Detroit Pistons

Pistons won’t let Kentavious Caldwell-Pope arrest interrupt contract talks

This is an opinion piece by columnist David Mayo.

As Kentavious Caldwell-Pope ignored reporters and watched an episode of “Law & Order” on his phone before Friday’s game, the irony had to be striking in the aftermath of the Detroit Pistons guard’s arrest on suspicion of drunken driving.

The perfect end to the imperfect season.

That’s what the Caldwell-Pope incident represents: The last thing that wasn’t supposed to happen, in a March filled with things that weren’t supposed to happen.

The Pistons were a proverbial car wreck in the month just ended. Thankfully, one of their best players didn’t cause a literal one.

The result of this ultimately is a big distraction. That may not sound like much, but distractions, in their many forms, are the greatest takedowns for any team. The Pistons have had plenty of distractions this year. Most were due to poor health. This one was attributable to a poor decision.

It won’t affect Caldwell-Pope’s long-term marketability.

It won’t affect the Pistons’ future arc. Not making the playoffs is a bigger distraction as the team prepares to move to Little Caesars Arena.

But it certainly was a distraction and burden no one needed, not the Pistons as they answer for an unexpected 2016-17 flop, and not Caldwell-Pope as he prepares for the juicy prospect of concluding his rookie deal and signing his first freely negotiated contract.

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Not to diminish the extreme seriousness of potential endangerment to himself and others, Caldwell-Pope’s two failed breathalyzer tests early Wednesday morning at the Auburn Hills Police Department, hours after a home loss to the Miami Heat severely dented the Pistons’ playoff hopes, will not have a significant impact on his business dealings going forward.

It will not prohibit him from landing a huge free-agent windfall this summer, a long-term contract with close to nine-figure total value.

It almost certainly will not prohibit the Pistons from participating in that bidding, either.

The Pistons can match any offer Caldwell-Pope receives from another team this summer. That Caldwell-Pope’s playing time has not been affected in two games since his arrest may not necessarily indicate future intent because the Pistons have months invested in the season, with playoff hopes fading, and president-coach Stan Van Gundy would be loathe to let this mistake affect what is left of those chances.

But a couple other indicators could go directly to intent.

One, Van Gundy, for all his powerful presence and sometimes fury, has a strong underlying compassion. He has dealt with all types of circumstances as a college and professional coach, including ones similar to Caldwell-Pope’s, with assistant coach Tim Hardaway Sr. and ex-Piston Greg Monroe. He was clear Friday that everyone makes mistakes. Then he put Caldwell-Pope right back in the starting lineup, the one player he can rely upon for consistent effort when the ball goes up.

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Two, teams still will bid in excess of $20 million per year for Caldwell-Pope’s services, and one of the Pistons’ cornerstone principles going into this summer is that they can not lose him for nothing in restricted free agency. That did not change — can not change — because of what happened in the wee hours of Wednesday morning.

If Caldwell-Pope signs an external offer, the Pistons figure to match, because while he is not the prototype of a shooting guard, his effort and defense would make him a starter in most NBA locales.

Any team with a quality shooter at point guard, but light on perimeter defense, could move much closer to a championship with Caldwell-Pope, and while the Pistons don’t have that point guard, they certainly would like to find one. Keeping Caldwell-Pope to criss-cross backcourt defensive matchups, even as he continues to improve as a shooter, eventually could offer an ideal backcourt mix, which the Pistons currently lack.

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The Pistons have let plenty of talent get away. They saw it again Friday, in a strong comeback effort before losing at Milwaukee, where Khris Middleton has become one of the game’s preeminent shooting wings, a characteristic Detroit has lacked for years.

The Pistons can not let one mistake become two as pertains Caldwell-Pope.

That is not to suggest the Pistons will not pursue a trade with Caldwell-Pope. The sign-and-trade option always is available to teams reluctant to keep a restricted free agent who is due to cash in big. The Pistons could make that decision if an attractive offer comes along before Caldwell-Pope starts entertaining external bids. But he has to agree to it.

The only guarantee the Pistons have with Caldwell-Pope is their first-refusal privilege, and they will be prepared to exercise it if there is no sign-and-trade or internal deal reached before he hits the open market. If he signs an offer sheet, he isn’t going anywhere but right back to Detroit. The Pistons have no other choice from a business perspective.

Wherever Caldwell-Pope plays next season, he probably won’t be available immediately. Assuming a conviction or plea, he also will be subject to NBA discipline.

Monroe was suspended two games to begin the 2014-15 season, after his drunken-driving conviction stemming from a 2014 arrest in Huntington Woods.

The next summer, Monroe signed a three-year, $50 million contract with the Bucks.

Otherwise, the business of basketball will churn forward.

Caldwell-Pope will move beyond the events of this month, which thankfully were more tragic on the court than in the incident which will land him in court.

And the next time he has one too many, he could take a little time away from downloading cop dramas to download the Uber and Lyft apps instead.

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