Green: Kawhi wanted 'his own route,' not Lakers

ByDave McMenamin ESPN logo
Sunday, July 14, 2019

As Danny Green -- perhaps Kawhi Leonard's closest teammate, having paired with him to win championships in both San Antonio and Toronto -- waited on Leonard's free-agent decision last week, he was left in the dark just like the rest of the world.

Except he was pretty sure of one thing: Leonard would not be joining the Los Angeles Lakers.

"I think all of it was a shock to me," Green said on a conference call with reporters Thursday. "Except not as much of a shock Kawhi going to L.A. The Clippers, anyway. I didn't see him coming this route [to the Lakers].

"I feel like he wanted to go his own route. I think it was between them and going back (to Toronto). I think the year that he had and what those fans brought this season and everything, it was hard for him to turn it down and leave Toronto. But I knew he wanted to be closer to home."

Leonard, a native of Riverside, California, orchestrated the Paul George trade from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Clippers behind the scenes, spurning the Lakers -- who had $32 million in cap space on hold for him -- and the Raptors, who wanted to retain the 2019 Finals MVP and defend their championship. And Green then became the Lakers' top target.

Shortly after Leonard informed the Lakers they were out of consideration, they pivoted to offer Green a two-year, $30 million contract, and followed that deal by reaching agreements with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, JaVale McGee, Rajon Rondo, Alex Caruso, Quinn Cook, DeMarcus Cousins and eventually Avery Bradley to fill out the roster.

Green, a 10-year veteran with a career 40.4% mark on 3-pointers, said deciding on the Lakers was simple.

"It wasn't very hard, man," he said. "LeBron [James] and Anthony Davis are here. Obviously when you're with a winning team and you've won, you want to run it back if it's possible. But that wasn't going to happen. And even if it did happen, I don't think they had room for me there [in Toronto]. So you go to the next-best team you think in the league is and that was here."

Not that the wait until he got to make that decision wasn't excruciating. Free agents could begin negotiations with prospective teams on June 30. Leonard didn't make his choice until July 5. And Green -- knowing there could be a pretty payday waiting for him in L.A. if Leonard didn't form a superteam alongside James and Davis -- had no choice but to stand in line until Leonard punched his free-agency ticket first.

"Those five days seemed like five months," he said. "And each day that went by, I checked in with 'Whi and I'm like, 'Yo, what's going on with your meeting?' 'I have a meeting tomorrow.' So, like, 'Tomorrow? So I have to wait another day?' You think a day, it goes by pretty fast, but the way it was happening, the way I was talking to him, you would think it was a week. Like, 'I got to wait another day, dude? Like, come on!'"

Green, who played alongside James in Cleveland during his rookie season in 2009-10 and later battled him in back-to-back NBA Finals when James played for the Miami Heat, is happy to be back on the four-time MVP's side.

"I've had a chance to play with him, play against him, compete and now compete with him," Green said. "Kind of come full circle. It's crazy how some things work out."

Rather than run it back with the Raptors or play for another Texas team in the Dallas Mavericks, who expressed interest, Green will now become part of the hallway series between the Lakers and Clippers at the Staples Center, facing off against his old comrade in Leonard.

"I think it'll be a lot of fun," he said. "I think this is a rivalry growing back to where it was before. But I think both teams are very good on paper, we have to see how it's put together. I think it'll be something that's going to grow into something, hopefully something that's unbelievable for the fans to watch. I'm excited about it. You never know, it could be two teams in L.A. playing against each other [in the playoffs] which we wouldn't have to travel anywhere. Might be interesting."

Though he feels fortunate to have landed on the Lakers, Green says that Leonard and George felt they pulled a fast one, too.

"I had brief conversations with them after it, they think they got lucky with it," Green said. "Nobody knew about it. I had no idea. I checked in with [Leonard] all the time. He gave me no updates. I had no idea where he was going."

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