Greed is good. Or, so they say. Greed is what made Kobe Bryant want 8 titles before he played his first NBA game. It’s what made LeBron want to be Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan and Warren Buffet all in one. It’s what twinkled the eye of Joe Lacob and the Warriors ownership group as they imagined leaving working class Oakland for San Francisco. All of us are greedy about something.
Kawhi Leonard’s greed was epic if you believe all the details. He asked the Raptors and Lakers for a private plane. A house. Endorsement money. Even ownership. Reading about it, particularly around the holidays, makes Kawhi and his uncle sound like money grabbers, wanting things they did not earn just because they thought they had teams over the barrel. It sounds grimy and entitled and talent privilege run amok. Kawhi and his family were reaching for the moon. Because they knew they would never get it? Or, because they wanted to monetize the Leonard name while they had leverage?
Every business has rules about money, has fixed lines in the sand. As much as we talk about max salaries and what players are worth, there are checks and balances to keep things fair. The league is required to monitor what is excessive, greedy, an unfair advantage, and out of bounds. Teams cannot provide special benefits because it circumvents the cap which is specifically in place so teams have an equal amount of spending leverage.
If team A can give a player a house that’s worth $5 million, then his salary doesn’t reflect the benefits he is receiving and the salary cap number is inaccurate. It’s a way to cheat the system. The NBA is very sensitive to under the table payments to players.
It has been reported that the Clippers tried to acquire Kawhi Leonard’s logo from Nike as a gift, that’s how desperate they were to sign Leonard. When the Clippers signed DeAndre Jordan as a free agent a while back they were fined for arranging a sponsorship for him.
If Kawhi’s uncle asked the Lakers and Raptors for part ownership, a plane, a house, and guaranteed endorsement money, what did he ask of the Clippers other than go out and get Paul George? Nothing, according to the NBA though the investigation isn’t entirely closed.
Kawhi gave his typical response to any story written that doesn’t portray him as heroic. “People make up stories all the time.” It’s his way of putting it into a box, and moving on.
There are facts. At the time of his signing with the Clippers, multiple reporters for different outlets had versions of the story that Sam Amick of the Athletic reported on, specifically what Kawhi’s Uncle Dennis wanted. If you take everything written as true, Leonard asked for everything and then some from the Raptors and Lakers and not much (except for Paul George and load management) from the Clippers. A cynic might say Leonard used his excessive laundry list of materialism as a smokescreen, a way to eliminate the Lakers and Raptors when he already had eliminated the Lakers and Raptors. He had no intention of signing with either of them but went through this chaotic show and tell that was a game intended to make sure the Lakers burned through opportunities while they waited for him to decide.
Kawhi played the Raptors and Lakers like a mandolin. Whose to say he isn’t greedy and didn’t want all of those things? But to my way of thinking, he used the Lakers and Raptors by pretending they were in the running when his laundry list of get me this was really leverage to acquire everything he wanted from the Clippers and to give them time to meet his asking price. The Lakers and Raptors were toys that he quickly discarded.
It hardly matters now five months later. Kawhi is having the season the Clippers had hoped he would have except they aren’t as solid as they expected, losing games on the road they should win. The Clippers have the 5th best road record in the west, and the 5th best conference record. This doesn’t bother them. They argue that when the playoffs come, beating them 4 out of 7 times with Kawhi and Paul George will be impossible. But having to always win on the road in the playoffs when their road record is just average will be a challenge.
Kawhi will play Christmas Day just like he plays every other day that is not load management. Reports of his supposed greed is something he tosses to the side, considers irrelevant. All that matters is that Doc Rivers thinks it’s irrelevant.
The Clippers have insulated Kawhi in a way that would have been impossible if he played for the Lakers. Kawhi knew that, knew that the Lakers brand competes with the player’s brand. It’s always a balancing act.
The Clippers are not so egalitarian. The brand isn’t as fluid. And so Kawhi is called greedy and will continue to be Kawhi. Offense. Defense. Game on the line. Buckets.