By Ryan Gaydos
The San Antonio Spurs have not had to face much controversy over the last 20 years. The biggest issues the organization needed to come to grips with have been how to handle their aging superstars from the likes of David Robinson and Tim Duncan to Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
The Kawhi Leonard saga is a completely different beast — and this time he’s winning the war.
Leonard has not appeared in an NBA game since Jan. 5. He’s only seen time on the floor in nine games total this season — the least he’s ever played in his seven-year career in San Antonio. The perennial MVP candidate has been sidelined with a quadriceps injury and will likely miss the entire postseason, Yahoo Sports reported Sunday.
The only real thing — as far as we know — that is keeping Leonard out is his medical team. Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich told reporters after Saturday’s loss in Game 1 against the Golden State Warriors that Leonard’s status was up to him and his advisers. Was Popovich’s answer an ominous sign, or something deeper that is going on in the organization?
Leonard appears to be doing something no Spurs player has done under Popovich’s reign — challenge the status quo. Leonard has left teammates in the dark as far as his status and whereabouts, the Sacramento Bee reported. Leonard also had some friction with the organization, ESPN reported in January.
The ball is clearly in Leonard’s court and with the door open to something crazy happening in the offseason, it is very possible that the organization may have to choose between Leonard and Popovich — and in all likelihood the superstar with one-year left on his contract and a lot to gain would win over a coach that hasn’t made the NBA Finals in four years despite multiple 60-win seasons.
Leonard could force his way out of San Antonio. However, The New York Times reported Wednesday that the Spurs were “not giving off signals” that they were willing to trade him. We have seen downplays like this before. The Cleveland Cavaliers did the unthinkable and traded Kyrie Irving just prior to the start of the season.
It’s clearly a much different situation than Irving and Cleveland. Leonard has battled an injury and wants to be 100 percent before getting back on the court, and Popovich has come off frustrated with the fact he has to go through spokespeople for Leonard instead of talking to one of his players.
The NBA summer might end up being more interesting than the playoffs itself.