San Antonio Spurs News

San Antonio Spurs: Kawhi Leonard, Christmas Day and NBA’s big returns

By Rob Wolkenbrod
SAN ANTONIO, TX - JANUARY 13: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs is introduced before the game against the Denver Nuggets on January 13, 2018 at the AT&T Center 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photos by Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX - JANUARY 13: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs is introduced before the game against the Denver Nuggets on January 13, 2018 at the AT&T Center 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photos by Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images)
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It makes much sense to put the San Antonio Spurs vs. Toronto Raptors on Christmas Day, but there’s reason to believe the NBA will go in another direction, as well.

The San Antonio Spurs were left off the 2017 Christmas Day schedule, a turning point on the NBA calendar when some of the season’s marquee matchups get made. Given the obvious, and a storyline for the Association to capitalize on, it makes too much sense for this to happen in December 2018.

Yes, when it comes to drama and ratings, Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors vs. the Spurs on Dec. 25, 2018, seems inevitable. It’s the juicy game for the NBA to force fans to stop opening presents, sit around their television sets and watch the man, once considered the face of the franchise, take on his old running mates.

Also, the NBA can capitalize on a return, but one that will have different reactions, pending who it is.

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DeMar DeRozan spent nine seasons with the Raptors and became the face of this franchise, staying longer than Chris Bosh, Vince Carter or Tracy McGrady ever did. His connection to the city of Toronto seemed tight, and after how he exited the organization, look for the fans to provide a “welcome back” with open arms.

DeRozan’s return will make for a feel-good moment, but that’s only if the NBA places this game in Toronto. If not, then it’s San Antonio, and that’s when everything becomes awkward.

Leonard’s return to the Alamo City is the more intriguing storyline of the two, given the slow-burn breakdown in communication that resulted in June’s trade request and July’s transaction. He found his way out, and it’s difficult to believe the usually warm Spurs fans won’t voice their displeasure, to put it kindly.

The quiet Leonard can walk into the AT&T Center and become the loudest person in the building; his presence would speak volumes, and the NBA can draw everyone in on Christmas Day to see it happen in maybe the afternoon’s highest-rated game.

However, there’s reason to believe the NBA will not schedule this magnitude of a game on Christmas Day — at least Leonard’s return to San Antonio, TX.

For the first time ever, I have a serious request for the NBA schedule makers:

Please don't make the Raptors visit the Spurs early in the season. Just not ready for it yet. Let some time go by. Something after the All-Star Break would work. Last week of the season, even better.

— J.R. Wilco (@jollyrogerwilco) July 23, 2018

Look at what the NBA has done with mega-returns over the past 5-10 years. They either feature LeBron James or Kevin Durant, but this small sample size is telling:

The NBA gave LeBron and Durant’s first-time returns to their old teams separate days, away from the cluttered Christmas Day. So, they received their own spotlight and had fans buzzing on how these players did in their former cities and the raucous reactions from the fans.

As for LeBron’s return to Miami, while it was a big deal when he went back to Cleveland, nothing held a candle to the orchestration of the 2010 departure, with “The Decision” TV special that remains unlike anything seen in professional sports. It polarized James to new heights, rubbed salt in the wounds of Cavaliers fans and allowed everyone to throw cash at the NBA.

With the viewers, the Christmas Day spotlight obviously helped James’ return to Miami, but Durant’s return to Oklahoma City was still the NBA’s 12th-most watched game of 2017, behind NBA Finals games.

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What does this all mean? Do not guarantee that Leonard returns to San Antonio on Christmas Day. Maybe the NBA opts for a Raptors vs. Spurs game in Toronto and lets DeRozan have his softer reception, but if the NBA wants attention on just one game, on a standalone night, it will make Leonard’s comeback to the AT&T Center on a random evening in the season.

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