The writing was on the wall when Kawhi Leonard refused to play for the Spurs in these playoffs even though the doctors had cleared him. The franchise superstar, the guy who was supposed to be the seamless bridge from the Duncan-Parker-Ginobili era that produced four of the Spurs five NBA championships seems to have a huge problem with the organization, but he doesnt say much — which has been his staple as a player — and the organization seems just as perplexed as everyone else.
The deterioration of the relationship between Kawhi and Spurs management is still a mystery to the NBA community. One minute he was a Top 5 player continuing the excellence of one of the NBAs exemplary franchises lauded for the way management, the coaching staff and players coexisted, communicated and sacrificed for the greater good. The next minute he suffered a right quadriceps injury that cost him the entire season and changed the face of his relationship with the Spurs.
But what happened?
The uncomfortable silence of Kawhi Leonard https://t.co/1S5UuokpS3
According to ESPN, Initially the Spurs’ doctors were calling the shots, with Leonard following their protocols for most of last summer in his workouts in San Antonio with team staffers and San Diego with his longtime personal trainer. But things began to change in August as Leonard continued to experience discomfort, according to sources.
His agent, Mitch Frankel, and uncle, Dennis Robertson, began pressing the Spurs to consult outside opinions. Last fall, Dr. Keith Pyne, the managing partner of SportsLab NYC, which is affiliated with the Washington Nationals and New York Islanders, began consulting on the case.
Leonard briefly returned to the Spurs for nine games from mid-December through mid-January. The Spurs were conservative in their approach. He’d play one game, then sit out the next game regardless of how many days later it was scheduled. After scoring 19 points in 28 minutes in a win over Denver on Jan. 13, he complained of soreness in the area once again. He traveled with the team to Atlanta — a game he was scheduled to sit out anyway — and Brooklyn, but instead of playing against the Nets, Popovich announced at shootaround that Leonard was being shut down indefinitely.
That’s probably the last time we will ever see Kawhi in a Spurs uniform unless his relationship with the squad does a 360. The two sides will meet in a couple of weeks and see where everything is at. San Antonio’s best strategy at this desperate point is to offer Kawhi that $219 million and hope he can’t turn down the paper. But do they really want to invest that scratch in a disgruntled superstar that is detached from the organization?
And he obviously doesn’t trust the Spurs’ medical staff, which is problematic. The Spurs can’t be too happy that Kawhi sought medical advice from another team’s doctor.
Kawhi Leonard has been seeing the #Sixers’ chief medical officer Dr. Jonathan Glashow since mid-January, according to this https://t.co/5ceQzh6FI8 story. https://t.co/kTMhxCFUQh
This season couldnt end soon enough for the Spurs. A first round playoff elimination was the best thing for a franchise that needs to hit the reset button. Tony Parker says it was the toughest season of his 17-year Spurs career. His falling out with Leonard came when Parker said he had the same injury as Leonard, but “100 times worse” a few days after ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Parker and Manu Ginobili had confronted Leonard about his status during a tense team meeting on March 17.
Parker and Ginobili are OGs, but the NBA streets have changed over the last 20 years and so have the superstars and what they want out of the game. Tim Duncan is a hard act for any player to follow. He was a rare breed of low-key icon who sacrificed money to keep the team competitive, didnt clamor for fame and was obsessed with the success of the team concept. He also accepted Pop’s tough coaching style and thrived. Reportedly, one of Leonard’s beefs is that Pop rides him too hard in practice and he’s not feeling that.
Kawhi Leonard and Greg Popovich have had discussions about his coaching. 1 time Champ, Kawhi, is alleged to have asked 5 time NBA champion to go a little easier in practice. Is this refreshing to see Kawhi step up or is Pop starting to lose control? Spurs fans show us the …
In addition, Leonard has his own group of family members influencing his decisions more and more and helping him devise a plan for what he truly wants.Years ago, a situation such as this would be a huge deal, but we live in a sports era where players are hypersensitive and can switch teams strictly because they want to. Kyrie Irving forced a trade out of Cleveland and people thought he was crazy to abandon LeBron and more potential championship glory. Irving just wasnt feeling the situation in Cleveland.
Multiple league sources told ESPN that the Spurs have grown worried that Leonard’s support group has an ulterior motive to fray the relationship with the team and get Leonard traded to a larger market such as Los Angeles (Leonard’s hometown) or New York or Philadelphia (where Robertson lives in New Jersey).
Report: Spurs worried Kawhi Leonard’s group trying to get him to Lakers, Clippers, Knicks or 76ers https://t.co/lAWeEN0o3U
Leonards media contact has been limited, but he did offer a response in the last Spurs game he attended, that makes the relationship between himself and San Antonio seem adversarial at best.
“People are just looking for spin,” Leonard said. “I haven’t been here long. I’ve been here six years. The Spurs have been here way longer than that. People are gonna go with that take first.”
Popovich has a reputation for being the perfect players coach. Hes tough, but fair and goes to bat for his players on every issue. Whenever he was asked about Kawhis potential return, Pop would say, you have to ask his people.
Apparently, Kawhi didnt like Popovich throwing him under the bus so to speak every time a reporter asked about him. Leonard said if he wasnt hurt then he would play. Pop kept throwing hints that Leonard was on some bs. That back and forth in the media seemed to fracture the relationship between coach and superstar player.
Once that communication breaks down, the star player usually starts looking to get rid of the coach or make a move. We know Pop isnt going anywhere, so it seems that Leonard will be the one to bounce or force his way out and a player of his ilk would be quite the find for any franchise looking to transform the prospects of the team or burst into championship contention.