Kawhi Leonard is now a member of the Toronto Raptors, after a Wednesday morning blockbuster that sent DeMar DeRozan to San Antonio and shockwaves throughout the NBA. The trade clearly didn’t sit well with DeRozan, who felt betrayed by the Raptors deciding to send him to the Spurs after reportedly telling him during Summer League that he’d be staying put.
By most accounts, Leonard’s not a fan, either … and by one, he might be thinking about taking extreme measures to register his displeasure at being shipped up north. From Sean Deveney of the Sporting News:
Leonard and his agents let it be known that Leonard wanted to be traded to Los Angeles, and he owns some leverage there — Leonard can be a free agent next summer, and he could simply sign with the Lakers, who have cap space available, in 12 months.
And, league sources told Sporting News, Leonard has no interest in playing for the Raptors. There have been indications that he would sit out the entire season if necessary, and though that step would be drastic and unprecedented in today’s game, Toronto has forced the situation into uncharted territory by acquiring a player who has made it clear he does not want to be there.
Kawhi just not showing up would be something of a nuclear option
Deveney’s not the first to report that this idea has been floating around Leonard’s camp. ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith shared similar rumblings just after the opening of free agency, saying that league executives had told him not to be shocked if the two-time Defensive Player of the Year elected to sit out all of next season if the Spurs held onto him rather than directing him to his preferred reported destination: the Los Angeles Lakers. We know now that Leonard won’t be in L.A.; the question, then, is whether he’ll turn up in Toronto to take what promises to be a very, very carefully watched physical, and to begin the process of acclimating himself to the organization that holds his rights for at least the next season.
Leonard, who played just nine games for San Antonio last season as he battled both a lingering quadriceps injury and a Spurs organization that he reportedly felt misdiagnosed and mishandled the ailment, could very well choose to just shut it down in an attempt to force his way out of Toronto and to the landing spot of his choosing. Doing so would cost him, though.
If Kawhi stays home, he loses lots and lots of money
As detailed by salary cap and collective bargaining agreement guru Albert Nahmad, Leonard’s got one week from the time of the trade to turn up in Toronto:
Kawhi Leonard is obligated by Sec 10(c) of his contract to report to Raptors within one week. If doesn’t, w/o reasonable excuse, he’d be subject to discipline by (i) Raptors (or, if trade voided, Spurs) and (ii) NBA, for conduct prejudicial to NBA under Art 35(d) of Constitution.
— Albert Nahmad (@AlbertNahmad) July 18, 2018
Here’s the full text of Section 10(c) of the NBA’s Uniform Player Contract:
In the event that this Contract is assigned to another NBA team, the Player shall forthwith be provided notice orally or in writing, delivered to the Player personally or delivered or mailed to his last known address, and the Player shall report to the assignee team within forty-eight (48) hours after said notice has been received (if the assignment is made during a Season), within one (1) week after said notice has been received (if the assignment is made between Seasons), or within such longer time for reporting as may be specified in said notice. The NBA shall also promptly notify the Players Association of any such assignment. The Player further agrees that, immediately upon reporting to the assignee team, he will submit upon request to a physical examination conducted by a physician designated by the assignee team.
If the Player, without a reasonable excuse, does not report to the team to which this Contract has been assigned within the time provided in subsection (c) above, then (i) upon consummation of the assignment, the Player may be disciplined by the assignee team or, if the assignment is not consummated or is voided as a result of the Player’s failure to so report, by the assignor Team, and (ii) such conduct shall constitute conduct prejudicial to the NBA under Article 35(d) of the NBA Constitution, and shall therefore subject the Player to discipline from the NBA in accordance with such Article.
So Kawhi’s got a week to get to Toronto and take a physical, lest he run afoul of league rules and open himself up to penalties. Here’s the section from Article 35 of the NBA’s constitution and bylaws relating to that, as Nahmad mentioned:
The Commissioner shall have the power to suspend for a definite or indefinite period, or to impose a fine not exceeding $50,000, or inflict both such suspension and fine upon any Player who, in his opinion, (i) shall have made or caused to be made any statement having, or that was designed to have, an effect prejudicial or detrimental to the best interests of basketball or of the Association or of a Member, or (ii) shall have been guilty of conduct that does not conform to standards of morality or fair play, that does not comply at all times with all federal, state, and local laws, or that is prejudicial or detrimental to the Association.
