Kentavious Caldwell-Pope brings championship glue to the Orlando Magic

The Orlando Magic are hoping to see their young team continue to grow and mature. That starts with the championship glue they applied in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. What he brings is more than his numbers.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope brings the Orlando Magic some needed championship experience in addition to his shooting and defense.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope brings the Orlando Magic some needed championship experience in addition to his shooting and defense. / Dylan Buell/GettyImages

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope watched the Orlando Magic from afar. It was impossible around the league not to notice them. And their appearance in the playoffs and trip to Game 7 against the Cleveland Cavaliers indeed opened doors for them as they approached free agency.

But nothing quite makes an impression on opposing players than going head-to-head with that team. And what Caldwell-Pope saw in the Orlando Magic when the Denver Nuggets faced off with them twice last year.

He saw a hungry team that played for all 48 minutes. He saw a group that was a tough, physical team. The kind of team a soon-to-be free agent would have to consider when it came time for him to hit the market.

The Magic made their names last year as a try-hard team. A team that was going to put in the effort at all times and be a tough-minded defensive team. That kind of play made an impression on someone like Caldwell-Pope.

When free agency came around, the Magic and Caldwell-Pope seemed like a natural fit. The Magic saw someone who could fill a need for the team and help keep this team growing on the court and off.

More than that, Caldwell-Pope is a championship player. And he was not going to go somewhere that did not share those aspirations.

"I'm always chasing a championship," Caldwell-Pope said when he met the Orlando media Saturday after making his reported three-year, $66-million deal official. "That was one of my ideas seeing their progress, them making it to the playoffs and taking Cleveland to a Game 7. That was enough for me. They got a little bit of a taste of that pressure and what it takes to make it past the first round. I'm just excited to be a part of it."

That is the kind of attitude and outlook the Magic hope a player like Caldwell-Pope can bring.

Caldwell-Pope is a player who is used to competing for championships now, having won a title with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2020 and with the Denver Nuggets in 2023. That kind of experience was not lost on Orlando and its decisionmakers.

While this is a loose, fun-loving team with a great atmosphere, vibes and aura, they are now in the business of winning. And that takes a heightened level of seriousness at times. Nobody wants to change this team's character. But sprinkling in a player with this level of championship experience does not hurt either.

That is one of the reasons the Magic pursued Caldwell-Pope and one of the big things he adds to a team well on its way toward growing into contenders.

"He will make us better defensively," president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said when he met with the media Saturday. "He will improve our shooting. He will model what championship work is like for our young players. In every possible, we think he will be a great addition on and off the court. We're super excited to bring him here."

Caldwell-Pope will bring veteran leadership to Orlando

Caldwell-Pope said he can bring that championship mentality to the team. He can be a humble leader who helps keep the team focused throughout the long season. That mentality is something you learn only through experience.

Orlando has someone who can impart that wisdom to the team.

It is not just what he can provide the team in the locker room or off the court, of course. Caldwell-Pope has been key to a championship-level team with the Nuggets on the court. And has been consistently a solid defender and shooter for several years.

He averaged 10.1 points per game and shot 40.6 percent from three last season. That followed scoring 10.8 points per game and shooting 42.3 percent from three. He averaged a little more than 4.0 3-point attempts per game in those two seasons with Denver, bringing what the Magic hope is a reliable volume 3-point shooter.

That only scratches at the surface of what Caldwell-Pope can do. The Magic view him as a glue guy on top of that too. There was just a lot to like and the kinds of things that elevate a young team.

"We admired KCP from afar for quite a while, as I think much of the league has," Weltman said when he met with the media Saturday. "KCP to me is a basketball guy's basketball guy. He doesn't have sexy stats. He's not a high scorer. But the stats that I have in my mind of playing those minutes in championship teams, the fact he is a 97th percentile difficulty matchup defensively. He guards the other team's best player 97 percent of the time. Those are the stats that excite guys like us. He's been a coveted free agent throughout the whole process. We latched one early and were thrilled to engage in serious conversation."

The Magic also noted his availability. Caldwell-Pope has failed to hit 70 games in a season only twice—and both were the COVID-shortened 2020 and 2021 seasons. Caldwell-Pope was third in minutes per game for both the 2020 champion Lakers and 2023 champion Nuggets.

Caldwell-Pope, in other words, was not some bit player on two championship teams. He was an essential player to their success.

The Magic see him giving the team the shooting boost they need and another excellent defender. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is already promising to join Jalen Suggs on the All-Defensive team next year.

That is the kind of approach he brings.

Caldwell-Pope is the kind of player who leaves a positive mark everywhere he goes. And that is something the Magic need to grow.

"In the NBA, we all generate track records," Weltman said when he met with the media Saturday. "Players generate their own track record. Every organization they touch, they leave a trail of people that everybody else talks to in their wake. This is one of the most stellar guys in the league as far as the reputation that he's generated over the course of his career. In the locker room, on the bus, on the plane, in the practice facility, coaches, management, performance, everybody just raves about him."

It is why he was able to move back to a championship team after the Los Angeles Lakers dealt him to the struggling Washington Wizards in their ill-conceived Russell Westbrook trade. It is why, despite relatively meager stats, he was considered one of the top free agents in this class.

The Magic know they needed a boost to get to their next level. They certainly believe Caldwell-Pope can be a key piece to taking them there.

With such a young roster, there is still a lot to learn about winning at the highest levels of the league. What the Magic hope they have brought in is someone who can show them the way and elevate the intensity of their focus and ambitions.

"I just want to come here and bring my championship mentality, the knowledge I know from the teams I've been on," Caldwell-Pope said when he met with the media Saturday. "Also [I want to bring] my leadership, being that vocal leader on the court and off the court. Being able to get these guys to stay connected. The more we stay connected and have that chemistry together is going to make the season easier."

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The Magic hope that means the team can accomplish its goals and improve on their breakthrough season last year. A player with championship pedigree should do that and elevate the team's expectations moving forward.