What will Kawhi do?
If you can’t sleep, have developed a tremor from reflexively checking your phone and keep wondering to yourself — ‘Is he still in Toronto, did he ever leave that hotel?’ — well you are not alone.
The summer cliffhanger that has kept a city captivated and the NBA on edge may be drawing to a conclusion, but the outcome remains in doubt.
For those searching for clues, good luck. This is Kawhi Leonard we’re talking about, whose still waters most certainly run deep, but off which speculation, rumour and flat-out guesses about his future skip along like perfectly shaped stones on a mirror-like pond.
If the lack of information is killing you, don’t take it personally.
Danny Green has played alongside Leonard for eight seasons and won two championships with the multi-talented wing. Green is a free agent too, and in many ways his future is tied up with what Leonard decides to do with his free agency, but he doesn’t have any insight about what his friend and teammate is going to do either.
On the most recent installment of his typically excellent Inside the Green Room podcast that came out Thursday night, Green said he’s in the same boat as everyone else about Leonard’s future.
The difference between Green and everyone else is that his professional future may depend on it, and after the best season of his career, the 32-year-old doesn’t know what’s next.
“I don’t know,” Green said when host Harrison Sanford asked Green about where he was going to end up in free agency. “A lot weighs on Kawhi’s decision, still trying to figure that out, see what he’s leaning towards. Still trying to find out, figure it out and also see what the options are.”
This is clearly the Kawhi way and as the most coveted free agent in a league where one player can change the direction of a franchise, the two-time Finals MVP has earned his right to take his time in making his decision between staying with the Toronto Raptors, joining LeBron James and the Lakers in Los Angeles or helping the upstart Clippers complete their makeover after decades as an NBA punchline.
But Leonard’s decision and the time he’s taking deliberating has ripple effects.
For example: Do we even know if Raptors president Masai Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster have even left the Yorkville hotel where they — we assume — met with Leonard on Wednesday? Are they helplessly trapped, watching Netflix and ordering room service?
For Green there are real-life implications. By choosing to wait and see if he can run it back with Leonard in Toronto, defending the franchise’s first championship, he’s risked limiting the market for his own services as a frenzied start to free agency has cooled with much of the available talent signed and teams with money to spend dwindled.
His list is basically down to the Raptors, the Lakers or the Dallas Mavericks.
The Raptors and Lakers are tied to Leonard’s decision, but the Mavericks want Green as a veteran leader on an emerging young team and won’t wait forever, according to Green. The possibility exists that he could end up the odd-man out in a high stakes game of musical chairs.
“Yes. I’m worried also,” Green said when asked if he was concerned about losing out by waiting. All those things come across the board — if I miss out on opportunities, if I get the short end of the stick, which would suck.
“I’m hoping he makes his decision soon … so that these other teams don’t have to wait, I don’t have to wait, I can make a decision.
“We’ll see how long these teams will wait, I don’t think more than another day or so.”
Green may get his wish. According to Chris Carter — the Fox Sports personality who shares an agent with Leonard and has had as good information as anyone about the two-time Finals MVP’s plans — the expectation is a decision will come today, with Carter suggesting the Lakers could be in the drivers’ seat.
That could be tough news for Green, who has been spending the week running basketball camps — first in Halifax and now in Vancouver — and who has been as active as any player the Raptors have ever had in connecting with the greater basketball community in Toronto and beyond.
If the Lakers sign Leonard to join LeBron James and Anthony Davis in Los Angeles it would seem unlikely Green would follow, as much as they would love to have him fill out an otherwise thin roster.
The Lakers would only have the ‘room mid-level exception’ to offer Green, which would top out at $9.78 million over two seasons, which is far below his proper value given Green was second in the NBA in three-point shooting, knocking down a career-best 45.5 per cent on 5.4 attempts a game and remains a stout, switchable defender — two highly valued qualities in a league where perimeter shooting and defending dominate the game.
Add in his sterling locker-room reputation and a pair of championship rings and he’s the kind of veteran any team would like to make room for.
Consider that J.J. Redick got a two-year, $26.5-million deal from the New Orleans Hornets on the opening night of free agency, or Seth Curry got four years and $32 million from the Mavericks a few days later.
Green’s best bet financially could be if Leonard returns to the Raptors. The Lakers would be sitting on about $33 million of unused cap space with almost no one to spend it on. Green would likely be able to command top dollar from the Lakers, while the Raptors would likely feel pressure to keep Green, having almost certainly made promises to Leonard to do whatever it takes to ensure the best chance to repeat.
Green would also have leverage if Leonard signs with the Clippers.
But if Leonard signs with the Lakers, would the Raptors — who own Green’s ‘Bird rights’ and can pay him whatever he wants, essentially — want to sign Green on a rich long-term deal if Leonard is leaving, taking the team’s realistic championship aspirations with them?
It seems unlikely. That would leave Dallas as Green’s most likely destination and leave the Raptors at risk of losing not only Leonard but in Green, another essential piece of their championship rotation.
But as of Thursday night he didn’t know what Leonard was going to do, which made Green like the Raptors and virtually everyone else on the planet, the difference being his future is hanging in the balance also.
“He’s obviously a very secretive guy, quiet guy, likes to stay to himself, [and] not be bombarded with a lot of stuff,” Green said of his long-time teammate.
“…I try to leave him alone.”