Kawhi Leonard is off the Spurs, but let’s not forget the good times
By Rob Wolkenbrod
Kawhi Leonard is no longer with the San Antonio Spurs, but let’s not forget some of his franchise contributions.
The San Antonio Spurs closed the Kawhi Leonard chapter of their franchise history Wednesday, with the trade of him and Danny Green to the Toronto Raptors for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a protected 2019 first-round pick.
Leonard’s departure was hardly smooth; His discontent with the Spurs organization went public in January, amidst how his quadriceps injury was handled. There were rarely any public comments from the players himself, aside from a desire to remain in San Antonio for life.
Along with the perceived “camp” or “group” of Leonard’s that featured his uncle, it made for a whirlwind in these past six months.
A mural dedicated to Kawhi Leonard in San Antonio has been painted over following his trade to the Raptors. pic.twitter.com/AqU8jJt8QK
— Sporting News (@sportingnews) July 18, 2018
Once upon a time, though, everything was fine with Leonard and the Spurs. Heck, he even flashed smiles before the 2017-18 season started. That seems, like, an eternity ago, as well as the good times in this relationship.
The original scouting report
When Kawhi Leonard first entered the NBA, he was the 15th pick of the 2011 draft, a class once perceived as weak. Some or most of this draft’s players were given “bust” labels before the season even started, and one of them was Leonard.
Bleacher Report analyzed 2011’s potential busts after the draft took place but before the season started. One of them, of course, was Leonard, and it resulted in this:
His jump shot needs some serious work.
Additionally, his defensive game is not going to follow him to the NBA, at least not right away. Players are bigger and stronger at this level. And then we cannot forget that Leonard does not exactly have an NBA build to him just yet.
The San Antonio Spurs’ plan may be to groom Leonard as Richard Jefferson’s successor, but their expectations of him may be unreasonable.
Leonard’s lack of versatility will be exposed in the NBA, leaving the Spurs with the taste of disappointment and Leonard sporting the label of “bust.”
Checkmark the first. Checkmark the second. Checkmark the third. Checkmark the fourth.
Sure, no one could have predicted Leonard to become this multi-faceted player in the NBA. His jump shot was a work in progress in college, but as Gregg Popovich told the media, Leonard worked to become the player he’s known as today.
ICYMI | Coach Popovich addressed the media earlier today.
Watch the full interview: https://t.co/zlwFigPfhY pic.twitter.com/FT3kKip7Sy
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) July 18, 2018
2014 NBA Finals MVP
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The 2014 NBA Finals was Leonard’s coming out party. He stayed quiet in Game 1 and 2 against the Miami Heat, but broke out for three consecutive 20-point games to close out the series, making it a double-double in Game 4 and 5.
For the series, Leonard finished with a gaudy 17.8 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.2 blocks on 61.2 percent shooting and 57.9 percent from three-point range. Those seem like video game numbers, but they brought him to prominence, winning the 2014 NBA Finals MVP.
Kawhi Leonard made this a 60-win team
Before Zaza Pachulia’s closeout ended Leonard’s playoffs in 2017, the Spurs were about to become a perennial 60-win team. With LaMarcus Aldridge around and one of the league’s best defenses, this seemed prime for years to come.
Of course, a Leonard-Spurs future no longer exists, but this player was once the catalyst on back-to-back 60-win teams and terrific Spurs Basketball.
The Golden State Warriors won an NBA-record 73 games in 2015-16, but the Spurs were only a few steps behind, with their own 67-15 record. Leonard exploded for 21.3 points on 50.8 percent shooting and 44.3 percent from three-point range, as well as a ridiculous 96 Defensive Rating.
In 2016-17, Leonard became an MVP candidate, putting up a career-high 25.5 points per game, adding 5.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists. The Spurs won 61 games and, for a moment, contested the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals.
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Not too long ago, the player they called “The Klaw” was the face of San Antonio and the heir apparent to Tim Duncan. While no longer the case, and even amidst the turmoil of the past six months, Leonard provided plenty for the Spurs franchise, to continue their two decades of greatness.