TAB Baldwin can't emphasize Kai Sotto's importance to the Gilas Pilipinas program enough.
"No matter what happens in 2021 with Kai Sotto and Gilas, Kai is as valued a member of this Gilas family as we have," Baldwin, the former Gilas coach and now Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas program director, told Hoops Life.
"Kai represents something special to our mix of players and to our pool of talent. Kai Sotto is special, by definition, because he's a good player and he's one of the rare big men we have. He's a very valued part of our Gilas family."
Sotto has already expressed his commitment to play for Gilas in coming tournaments, with the biggest focus on the Fiba Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Belgrade come July, and the 2021 Fiba Asia Cup in Indonesia in August.
But Baldwin himself understands the logistical difficulties that the parties currently face with the Filipino prodigy, all the more as the SBP hopes to bring him in time for the third window of the 2021 Fiba Asia Cup qualifiers in Clark from June 16 to 20.
"A lot of forces are pulling at Kai and it's all for the right reasons," the American-New Zealander said. "Again, it's all for helping him achieve his dreams and everybody else that's pulling out is pulling out for their own devices.
"Gilas wants him to strengthen Gilas. Adelaide wants him because they now own the rights to him and they believe that at some point in his tenure with them, he's going to become a very solid NBL basketball player and help them win games.
"In his own right, Kai is working towards developing himself into an elite, world-class basketball player that has a chance of earning a spot in the rookie draft and then being picked by an NBA team.
"And these are all natural occurrences for elite players, figuring it all out and how schedules work and things like that, it's difficult on everybody that's involved. And I wish I could give you a definitive answers about everything that's going to happen with Kai but really, Kai is the only one that can give those answers there.
"Right now, there's just discussions going on."
Nevertheless, Baldwin echoed his earlier statements that no matter how much Sotto is valued here, he still needs to train with the rest of the pool - for the good of Gilas, and eventually for the good of Sotto and the brand he is building.
"Like what SBP president Al Panlilio said, we really need Kai for a significant lead-up period if we're going to include him in the roster," he said. "This is such an important point because I think a lot of people believe that because Kai is a talent, because he's a big man in a small man's country, he's an automatic shoo-in.
"If Kai came in very late, as an 18-year-old and we put them in the roster without proper training, without learning the systems, without integrating himself with his teammates, without the time that it takes to achieve those extremely important goals for every individual player, and then we put him out on the court, why? Because he's an endorser of Smart? Because the fans are clamoring for him? Because everybody wants Kai in a Gilas uniform?
"If we put them out there and it looks bad because he hasn't been integrated properly, who wins and who loses? I think everybody loses, including most importantly Kai because there's gonna be NBA scouts watching what he's doing.
"And if he's out there trying to figure out what play we're running and where he belongs, and he's out there on defense, trying to block every shot that have rotated correctly and switching when he should switch and all of these detailed elements of play, what are the scouts going to be sitting out there and doing?
"And everybody's going to be running to make excuses, but I think that's an extremely bad scenario for Kai, obviously for Gilas, and for the long-term development prospects of the whole story, the whole journey that is Kai Sotto."
Sotto, is looking to be the first homegrown Filipino player to be drafted in the NBA and a good performance with Gilas is going to boost that cause, Baldwin said.
"We don't want to be guilty of putting him in a position to harm his advancement and to harm that journey," he said. "As much as we would love to have him here, I think boss Al is 100-percent right: there needs to be a definitive lead-up time in which Kai can comfortably integrate himself into the system."
Sotto is still in Miami continuing his training as the rest of the young Gilas pool entered Inspire Sports Academy in Calamba, Laguna on Monday. Baldwin is hopeful he'll be back home soon, training with the rest of the national team.
"Our hope is that everybody can get their heads around this and get him in here as soon as possible and allow Kai to be a comfortable basketball player when he runs out in a Gilas uniform," he said.