It isn’t an every day thing you see a a team doing everything they can to get rid of their superstar. However, in San Antonio, an organization thats widely considered one of the best in the league, that is exactly what they are doing.
Less than four years ago, Kawhi Leonard earned NBA Finals MVP honors after shutting down LeBron James and beating the Miami Heat in five games. In this stretch, he shot 61% from the field and averaged almost 18 points per game. This was the beginning of the breakout for the quiet superstar.
Leonard’s career is highlighted by two all-NBA teams, two defensive player of the year awards, four all-defense teams and of course, an NBA Finals MVP and championship. Widely known as the best defender in the NBA, Kawhi has shut down some of the NBA’s best scorers in the biggest moments. This list includes the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and James Harden. With all of these accomplishments, it seems crazy to think a team would try and drive Leonard out of town, but that is exactly what the Spurs are doing.
It all started during last seasons playoffs where Leonard went down with an ankle injury after landing on Zaza Pachulia. The ankle injury, which did not seem too severe at the time, ended up costing Leonard the rest of the series.
After rehabbing the ankle during the off-season, it seemed Leonard was ready to start the regular season at full health. However, during the pre-season, he was held out with a quadriceps injury which once again did not seem too severe. When head coach Gregg Popovich confirmed Leonard would miss the start of the regular season, thinks began to get sketchy.
“He won’t be available.” That was the first quote Popovich had said when asked about Leonard days before the home opener. There was no timetable, and no specifics of the injury to start the season.
After the start of the season, two months went by, and still no Kawhi. Finally, at the beginning of January, the defensive star was cleared to return to action. After only nine games, Leonard re-aggravated the injury, which forced him to once again be sidelined. Once again, there was no timetable to return.
On February 21st, Popovich once again gave a status about Kawhi. This time, the Spurs head coach said he would “be surprised” if Leonard returned to action this year. If that is how his season ended, and Kawhi was not cleared to return, there would be no issue. The problem is, five days later, a report came out saying Leonard was medically cleared to return to action.
Only five days after the head coach said his star player wasn’t coming back to action, a report comes out that he is medically cleared to play. Leonard then came out and confirmed he was medically cleared, but has elected to not return to the active roster. This was now the first report that has come out of Leonard not wanting to return to action. It’s not often you see the star of the team deciding to not return to a team when medically cleared, especially during a playoff run. I can’t imagine his teammates would be too happy with the extra time off.
The next big story came about two weeks later when it was reported Kawhi would return sometime in March. We now sit over three weeks in March, and there still has not been a return. It is now clear his teammates are getting fed up with the lack of clarity.
Manu Ginobili was the first to speak out against his all-star teammate. Ginobili expressed his frustrations of getting excited for a return, only to once again get let down as Leonard remained sidelined. “In my mind, he’s not coming back,” said Ginobili after explaining he was already let down once and doesn’t want it to happen again.
This is now starting to sound like an episode of a teen drama series. Manu doesn’t want to get let down? He sounds like a girlfriend who doesn’t want to take her ex back because of his history of cheating. This story is straight up bizarre, and it only gets worse.
Tony Parker was the next member of the Spurs to speak out against his teammate. Parker just recently spoke about a similar quad injury that forced him to miss last year’s post-season as well. Similar, except Parker said his injury was “100 times worse”.
Just when you think the story can’t get much weirder. Parker may have had the best comment in this whole saga. Saying they had pretty much the same injury, except his was 100 times worse, pretty much is calling Leonard a straight up b*tch. It is apparent that pretty much this whole team, including the head coach have turned on Kawhi.
But why Leonard? For his whole career, he has been the ideal player and teammate. Improved every year of his career, never did anything controversial, always played hard and was the definition of “Spurs basketball”. In a chicken or the egg scenario, no one really knows who started the issues. Either way, the longer this continues, the more unlikely it seems Leonard will be in a Spurs uniform in the future.
Photo: Sporting News