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Kawhinversations: The Leonard-DeRozan Trade FAQ

Including: Can the Raptors convince Kawhi to stay longer than one season? Does Kawhi even own a jacket? Is DeMar the most Spursy player who’s never played for the Spurs?

Elias Stein

The following is from an article that ran on Wednesday about the way the DeMar-Kawhi trade was vibrating things for the team and fans in San Antonio:

“More conversations will come out of the Kawhi trade, for sure — how will Kawhi fit alongside Kyle Lowry? Can the Raptors convince Kawhi to stay longer than just the year he’s under contract? Does Kawhi even own a jacket? Will DeMar and LaMarcus get along? Did the Spurs somehow win a trade that included shipping off the player they were supposed to build their franchise around for the next decade? Has DeMar all of this time been the most Spursy player who’s never played for the Spurs? How much did Gregg Popovich laugh at the idea of sending Kawhi to one of the coldest cities in the league knowing that Kawhi wanted nothing more than to be back home in Los Angeles? How crazy is it that the one player everybody knew was so exactly perfect to be a career Spur ended up being the one to try to Mr. Orange the franchise? Has there ever been a situation as opposite of the way that the Raptors fans are going to treat DeMar during his first game back to Toronto in comparison to the way the Spurs fans are going to treat Kawhi during his first game back in San Antonio? Will Spurs fans ever be able to step back and thank Kawhi for the 2014 championship? etc. — but today, that’s the feeling: relief.”

Today, those conversations (and a few more) will happen:

How will Kawhi fit alongside Kyle Lowry on the court? Assuming that Kawhi plays (which is a thing that has to be said BECAUSE HE MIGHT JUST BE LIKE “NO THANK YOU I’M NOT PLAYING,” which is wild), and assuming that Kawhi is healthy (which is another thing that has to be said BECAUSE EVEN AFTER ALL THIS TIME NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING ABOUT HIS INJURY, which is even wilder), I’m certain they’ll be fine. Kawhi is a bigger, stronger, better, more imposing version of DeMar, and technically that should mean that he and Kyle together are a more powerful duo than Kyle and DeMar. (This, of course, is true only if Kyle doesn’t show up to training camp already hating Kawhi for being the reason he’s just lost his best basketball friend, which we can’t rule out given how perfectly perfect Kyle and DeMar were in that capacity.)

How will Kawhi fit alongside Kyle Lowry off the court? Best-case scenario, they’re like Hiro and Baymax from Big Hero 6. Worst-case scenario, they’re like when Will Smith started crying in I Am Legend because he was so lonely and the mannequin he was trying to talk to wouldn’t say anything back to him.

Can the Raptors convince Kawhi to stay longer than just the year he’s under contract? That may be the biggest question here. I mentioned on The Bill Simmons Podcast that the Thunder were in essentially the exact same position this past season with Paul George and everyone was extremely certain he was going to leave, but then he ended up signing a multiyear extension with OKC. But what I’d not realized until now is that, if we’re talking about convincing players who maybe don’t want to stay there, Toronto has actually been in this same spot, too, and been successful at least twice (Kyle Lowry and Chris Bosh both reupped). Why can’t they do it again?

But do you really think the Raptors can convince Kawhi to stay? YES. Look, think on it like this: Let’s say Kawhi shows up and he’s healthy and ready to start collecting additions to his necklace of human teeth that I’m almost certain he’s always wearing underneath his jersey. He does that, and jumps back into the MVP conversation, and Toronto is instantly in a position to challenge for the Eastern Conference title. And let’s say that Philly regresses a little bit (a very real likelihood), and that Kyrie Irving does or says something nuts in Boston that sends them into just enough of a tailspin that they stumble in the playoffs. (“I’ve spent a lot of time studying bees these past few months. I feel connected to them. They understand me, and I understand them. Which is why I would like to be traded next season to Charlotte, which I’m told has many hornets, if not literal bees. Thank you.”) Toronto, behind the strength of Kawhi’s dominance, thunders its way into the Finals. And the Raptors lose to the Warriors, sure, but it doesn’t matter. He’s drunk off the success of the season (Defensive Player of the Year, legitimate MVP candidate, All-NBA First Team selection, first Finals appearance for his new franchise). And so he’s sitting there staring at a possible future that includes multiple trips to the Finals over the next five or seven years, and he knows the Warriors will eventually fall apart and LeBron will eventually stop being LeBron and when that happens … I mean … why couldn’t the Raptors win a title or two under Kawhi’s tenure? And if he gets drawn in by that idea, then who knows? Maybe he’d stick around. (Or, maybe less complicated than all that: He shows up to Toronto, goes down a snowy hill on an inner tube, and is like, “Snow is good,” and then signs an extension.)

But do you reeeeeeeally think the Raptors can convince Kawhi to stay? Sadly, no. I thought Shannon Sharpe had the most accurate assessment of the situation on Undisputed when he said, “Gregg Popovich, [who] you can make a case he’s one of the top three or four coaches of all time in NBA history, could not convince Kawhi that San Antonio was the best place … plus they had five years, $221 million waiting for him, but the Raptors are going to convince Kawhi to stay?”

