Orlando Magic double down on foundation with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

The Orlando Magic were rumored to be in the running for a star in Paul George. But the team opted to bolster what they already have. The Magic doubled down on their foundation with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope brings to the Orlando Magic a better version of what they already have. He fits the Magic's foundation.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope brings to the Orlando Magic a better version of what they already have. He fits the Magic's foundation. / Matthew Stockman/GettyImages

The beginning of free agency started with dreams of adding nine-time All-Star Paul George to the fold.

For 24 hours, the Orlando Magic were at the front of the news cycle. They would have their meeting with George, the biggest fish in free agency, and compete with the Philadelphia 76ers for his services. Reports suggested the Magic were willing to offer George a four-year max contract.

It all felt very unlike president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman.

He had built a carefully managed team around its defense and versatility. He had carefully built financial flexibility. He created a clear pecking order that starts with the three players he drafted in 2021 and 2022 in Jalen Suggs, Franz Wagner, and Paolo Banchero.

The Magic like to hang out in the shadows. They are not the team that seeks the spotlight. They know who they are and the kinds of players that succeed for them. They know what kind of team they want to be.

If the end, that is what ruled the day for the Orlando Magic. They know exactly who they are. They know what their success is built on. And they saw no reason to lay down a new one. Instead, the first day of their free agency was built strengthening that foundation and the pillars that uphold it.

Orlando, it turns out, was not in the running to sign George. Instead, they were focused on what they know and need best. They were focused on what made their team successful and building upon that foundation.

It was not the headline-grabbing move—although it is one of the biggest deals handed out in the first hours of free agency—but it was a solid one. One that confirms what the Magic value and their belief in what they are building.

Like last year, the Magic are valuing continuity even as they add a starting-level guard to improve their starting lineup. That is indeed what they are doing.

In Kentavious Caldwell-Pope the Magic found guard who shoots and defends at a high level but is a low-usage player like the man he is replacing in Gary Harris. The Magic doubled down on their identity.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope adds to the Orlando Magic's defensive identity

The Orlando Magic built their success on defense. They ranked third in the league in defensive rating—and ended up with the best defensive rating in the playoffs for their seven-game series with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The question this offseason was always wondering whether the Magic would sacrifice any of their defense to add offense. Every suggestion was the Magic were hesitant to do so. All the indications was they were not cutting back on their defense for anything.

The Magic then went out and got one of the best perimeter defenders in free agency.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is big at 6-foot-5 and disruptive with 2.91 deflections per 75 possessions, according to data from Basketball-Index. Caldwell-Pope got the call to defend the top perimeter players the Nuggets faced every night.

He got noticed too. Caldwell-Pope received 11 votes for the All-Defensive Second Team.

If the Magic wanted defense, they found it. If they wanted to add a new player who embodied the most important thing about their team and their found, they found it.

That seems to be the most important thing. The Magic found exactly what they are about in Caldwell-Pope. He will not disrupt or change their defensive mentality. He will slide right in on that most important end for the Magic.

Orlando showed the rest of the league that to play for them, a player has to defend.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope should play a familiar role on offense too

Offensively, it is easy to think of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope as a Gary Harris-plus. They both are strong 3-and-D players who do not need the ball a lot. Their success depends on others creating for them. They space the floor for others.

Caldwell-Pope averaged 10.1 points per game and shot 40.6 percent from three. He has shot at least 40 percent from three in three of his last four seasons. Caldwell-Pope is not an elite catch-and-shoot 3-point shooter, coming in at 39.7 percent according to data from Second Spectrum.

But Caldwell-Pope's threat of shooting should prove sound. He is a more willing shooter and a better shooter than Harris. Playing with Nikola Jokic may help with that. But Caldwell-Pope has had a consistent string of strong shooting seasons.

Even though Caldwell-Pope does not take a ton of threes—4.1 per game for the only team that took fewer threes than the Magic last year—defenses knew they could not leave him open.

Harris averaged only 6.9 points per game and shot 37.1 percent from three. He made 37.0 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes last year.

Even on its face, the Magic got an upgrade. They got at least a better version of what they had already.

After all, the Magic's starting lineup with Harris in it had a net rating of +12.5 points per 100 possessions (a sturdy 114.7 offensive rating and 102.1 defensive rating). Orlando seemed to figure if it is not broken why fix it?

Of course, the Magic needed an improvement over Harris. That became abundant during the Playoffs. They needed someone who was a more reliable shooter -- Harris made only 7 of 22 3-pointers in the playoffs.

And they needed someone who will be available more reliably.

Harris appeared in 54 games last year and has played more than 60 games just three times in his career. Caldwell-Pope played in 76 games last year and has failed to hit 70 games just twice in his career (and one of those was the COVID-shortened 2020 season).

Caldwell-Pope is an upgrade over Harris just on availability alone.

Orlando Magic picked a new form of continuity

But it is all of the same type. The Magic got a better version of what they already have. Someone they know fits. Something they know fits. Something they know works.

The Magic still have work to do. They should have somewhere near $30 million to spend remaining. And still a lot of avenues they could pursue.

There is still an opportunity to make a bigger splash and address their needs for playmaking, more shooting and rim protection. The Magic are not done this summer.

But the Magic's pursuit of Caldwell-Pope proves they are looking for one thing—players who fit their identity and style. They are not deviating too far from that.

In Caldwell-Pope they know what they are getting. They know he will fit in with their philosophy and their style. They know he will make them better by doing what they are already so good at.

The Magic's foundation got stronger with Caldwell-Pope.