Jose Calderon was an objectively bad signing by the Cleveland Cavaliers on the first day of free agency in the 2017 offseason.
There’s no way around it. The team had limited roster spaces, a roster in complete flux with Kyrie Irving’s trade demand looming, and Calderon, even at the minimum, cost a decent chunk of change for a team already battling the luxury tax. When the Cavaliers signed Derrick Rose and then Dwyane Wade suddenly became available, the Cavaliers were forced to trade local hero Richard Jefferson out of town just to carry the legal number of players on the roster.
To make matters worse, in limited action in 2016-17, Calderon, at a spry 36 years old, looked like he might be ready to wash out of the league.
In 41 games in 2016-17, Calderon shot 41 percent from the field and 31 percent from three. He posted the worst assist-to-turnover ratio of his entire career (one of his best attributes in his prime) and regularly was cooked on the defensive end. Veteran leadership only goes so far.
Calderon reversed those trends in 2018. He was rarely flashy, and hardly hyper-assertive with the ball in his hands, but those traits never defined him as a player when he was consistently one of the more solid starting point guards in the league. What he did do was all that is really asked of any role player on a LeBron James team - hit your open shots, and, hell, if you don’t mind, please try to play some defense.
Somehow, Calderon battled defensively, despite being pressed into starting 32 games for the team as they dealt with injuries across the roster. He wasn’t just helping against backups - the Cavaliers were 1.1 points per 100 possessions better on defense with Calderon on the floor than on the bench.
He hassled guards over the length of the full court, never made the wrong choice and played physically at the point of attack to survive against younger, quick guards.
Calderon also cashed in as a shooter. In his 16 minutes per game, he posted the second-best true shooting percentage of his career at 64.3. He mostly functioned as a spot-up shooter, ceding playmaking duties to LeBron while posting the lowest assist rate of his career by a significant margin, but he got the Cavaliers into their sets when they needed to.
Calderon was able to post that true shooting percentage by absolutely torching the nets from three. He shot 46.4 percent from distance on 1.7 attempts per game. He also managed to hit 50.3 percent of his shots from the field overall, about half of which were inside the arc.
A nice thing about a veteran like Jose is that he knows what he’s good at, and more important, what he can’t do anymore. Calderon took almost exclusively catch-and-shoot threes. 72 percent of his three-point attempts were taken with zero dribbles prior to the shot, and 88 percent of his three-point attempts were taken while either “open” or “wide open”, per NBA.com.
The Cavaliers in the regular season were defined in a lot of ways by their players who didn’t know their limitations. Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas and Jordan Clarkson made habits of looking off LeBron while they freelanced one-on-one. There were stretches Jeff Green fell in love with his jumper, and Jae Crowder tried to create step-back jumpers off the bounce.
Those kinds of plays sap your team’s spirit. They’re momentum killers and don’t allow you to find any rhythm offensively. That’s why an arguably washed up 36-year-old veteran point guard who doesn’t do anything he’s not 100 percent sure he can do was able to find value on this team.
LeBron James can carry an incredible burden as long as you deliver when he sets you up. Jose did that.
The playoffs were a different story, and it’s really a microcosm of the story we see told when a plucky, low-talent team goes up against juggernauts. When the overall intensity of play meets at the same level, those limitations that you might have been able to hide are exposed. The player you might have been able to hound in a full-court press dashes past you instead of being annoyed into a turnover in mid-February.
Those things happen. Calderon was eventually taken out of the rotation as Tyronn Lue leaned on the mostly ineffective guard pairing of Rodney Hood and Jordan Clarkson off the bench. Ultimately, he had served his purpose.
It was still a mistake to sign Jose Calderon when the Cavaliers did. He almost certainly would’ve been on the market later, and they were forced to make painful roster decisions to account for that mistake.
With that said, they couldn’t have possibly asked for more than what they got out of the Spanish guard. He helped carry them through lean stretches and his professionalism was a constant for a team that was (again) wracked by drama.
Sometimes, the ends justify the means. They did with Jose Calderon in the 2017-18 season.