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Raptors hope Kawhi returns but teammates say he’s earned his right to choose

Toronto’s championship win — and the ensuing hangovers — might still fresh, but life moves on quickly in the NBA.

The NBA draft is only days away and free agency won’t be far behind. The future of Kawhi Leonard is one of the league’s biggest off-season storylines and the defending champions also have to deal with the contractual situations of starters Marc Gasol and Danny Green.

Gasol has until June 27 to decide whether he wants to pick up his $26 million U.S. player option or become an unrestricted free agent. He will turn 35 in January and likely won’t command as much annually on his next deal. He could play out the season in Toronto, collect the cash and then figure out how much longer he wants to continue playing.

Predictably, the big Spaniard wasn’t saying much about what comes next at his season-ending availability on Sunday afternoon.

“Not at all, not at all. I haven’t looked into it much. I’m sure that the franchise has other priorities to go first, and I’m sure that once that is decided we’ll see what the rest is, or what they want to do, or how it goes,” Gasol said.

“But it’s time to celebrate and enjoy this moment.”

Toronto — both the team and the city — have done a lot of that. Gasol mentioned copious beer consumption a couple of times and told the city to party safe.

Green said he had a good time in Las Vegas, after the championship, but wasn’t up to continuing the party in Los Angeles, as some of the Raptors did.

Green again said he’d like to be back, but both he and Gasol said Leonard’s decision looms over everything.

“Kawhi impacts the team and the franchise in so many different ways … because I don’t think there’s many players of — let me say that again. I don’t think there’s any other player of his calibre right now in the NBA,” Gasol said. “I think he’s on a pedestal by himself. Age-wise, his game, his leadership, the way he carries himself. I haven’t been around all of them, but I’ll tell you, he’s one of a kind.”

Green said there isn’t much for him to say to his San Antonio and Toronto teammate Leonard.

“We’re both grown, make our own decisions. He’ll do what’s best for him, his family. He’s got to consult with his family, his agency and whoever else he keeps close to him and make a decision just like I’m going to do the same,” Green said. “(His decision) can change a whole organization. He can change a whole team. He can change a lot of guys’ careers or make a lot of guys’ careers easier. So that decision weighs on I think a lot of guys’ free agency decision.

“But for me, some weight on his decision, but mine is just figuring out what’s the next chapter for me, the best position for me. And this one was a fun one. I liked it here and I’d definitely love to come back and be here, but you don’t know what’s in store.”

Green said he’d enjoy Monday’s parade, then sit down with his family and advisors and work through scenarios.

“See who is interested. See what’s going on and who wants to bring me where or bring me back and figure it out from that standpoint and then we weigh the options,” Green said.

Fred VanVleet still has another year remaining on his deal, as do Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka. He was also asked to weigh in on Leonard, and was eloquent in his response.

“I didn’t have an in-depth conversation with him because it’s not really my business. Not just him, but from him down to the whoever you think the last man on the roster is we don’t get into each other’s business when it comes to that,” VanVleet said.

“For us, at least speaking for myself, there’s nothing more that we can do. We’ve done it, the city’s done it, the franchise has done it, the coaches have done it, the teammates have done it. We’ve done our job. The best way to recruit somebody is to be yourself over the course of the year and I would assume that he knows what is here and what makes this place special and if it’s enough it will be enough and if it’s not it’s not,” VanVleet said.

“We all love him and we would all love for him to be back and if he’s not we’ll move on from there so it’s not the biggest deal in the world, he came and did what he was supposed to do, he came here and brought this city a championship and I think he’s earned his freedom in his career to do what he wants to do and we’ll all respect him and admire him and if he’s on another team we’ll have to kick his ass next year, but hopefully he’ll be back.”

GREEN FELT WORSE THAN ANYONE AFTER TURNOVER

Danny Green did not enjoy the final seconds of Toronto’s season very much.

Like Raptors fans everywhere, the team’s starting shooting guard was hoping and praying that his mistake wouldn’t cost him and his team Game 6 of the NBA Finals.

Green had been pressured by the Golden State Warriors and threw a pass out of the reach of Pascal Siakam and out of bounds for a turnover, giving Golden State another chance.

“I was probably the most stressed of anyone in the world,” Green said on Sunday. “I really did feel like I cost us the game.”

Green credited veteran teammates Marc Gasol and Jeremy Lin for calming him down and making him feel better, while remaining confident that things would turn out OK.

And in the end, that’s what happened.

@WolstatSun

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