Unless there’s a drastic change of events, the Kawhi Leonard situation will always be a dark spot on the shining history of the San Antonio Spurs.
After only appearing in nine games this season due to a lingering quad injury, Leonard hasn’t been present at any of the Spurs first round playoff games against Golden State. While he has been cleared by team doctors to play, Leonard group — whomever they are — don’t believe he’s ready to contribute (according to ESPN’s Chris Haynes).
If it was any other team, this would be a scandal. But because it involved San Antonio, this has been classified as a non-issue.
For a franchise known as the golden-standard in the NBA, this looks good for no one involved. Stretched throughout the entire season, the Leonard and Spurs storyline has gotten exhausting, with no clear cut timetable to find out when the former San Diego State forward will return to the hardwood.
Even though both parties have done a great job of avoiding the topic for the most part, things have heated up during the playoffs. After their game two loss, head coach George Popovich made what many believe to be a dig at Leonard while talking about LaMarcus Aldridge.
“LaMarcus has been a monster all year long,” Popovich said after their 116-101 loss at the hands of the Golden State Warriors. “He’s led our team at both ends of the floor. He doesn’t complain about a darn thing out on the court. He just plays through everything. I can’t imagine being more proud of a player as far as playing through adversity and being there for his teammates night after night after night. He’s been fantastic.”
Although he doesn’t explicitly mention Leonard, it’s pretty clear Popovich is referencing the small forward’s radio silence.
On top of this, team leaders Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have spoken out about Leonard’s injury. When Parker spoke about it, he referenced that his quadriceps injury from last year was “100 times worse” than Leonard’s. For Ginobili, there’s no good reason to speculate on Leonard coming back, because the Argentinan believes he won’t return this year.
For both the players and coach, this situation must be frustrating. Typically, when a player is injured, they try to spend as much time with the team as possible. But as the Sacramento Bee reports, only Leonard occasionally texts “one” of his San Antonio teammates, and “goes weeks without responding to any of the club’s calls and texts.”
He hasn’t been with the team in weeks, and has shown no signs that he will be present for the rest of their first-round match-up against the Warriors. Once they exit the playoffs, the Spurs and media’s focus will solely shift on Leonard and his future.
Leonard is set to hit free agency in 2019. San Antonio can offer him a super-max contract extension, which would be worth $219 million over five years. But if this situation has shown anything, you have to ask the question, is Leonard even committed to this franchise?
Although he’s an elite talent, it’s time for San Antonio to move on.
Yes, I understand that Leonard isn’t like other players in the NBA. For many, he’s considered to be a part of the league’s next generation of superstars. And there’s good reason why.
At only age 26, Leonard has already been named a two-time defensive player of the year, won a NBA championship and Finals MVP in 2013-14, has been selected to an all-NBA team twice and has been named four times to an all-defensive team. It’s safe to say he’s passed people’s expectations for him when the Spurs traded George Hill for the 15th pick which ended up being Leonard.
But even with this in mind, the potential return you could get from a player of his calibre is almost too good to pass up while they still have control of him.
Leonard’s asking price would be massive. In the most likely scenario, a team would likely have to offer two first round picks along with a few established NBA players. For the Spurs, who have one of the oldest teams in the league, this trade would allow them to re-set and build for the future.
From the comments mentioned earlier, there has clearly been a falling out between the franchise corner stone and his coaches and teammates. And in a place where what Popovich says goes, it seems as if there’s no going back from here.
Letting your franchise player go is never easy. Fans will always consider what could have been achieved if they stayed. But when it’s the right decision, it needs to be done.