Not reporting, then, could leave Leonard open to fine and suspension by the league office. It could also put his regular paychecks on the chopping block.
According to Zach Lowe of ESPN, by failing to report, Leonard opens himself up to the possibility of the Raptors fining him for each practice and game he misses, starting with the preseason and going all the way “up to his full $20.1 million salary.” It could have implications beyond this season, too.
Kawhi shutting it down this season could impede his free agency next season
From Article XI of the 2017 CBA between the league and players, under the section on “withholding services”:
A player who withholds playing services called for by a Player Contract for more than thirty (30) days after the start of the last Season covered by his Player Contract shall be deemed not to have “complet[ed] his Player Contract by rendering the playing services called for thereunder.” Accordingly, such a player shall not be a Veteran Free Agent and shall not be entitled to negotiate or sign a Player Contract with any other professional basketball team unless and until the Team for which the player last played expressly agrees otherwise.
It seems, then, that if Kawhi holds out and refuses to show up, the Raptors could petition the NBA under this clause to restrict his free-agent movement, not allowing him to exit for any destination “unless and until” Toronto specifically agrees to cut him loose. (Which, if things get to a point this testy, you’d figure would require some kind of negotiated sweetener heading back the Raps’ way.)
The Raptors could also force Leonard’s injured quad under the spotlight
And if Leonard and his camp refused to report under the guise of continuing to address his injury through medical treatment away from the team, as he did in separating from the Spurs last year, the Raptors could have some recourse to get nasty there, too.
The section on “injury grievances” in Article XXXI of the CBA allows a party to a dispute — in this case, the team or Leonard — to prompt the league and players’ union to “agree upon a neutral physician” to “serve as an independent medical expert and consultant to the Grievance Arbitrator.” That physician would “conduct a physical examination of the player; review such medical records and reports relating to the player that bear on the issues in dispute; and prepare a written report of the player’s medical condition, which report shall address any specific medical questions submitted to the independent medical expert by joint agreement of the parties or by the Grievance Arbitrator.”
The arbitrator could also compel any party involved to furnish “all medical information” related to the matter of the dispute, which you’d imagine might help dispel some of the vast uncertainty surrounding Leonard’s ongoing quad issue. In general: if Leonard would use injury as a reason for not reporting to the Raptors, then he’d better be prepared for the possibility of the curtain being fully pulled back on whatever may or may not be going on with his right leg … which might be something that a player hell-bent on pursuing a nine-figure contract in a destination of his choosing might not want to have done mere months before he can hit the market.
I don’t doubt that Leonard is unhappy at not only not being traded to the place he wanted to go, but being traded to another flippin’ country. But if he and his representatives can’t finesse their way out of this and to L.A. in some other way before the start of the season, is he really unhappy enough to risk part or all of his $20.1 million salary and any resultant complications the Raptors might be able to toss his way by invoking the terms of the uniform player contract and the CBA, rather than just suiting up, doing a year up north, maybe making a run at the NBA Finals, and then taking his talents elsewhere next summer?
As Wednesday wore on, the prospect of Leonard staying home seemed to grow more and more remote, with reports surfacing that the 2014 NBA Finals MVP is expected to report to Toronto’s training camp, and that he’s beginning to warm up to the idea of playing for the Raptors. That’s probably the best thing for all parties — nobody wants to see this trade drag on for weeks, like the Kyrie Irving-Isaiah Thomas swap last year, and the sooner everything’s finalized, the sooner the wounds ripped open by the deal can begin to scab over and everyone can start to move on. (Also, y’know, I’m pretty into the idea of finding out what Kawhi can do on the Raptors and how DeRozan looks with the Spurs.)
That said, there would be something kind of remarkable to Leonard digging in his heels like this, even knowing he could be costing himself $20 million on top of the amount he’s already cost himself by eliminating the super-max contract as an option, and that he’d be costing himself by leaving the Raptors (who, with his Bird rights, can offer him a five-year, $190 million contract next summer) for any other team (who could only offer him a four-year, $141 million contract). On one hand, a player coming off one season scuttled by injury deciding to wholly punt another in his prime would be an awfully bold, frankly shocking and perhaps borderline insane move. On the other … well, if nothing else, it’d be awfully tough to ever again doubt that the man’s got the strength of his convictions.
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