When Kawhi Leonard’s status seemed questionable during the regular season, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich reportedly ‘begged’ his star player to announce this status.
On Wednesday, the San Antonio Spurs agreed to send Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green to the Toronto Raptors for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a protected 2019 first-round pick. It closed the saga that started with one quadriceps injury and sent Leonard’s relationship with the Spurs into a downfall.
Leonard missed all but nine games in the 2017-18 season with this quad injury that occurred before the year began. He initially returned to the court in December, but was shut down in January and never played another game.
However, in the midst of this, the Spurs never clarified that Leonard would miss the rest of the season. It became a game-by-game story, especially on the injury report, with the “return from injury management” label placed next to his name.
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There was a reason for this, according to ESPN’s Michael C. Wright. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich ‘begged’ Leonard to tell the media he would not return in-season due to the injury. Leonard declined to do this, with the idea he would “eventually return.” Thus Popovich’s frustrating media interactions.
On more than one occasion, Popovich begged Leonard to let him announce to the media that the forward would be forced to sit out the season due to his injury, according to sources with knowledge of the situation. Believing he’d eventually return, Leonard declined each time, leaving Popovich to field queries from the media that he couldn’t definitively answer. Popovich simply didn’t know.
Of course Leonard rarely spoke to the media amidst this saga. One of those instances included the desire to remain a “Spur for life.”
Popovich took questions from the media for most of the season on Leonard, including the “group” comment, when asked about the potential return of the 2014 NBA Finals MVP. Now, with USA Basketball set to begin July 25, and Popovich as the team’s head coach, look for more questions geared his way, but with clarity this time around.
The organization, not just Popovich, can move forward from this hysteria and focus on the 2018-19 season, now that Leonard is in Toronto. It takes away the distraction and puts the spotlight on how DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Dejounte Murray and others perform in the wild Western Conference. Will it be all quiet in the Alamo City?