Does Kawhi even own a jacket? Probably not. I think that whenever his body starts to get cold he just says, “No,” and then his body isn’t cold anymore.

Will DeMar and LaMarcus Aldridge get along? Of course, and I feel confident in saying that if for no other reason than because DeMar has been in the league for almost a decade now and I can’t think of one single time when there was a story about him being a bad teammate. He is so far from being a bad teammate, in fact, that if you Google “DeMar DeRozan bad teammate” the first result back is literally a story about people saying nice things about him. LaMarcus can be a bit prickly and he’s definitely territorial, but I just can’t see a situation in which DeMar brings any of those feelings out of LaMarcus.

What’s the nickname for DeMar going to be? I don’t know. The best one I’ve heard so far is Lonestar DeMar. I guess that.

Did the Spurs somehow win a trade that included shipping off the player they were supposed to build their franchise around for the next decade? This was either the best possible outcome for the Spurs (because they added an All-NBA player to a roster that won 47 games last season in exchange for Danny Green and a franchise player who was likely never going to put on a Spurs jersey again anyway) or the worst possible outcome (because they should’ve just accepted their fate, shipped Kawhi off to the Lakers in exchange for a bundle of young players, and then started the rebuild this year). Deciding which camp you’re in is as simple as choosing between whichever of those two things you think is true. (I am firmly Pro DeMar. My greatest hope is that he shows up to San Antonio in extra shape and extra angry.) (This is going to sound very dumb and is actually honestly legitimately very dumb but it’s still something I think about a lot: Do you know that SpongeBob SquarePants meme where the letters are capitalized in weird spots that people send to other people to make fun of them for saying something dumb? I wonder whether people who are friends with DeMar DeRozan ever make jokes to him about how he’s only a capital N, Z, and R away from being the real-life version of that.)

Has DeMar all of this time been the most Spursy player who’s never played for the Spurs? The phrase “Spursy” is in reference to all of the attributes that get mentioned whenever someone is talking about the “culture” of San Antonio basketball. It describes traits including but not limited to: being selfless; putting the team’s interest above your own; commitment to defense; a willingness to be basketball-disciplined; a refusal to talk to any member of the media about anything other than the most basic retelling of a thing that happened on the basketball court ever; an interest in starring in HEB commercials; and an abstention from edge-ups. The only player more Spursy than DeMar who has never actually played for the Spurs is Marc Gasol.

How much did Gregg Popovich laugh at the idea of sending Kawhi to one of the coldest cities in the league knowing that Kawhi wanted nothing more than to be back home in Los Angeles? A lot, I’m sure. In my head, as soon as the deal was officially done and signed, Pop started laughing like Tom Hanks in The Money Pit when the bathtub falls through the floor. (I laughed at this because of how perfectly the pieces lined up with Pop being Hanks and Kawhi being the bathtub, but then I realized that that meant that the Spurs were the floor and everything got a lot less funny.)

How crazy is it that the one player everybody knew was so exactly perfect to be a career Spur ended up being the one to try to Mr. Orange the franchise? There are several sports memories in my head that will always be associated with Twitter. The first one is the championship-stealing 3 that Ray Allen hit in Game 6 during the 2013 Finals. It was, like, the last few minutes of the game and I was too nervous to watch so I turned my TV off and was just refreshing Twitter over and over again, hoping to see a picture of the Spurs celebrating a new championship. That didn’t happen, though. It got down to the very end of the game, LeBron missed his 3, Bosh grabbed the rebound, threw it out to Ray, who stepped back, pulled up, and then bang. I didn’t know any of that, though. It wasn’t until a tweet came up on my timeline from a guy named Henry Abbott. The tweet very simply and very plainly just said, “Wow.” As soon as I saw it, I knew something terrible had happened. I turned on the TV, saw the game was tied, turned the TV off, then for some reason got in the shower and tried not to cry. The second sports memory in my head that’s attached to Twitter is my colleague Jason Concepcion tweeting something about how Kawhi being the player to turn on the Spurs was “a Red Wedding–level plot twist.” I’ve only seen, like, three episodes of Game of Thrones, but I knew exactly what he was talking about, and what he meant.

Has there ever been a situation as opposite of the way that the Raptors fans are going to treat DeMar during his first game back to Toronto in comparison to the way the Spurs fans are going to treat Kawhi during his first game back in San Antonio? Remember in that movie Fear the difference between Mark Wahlberg at the beginning of it versus Mark Wahlberg at the end of it? That’s this. That’s Toronto to DeMar and San Antonio to Kawhi.

Will Spurs fans ever be able to step back and thank Kawhi for the 2014 championship? I hope so. It’s the best of all the Spurs championships, and he was obviously a centerpiece of it. Sacrificing the very good memories associated with watching the 2014 Spurs pull the legs off the LeBron-Wade-Bosh Heat superteam in exchange for taking a few digs at Kawhi does not seem like a smart trade-off.