Avery Bradley, Rajon Rondo leaving Lakers in free agency
One of the key pieces of the Lakers’ championship run is coming back after the team has turned over nearly its entire backcourt.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, 27, will return to the Lakers, agreeing to a three-year deal worth $40 million on Saturday, first reported by The Athletic. One of the most tenured players on the roster, Caldwell-Pope was the team’s third-leading scorer (10.7 ppg) during the postseason and delivered timely efforts in the championship run this past season.
It’s Caldwell-Pope’s third contract with the Lakers in the last four offseasons, but after arriving in 2017 as a hopeful scoring guard, he emerged last season as a capable cast member alongside All-Stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis, with whom he also shares an agent (Rich Paul, Klutch Sports). He’s coming off a career-best season on 3-point shooting (38.5 percent) and was critical to the Lakers’ defensive strategies during the playoffs against high-scoring guards such as Portland’s Damian Lillard, Houston’s James Harden and Denver’s Jamal Murray.
Re-signing Caldwell-Pope accomplishes one of the top offseason goals for General Manager Rob Pelinka, who still needs to come to terms with Davis. According to ESPN, Davis and Paul might not agree to the length of his maximum deal through next week. Davis, who was a first-team All-NBA forward and a runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year, is widely expected to return to the Lakers.
Bringing back Caldwell-Pope was all the more important after two key members of the guard rotation announced they wouldn’t be coming back earlier in the day.
Avery Bradley agreed to a two-year deal with the Miami Heat, which The Associated Press reported would have a second-year team option. Rajon Rondo announced on his Instagram account he would be going elsewhere after two seasons with the Lakers, and Yahoo Sports was first to report that he had agreed to a two-year, $15 million deal with the Atlanta Hawks.
Bradley was the only Laker who didn’t travel to Disney World for the restart to the season, and thus didn’t play against the Heat in the Finals. The Athletic reported that Jimmy Butler helped recruit the 6-foot-3 veteran guard to South Beach. Rondo was lured to Atlanta by money after playing for $2.4 million last season.
The signals of both departures cropped up before free agency. Bradley declined his second-year player option with the Lakers earlier this week, reportedly in search of a second season. By trading for Dennis Schrӧder, who has often been compared to Rondo, the Lakers indicated they were preparing to move on from the 34-year-old veteran.
Bradley started 44 games for the Lakers last season, averaging 8.6 points and guarding opposing lead ball-handlers most nights. He was often singled out by Coach Frank Vogel as the tone-setter for the defense, picking up opponents full court when the Lakers needed a jolt.
But as Bradley became the only Laker to not travel to Florida for the championship run, that’s when Rondo – a divisive figure among fans during his two seasons in L.A. – became critical.
Returning from a thumb fracture he suffered in July, Rondo averaged 8.9 points, 6.6 assists and 1.4 steals per game from the second round on. Pivotal games against Houston, Denver and Miami helped boost the Lakers and revamp Rondo’s reputation as a postseason performer. In the title-clinching Game 6, he scored 19 points on 8-for-11 shooting.
“To the fans…thank you for welcoming me with open arms from Day 1 and showing me love,” Rondo wrote on his Instragram post. “Being apart of #LakeShow was something special and I’m proud we brought it back to you!
“Now, what’s next…” he wrote.
Already, the Lakers are not bringing back three key guards from last year’s rotation: Bradley, Rondo and Danny Green, who was part of the trade for Schröder. The team also cut Quinn Cook, a welcome locker-room presence who struggled to play his way onto the court last season.
While trading for Schrӧder and signing Wesley Matthews in free agency has added shooting and brought back some defensive presence, the Lakers are still in need of backcourt help. With the “hard cap” at the $138.9 million salary apron (triggered by using exceptions to sign Matthews and Montrezl Harrell), Pelinka is likely limited to using league minimum contracts to secure more veterans for the roster.
Alex Caruso is the only other main rotation guard who remains under contract next season, and Talen Horton-Tucker, who received some playoff minutes against Houston as a rookie, will also be back.