In 2017, the Lakers signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to a one-year, $17,745,894 contract. He was already facing a two-game suspension for DUI. Then, during the season, he violated terms of his probation and spent nearly a month at a detention center. His work-release program allowed him to play in Lakers home games and practices, but he couldn’t leave the state and missed a few games.
Why did the Lakers put up with so much with Caldwell-Pope?
In the meantime, Caldwell-Pope’s interrupted job status caused plenty of resentment.
“Anybody [else] would have put him on personal leave or suspended him,” one coaching staff member said.
“I had a major problem with that,” a Lakers front-office executive said.
When asked why Caldwell-Pope played during this time, a Lakers spokesperson said they were simply following the judge’s work-release ruling. Staffers within the organization and sources close to the team say they believe it was because the Lakers were trying to curry favor with Klutch in their efforts to sign James the following summer in free agency.
Another possible reason the Lakers played Caldwell-Pope through his incarceration: He was one of their best players that season. They’d also already traded their first-round pick, effectively eliminating the incentive to tank. Why not use a helpful player who’s available?
Plus, Caldwell-Pope already served his league-mandated suspension for the DUI. Extra punishment from the Lakers could have received pushback from the union.
And Caldwell-Pope’s sentence allowed him to work, a rehabilitative aspect of the court’s ruling. Do these Lakers staffers generally want criminals to face the more punitive sentences? Or just Caldwell-Pope?
That people within the organization were so bothered by Caldwell-Pope playing is indicative of dysfunction under Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka. Employees clearly didn’t understand/believe in the plan.
That’s the environment LeBron walked into.
So, when his camp expressed desire for Luke Walton to get fired… when LeBron openly pushed for the Lakers to trade for Anthony Davis, who’s also represented by Paul… it felt as if LeBron had major power to make those things happen. That contributed to LeBron’s teammates being wary of LeBron trying to trade them. It might have contributed to Johnson dressing down Walton early in the season.
I doubt the perception of LeBron running things has changed. I recommend reading Holmes’ full story for more examples of people close to LeBron getting special treatment – or the perception of special treatment.
So, LeBron can insist he’s taking a hands-off approach, and I believe he sometimes wants to leave all this up to others. But when everyone thinks he’s in control has been even before he arrived, LeBron has little choice but to deal with that responsibility.