to agree to an extension with the team, and will be a RFA as well.
Can the Pistons afford to let KCP walk?
Depends on the price. Detroit would ?be losing their best on-ball perimeter defender, and arguably their most consistent team defender, but if KCP's agent is asking too much of Detroit's front office now, chances are that price won't dip a penny as next year's increased salary cap gets closer. The Pistons have a nice nucleus of either young assets or cornerstone pieces, depending on how the season shakes out, and they'd be wise to stay financially flexible to retain whichever of Marcus Morris, Tobias Harris, Reggie Jackson, Jon Leuer, and KCP they want to keep (Andre Drummond is basically off-limits at this point). The X-factor here is Stanley Johnson, who hasn't played much in the opening games, but figures to be a big part of the Pistons' SG/SF rotation in the future. If Johnson ever becomes a better shooter than KCP, who was about league average last year, and adapts to Van Gundy's defensive schemes, then KCP becomes a lot more expendable than he is now. If at any point the Pistons lose faith that Johnson can get to that point, there simply aren't many options for them on the wing that fit into Van Gundy's system. The list of upcoming free agents at the wing is stuffed with over-the-hill veterans, guys that are too expensive, or straight-up downgrades to KCP:
- Andre Iguodala (too expensive, and probably too old for Detroit)
- JJ Redick (way too expensive)
- Victor Oladipo ($$$$)
- Tony Allen (couldn't throw a rock into an ocean, Detroit needs spacing)
- Vince Carter (too old, too expensive)
- Kyle Korver (too expensive, too old)
- Manu Ginobli (way too old, way too expensive)
Spotrac.com, an online sports team & player contract resource, estimates the Pistons' max salary cap space next offseason will be about $5.3 million, factoring in a $5 million offer for KCP and a $3.3 million offer for Reggie Bullock. Let's say Bullock stays and KCP walks, leaving the Pistons' with $10 million and change in cap space. JJ Redick is not coming from Los Angeles to "my car door is frozen shut" Michigan for $10 million a year, no matter how tight he is with Stan Van Gundy. If KCP's agent doesn't bite on somewhere between $5-$10 million a year, and Stanley Johnson looks like he'll never figure it out, then Detroit will need to look hard for a viable option.
Does KCP's play factor into his contract negotiations?
Of course. The Pistons' front office isn't dumb. They know their options are limited if things go south with Caldwell-Pope, but he's shooting an abysmal 40.7% from the field and a god-awful 18.2% from three. He's hovered around 30% for most of his career from deep, so the law of averages suggests he'll heat up from outside, but if he keeps bricking the Pistons will be in no rush to pay him. As the infamous Jalen Rose preaches on his ESPN Podcast theJalen and Jacoby Show, "it's not about what you deserve, it's about what you have the leverage to negotiate." KCP has very little leverage right now beyond his team defense and his hustle.
But that does go a long way with Van Gundy, who's both head coach and President of Basketball Operations. Van Gundy recently spoke with Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:
“KCP helps us win games so would I like him to shoot the ball better? Yes, and so would he, but I’m not sitting around worrying about that,” Van Gundy said. “I don’t think that’s a real issue with our team. He’s gonna make shots as the year goes on, but he’s the guy who leads our defense. “He’s our most consistently high-energy player. We need him on the floor, and to me, shots going in for him is just a bonus.”
It's painfully obvious that the Pistons need a defender like KCP, especially with Ish Smith and Beno Udrih playing big minutes at the other backcourt spot, who are both sieves on defense. KCP covers a ton of ground, and guards like a like a coked-up hyena:
KCP's defense is a big part of Detroit's identity, and barring injury, he's going to show it off every single game. KCP might be a streaky shooter, but he is rock-solid on the other end, and whether or not he stays in Detroit might ultimately come down to how much the Pistons' front office values perimeter defense, and how much they're willing to bet they can find it elsewhere -- either in Stanley Johnson or on the open market. If KCP takes a leap as a long-distance shooter this year? Detroit might not be able to afford KCP at all, no matter how much they want to keep him. "3-and-D" guys, especially in a league with a rising salary cap, are extremely valuable. KCP might take $8 million as a "kinda-3-but-mostly-D" guy, but there's no way in hell he accepts that kind of money as a true "3-and-D" type of player.
The Detroit Pistons (home) play The New York Knicks (away) on Tuesday, November 1 at 7:30 PM Eastern Time.