The leadoff: Kawhi-ser Soze

I hope NBA free agency never ends. It is the best soap opera on television and this weekend it only got sweeter. I wrote last week that I thought Kawhi was going to the Los Angeles Clippers but I did not think it would happen this way with him joining a player that just signed a four-year deal literally last year. What Kawhi did was, above all else, incredibly impressive and there better be a documentary or a “30 for 30” or a book or something produced that dives deeper into what actually happened because it seems juicy. 

As I had said previously, I never really thought that he was going to be a Los Angeles Laker. It just didn’t fit the narrative that he has been silently exuding. He hates the spotlight, respects blue-collar hard-working dudes and above all else seems to greatly value his privacy. Do you know which organization in the NBA has more holes in it than a colander, the Lakers? Shoot sometimes I think Ramona Shelburne hears about things inside the Lakers organization before Jeanie Buss does. He is also the ultimate king slayer.  When it seemed the Miami Heat’s big three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh would win every title for the next decade whose gigantic hands blocked out the sun and restored order to the NBA? Who was it who simultaneously held the dreams of a nation on his shoulders as he defeated potentially the greatest assembly of talent the NBA has ever seen without so much as cracking a smile? However, the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. The “Usual Suspects” taught us that and it appears that must be Kawhi Lenoard’s favorite movie because that is what he just did to the NBA.

While it’s obvious that Leonard isn’t a very talkative person it seems, after recent reports, that he just doesn't want to talk to us and I understand that. Apparently, Leonard was calling up guys in the NBA and seeing who wanted to team up with him like a sort of shadow LeBron.  According to the reports Leonard first called up Kevin Durant, who decided to sign with the New Jersey Nets and team up with Kyrie Irving, then he called up Jimmy Butler, who in the most surprising move of free agency chose Miami over more money and a title shot in Philadelphia and a chance to unite with the silent assassin, before eventually calling Paul George, who is under contract for the next three years.

This whole time we thought Leonard was out here walking with a limp and talking with a stutter when really he was calling the shots behind the scenes the whole time. He has even taken it even a step further than James who pioneered the player empowerment movement by going after a guy that was still under contract and had him go to his general manager to get out. It was a straight-up gangster move and there is no other way around it. It was brilliant, how did the Oklahoma Thunder or Clippers not come up with that idea first? The Thunder proved this year they don’t have enough to win it all and they had some serious cap issues, starting over was the most rational decision, yet no one mentioned it. 

 What makes this so interesting beyond the Clippers having one of the best defensive teams in recent memory and beyond the battle’s for LA that we are going to get is the players newly found worthlessness for general managers. From all accounts, and ESPN’s Bomani Jones was the first to bring it to my attention, it seems that Leonard had to orchestrate this whole thing. He moved the meeting to meet with Paul George, he told the Clippers they needed a second star and then made them mortgage the future. The player-empowerment age is officially here and you better catch this train at the station. I believe over the next decade the trend we are going to see in young fans is a connection far stronger to individual players than to team brands. Sure, for now, the older generations still value management over labor and flood social media with obscenities anytime someone leaves their team but those days are numbered. 

I believe the next generation of kids will grow up as I did. I always had a favorite team, per se, but I only ever cheered for certain players. Claiming blind loyalty to a greedy billionaire never seemed like the move to me. How and why normal people choose to side with management over labor, while they themselves, work as labor will never cease to interest me.  I would buy their jersey’s regardless of the team and cheer for them just as hard, if not harder than I would for my own team. This movement also began somewhat with James. Many fans followed him from team to team, myself included, but the movement has now officially begun as it has become clear that contracts mean nothing anymore and super teams will rise and fall every couple of years. 

This isn’t specific to the NBA either, this player empowerment movement is going to make its way through all sports because the system we have now is ridiculous. The product is what is the most important thing to all of the businesses, not the name on the label. The players are the product and they are starting to realize their value. Don’t believe me? What did Antonio Brown just do in Pittsburgh? Have you seen Melvin Gordon’s recent comments about his contract? The days of my way or the highway are over and if teams are going to want to keep their stars they are going to have to start treating them like people rather than engine parts. 


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