San Antonio Spurs News

Kawhi Leonard saga is a mystery within a mystery

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SAN ANTONIO,TX - JANUARY 13 : Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs bows his head during the playing of the National Anthem before the start of his game against the Denver Nuggets at AT&T Center on January 13, 2018 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that , by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO,TX - JANUARY 13 : Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs bows his head during the playing of the National Anthem before the start of his game against the Denver Nuggets at AT&T Center on January 13, 2018 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that , by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
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Kawhi Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs are a mystery within a mystery.

Sept. 30, 2017: the day the San Antonio Spurs held their annual Silver and Black Scrimmage. Not an event that’s publicized beyond the Spurs and their fans, but more importantly because of what happened before it started; the organization announced Kawhi Leonard had a quad injury and would not play. Nothing on the severity. Nothing on the timetable for his return. Nothing on when this injury even happened. Nothing.

Well, five months later, after nine games and a myriad of reports, there’s nothing solved on the mystery of Leonard’s injury. If anything, it’s something that gets more complicated and mysterious by the day.

When the injury first arose, the Spurs kept quiet on the situation, but only until Leonard neared his return; he even spoke before the mid-December return, which became a rare instance in this ongoing saga. It did not seem like an issue in part one, since the first game back silenced anything that happened beforehand.

Then came part two.

In mid-January, the Spurs removed Leonard from the lineup, to revert back to rehab and let the injury continue to heal, which it apparently did not to the team’s liking. Without an “indefinite” timetable to return, it clouded a successful season in San Antonio and created more questions than the season-opening absence did.

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Less than two weeks later, the mystery took another step forward, when the Spurs and Leonard were thought to have a “disconnected” relationship over the treatment of this injury. It was refuted and everything seemed fine. 

Fast forward to three-and-a-half weeks later, and more talk of Leonard’s relationship with the Spurs arose from ESPN. Not-so-coincidentally, it happened after Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich essentially ruled his star player out for the season, but before the knowledge of him being medically cleared and not ready to play came forward. Again, more questions than answers from this.

This situation will be solved with clarity and closure, something almost nonexistent in this five-month saga, and that must come from Leonard, which Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News noted. He’s the problem and solution to this.

“If Leonard wants to stop it, he can do so immediately. If he tells the Spurs he is ready to play, they are not going to keep him off the floor. The team’s medical staff —historically one of the most conservative in the NBA when it comes to not pushing players — already has cleared him for action. It’s up to him.”

One statement can put this to bed. Whether it’s the status of Leonard’s quad or how much he loves San Antonio, something can and should be said to put this to rest. It has created chaos in the media and the idea that something went off script in a usually-calm organization, so it’s difficult to believe that reports of problems are true — unless nothing is said. As long as the former MVP candidate stays silent, why should we not believe there’s an issue?

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No one spoke out against the recent reports of relationship trouble, unlike the previously-noted refute. It’s potentially telling of the behind-the-scenes situation, or a frustrating indication that no one from Leonard’s side will speak. With every day that passes since the ESPN reports, this seems unlikely to happen.

Okay, so what happens in the offseason? It’s difficult to think Leonard will speak then, and since late June and early July are prime for NBA rumors, how does this situation not return to the forefront? Especially when the two-time All-Star’s can hit free agency on July 1, 2019, pending he opts out of a contract that would pay him $21 million, which seems like a foregone conclusion since superstar players receive over $30 million annually in the modern-day NBA.

A decision will loom for the Spurs: should they take offers on Leonard and avoid losing him for nothing? As long as this situation drags, it’s difficult to think this question will be ignored, especially if this relationship is as bad as reported, which Marc Stein of the New York Times wondered:

“Is this all building toward a showdown that winds up getting Leonard — who so many of us thought was the perfect Spur and a future MVP — traded in the off-season? These are the sorts of questions people around the league are asking about San Antonio, which hasn’t endured drama on this level since the early days of Duncan’s career.”

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This drama was Tim Duncan nearly signing with the Orlando Magic in 2000. He chose to stay in San Antonio and the rest was history. Will it be similar for Leonard in 2019, if he stays with the organization until then?

Questions and mystery surround Leonard and may not go away any time soon. It’s an unusual circumstance for a franchise that just does not go through this, but without the trade deadline or other prominent NBA rumors to share the headlines, the spotlight shines brighter than ever, and in one of the worst possible ways. It’s certainly not part of the system.

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