Danny Green is awesome. Kawhi Leonard is also awesome. I'm glad they're both going to be Spurs for a while longer.
No, I know that sounds like I'm spitting hot fire here for clicks, but just hear me out.
For months Spurs fans have been speculating and dreaming and hoping about signing LaMarcus Aldridge, a gleaming free agent white whale of the caliber they've been prevented from pursuing, due to salary cap reasons, since 2004. For the last 11 years, the foundation has been "The Big Three," meaning that they were always skewing and tweaking on the periphery of those three guys. Remodeling the bathroom here. Turning junior's room into an office there. Their NBA neighbors have mostly bulldozed and rebuilt around them two or three times over in that time span, razing and rising, razing and rising, all in hopes of having a similar view. The Spurs just kept on keeping on, except for 2011, where they found Kawhi Leonard, the Hope Diamond, buried in their broom closet.
Now that they've finally found themselves in position to chase a premiere free agent, to finally find themselves giving pitch meetings and making headlines on the first of July, I find myself a bit chagrined that the guys who actually helped the Spurs win their last title, Leonard and Danny Green, have almost been taken for granted in this process.
Of course, that's not even taking into account the sacrifices and unselfishness Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili have made and continue to make. If they insisted on fair contracts commensurate with their actual worth, both in the recent past and going forward, then the Spurs wouldn't be in position to offer anybody anything in the first place. Duncan, Ginobili, Tony Parker, Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford have all had a tremendous role in building and defining the Spurs "brand," and making it something that might appeal to someone like Aldridge, but please, I beg of you, let's not get this twisted: The Spurs have already agreed to terms with their two most important free agents (non-legends division) in Leonard and Green.
Let's start with Leonard. He agreed to a 5-year max, worth $90 million, roughly 18 seconds into the start of free agency. (Obviously, Woj had the scoop.) Yes, he was a restricted free agent, meaning that the Spurs had the option to match whatever offer he got elsewhere, but that doesn't mean this couldn't have gotten messy. There was nothing stopping Leonard's camp from feeling out offers elsewhere. He could've taken meetings with the Lakers --he's from the area, after all-- or the Rockets or Mavs or whomever. He could've gotten antsy and signed an offer sheet somewhere, which would've forced the Spurs to match within 72 hours and blown their cap space, instead of waiting to be the last guy to re-sign, which he'll now do. He could've just taken a one-year deal for the qualifying offer and put himself out there as an unrestricted free agent next year, when the cap blows up.
The point is there's a thousand ways Leonard and his agent could've thrown a wrench into the works, as we've seen happen with Chandler Parsons and the Mavs.
Leonard would've been well within his rights to explore alternate options, without blame. Instead he played ball with the Spurs every step of the way and trusted in their vision and game plan. It's kind of crazy to think he's already going to be a max guy in just the fifth season of his career when a pair of future Hall-of-Famers in Ginobili and Parker never have been or will be, but as max guys go, he's been as selfless through this whole process as he possibly could be. Honestly I wouldn't be surprised if Leonard didn't offer Aldridge some assurances in the pitch meeting that he can be "The Face of the Franchise," or whatever if he wants, after reports circulated that Aldridge was unhappy with all the shine Damian Lillard got with the Blazers.
"I'll give up the punchline on the H-E-B spots if you come over. I'm never gonna be able to top 'Indubitably' anyway."
Green, meanwhile, actually was a threat to leave elsewhere. Not only did he have suitors across the league, and numerous meetings set up, but we've all read columns crunching the numbers and coming to the conclusion that it'd be almost impossible for the team to keep him, Leonard and Duncan and still have room for a max guy. The prevailing wisdom was that not only both Tiago Splitter and Danny Green had to go but that we should all be fine with that to get Aldridge.
I was never on board with that plan, not for a second. Green is too important. He and Leonard are intertwined to the Spurs defense, twin pincers that make life miserable for opposing shooters. Green's quick feet, long arms and otherwordly instincts in transition are under-appreciated by too many of the talking heads who think of him as just a three-point shooter. I think he's more replaceable offensively than defensively. I don't think it's a coincidence that San Antonio was the only team in the league with a winning record against the Warriors last year. Also, his "corporate knowledge," allows Pop to trust him in end of games and will help prevent situations where he burns out Ginobili early in the season. I had grave concerns about what the upcoming season would look like for the Argentine without Green. Who knows, maybe he did too.
It's possible that Sean Elliott gave Green a quick head's up about the hellscape that is Detroit and maybe he was wise enough to want no part of the Knicks rebuilding plan or the Kings dysfunction. But with DeMarre Carroll agreeing to a reported 4-year/$60 million deal, Khris Middleton re-signing in Milwaukee for five years and $70 million and even Iman Shumpert getting 4-years/$40 million to re-up with the Cavs, the idea that the Spurs were able to get Green back in the fold for four years and $45 million is astonishing. It was the first, maybe only, chance for Green to cash in for his career, and he essentially decided to skip free agency altogether.
And the crazy part is he doesn't even seem to think it's a hometown discount. Instead, he's acting like the Spurs did him a favor.
Danny Green is a classy guy. pic.twitter.com/JLY5AKLo05
— Caleb Saenz (@calebjsaenz) July 1, 2015
You don't need me to rehash Green's history again. Everyone knows the Spurs rescued him from the scrap heap when no one else in the NBA was interested. Still, he's the one who deserves the credit for the work he put in to turn himself into the pro he's become. He deserves every penny of the deal and considerably more and we all know it, even if he doesn't.
The important thing to remember is Kawhi Leonard is awesome, Danny Green is awesome and they're both back. Signing LaMarcus Aldridge would be quite the coup, but he was well down my checklist.