So long as the front office plays it cool, Kawhi Leonard could very well land with the New York Knicks next season.
Kevin Durant has torn his Achilles tendon. Cue New York Knicks fans in three, two, one:
All is lost! New York basketball shall never recover! The Brooklyn Nets’ invasion is complete! Not even sacrificing a goat in the name of Willis Reed‘s knees will help! The end is ne …
Relax, folks. Is Kevin Durant‘s injury disappointing? Of course, it is. He’s one of the best players in the NBA and our beloved Knicks were expected to be big players for him next month. Now, as he spends the next year recovering from surgery, a wrench has indeed been thrown into that plan.
Except, this year’s free agency class doesn’t start and finish with Kevin Durant. In fact, it is the exact opposite. A plethora of big names is available, namely Durant’s Golden State Warriors teammate Klay Thompson and former No. 1 pick Kyrie Irving.
But I’m here to talk about another impending free agent in Kawhi Leonard. He hasn’t been extensively linked to the Knicks all year, but he is also on the cusp of winning the championship which seemed Durant’s to lose. He is about to get paid well, and how.
Sure enough, Ian Begley of SNY is reporting the Knicks will “aggressively pursue” Leonard if he opts out of his deal with the Toronto Raptors.
However, Leonard is not your garden variety free agent. Convincing him to sign with New York won’t be easy, which is why the Knicks’ pitch must be absolutely perfect.
A quiet superstar
Kawhi Leonard’s numbers speak for themselves. He averaged 26.6 points and 7.3 rebounds this season and led the Raptors to the NBA Finals almost singlehandedly. Leonard also shot nearly 50% from the field and 37.1% from three-point range. He can be deadly from anywhere on the floor.
Leonard has also accomplished quite a bit for someone just 27 years old. He won a ring with the San Antonio Spurs in 2014 and was named Finals MVP. The former San Diego State Aztec is also a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and is, arguably, the best two-way player in the game.
And throughout all of this, Leonard has very quietly enjoyed his success, almost to a fault. Very rarely does he show emotion on the hardwood. He isn’t like LeBron James and involved in several projects outside of basketball. Kawhi Leonard, for all of his stardom, keeps to himself and doesn’t seem to crave the spotlight. He makes Silent Bob look like Dane Cook.
Moreover, Leonard’s laconic nature basically led to the Spurs trading him to the Raptors last offseason. He missed all but nine games with a quad injury last season and was very cagey about his rehab. The man was almost completely non-communicative about what was going on and reportedly drew the ire of his teammates. Leonard also had a strained relationship with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.
Does New York have a chance?
Long story short, none of that matters now. Sure, Kawhi Leonard’s exit from San Antonio could have been handled better, but that’s in the past now. He and Popovich seem to have mended the fence. He deserves a max contract, especially if the Raptors win the Finals, and the Knicks need to swoop in now that Durant is injured.
But how would the Knicks sell him on New York? A Toronto realty company, The Condo Store has offered him a free condo should he re-sign with the Raptors, and local restaurants have also said he could eat for free. I live in New York City, ladies and gentlemen. It’s expensive here. No matter how great Kawhi Leonard is, he isn’t getting those kinds of perks here.
It’s also worth noting Leonard has been linked to the Los Angeles Clippers and grew up in southern California. The idea of going home to make the Clippers LA’s top team could be enticing, and it’s relatively easy to be anonymous there. Throw in his introverted nature and New York’s hustle and bustle, and the Big Apple could prove overwhelming.
Still, the Knicks need to at least try.
The pitch for Kawhi Leonard needs to be the exact opposite of what I proposed for Kevin Durant. The bells and whistles need to be minimal. There won’t be any lavish lunch or dinner, nor highlight packages centered around him.
Rather, Steve Mills and Scott Perry need to take a soft-spoken approach. They need to be as minimalist as possible. All they should do is call Leonard in for a meeting. The only people in the room are Leonard, his agent Mitch Frankel, Perry, Mills, and Knicks coach David Fizdale.
As for the pitch itself? It’s minimal. All Perry and Mills need to say is how much they would love to have Leonard in a Knicks uniform because of how great a player he is. Then, Fizdale will explain the goals for the upcoming season and how great a fit Leonard is in his balanced system.
Of course, Fizdale will also talk up New York’s recent draft pick and the young talent which already exists. Leonard would also be asked who he would like playing alongside him since the Knicks have two max slots available this year. He’s rehabbing his old quad injury in New York would also be used to help sell him on the city and, by extension, the Knicks.
It isn’t much of a pitch, Knicks fans, but that’s just who Kawhi Leonard is. He doesn’t crave the spotlight and keeps to himself. It’s just as easy to be anonymous in New York as it is in Los Angeles, plus the traffic isn’t as crazy! He can be a great addition on a young Knicks team, but only if the front office is truly committed to adding him. That means their pitch must have a less is more approach. In this writer’s eyes, it could work.
Perry, your move.