Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines because the NBA is about to go full-speed this summer.
Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports reported about 20 minutes ago that Kawhi Leonard, the cornerstone of the San Antonio Spurs, no longer wants to be a part of the organization.
The news doesn’t come as a major surprise to most people who follow the NBA, but it is still a major development considering the franchise in question. The Spurs have been the NBA’s model of consistency for over 20 years, and rarely has a bad word ever been said from anyone who has been a part of the organization. However, last season, cracks began to form in their seemingly impermeable armor.
Early last season, head coach and general manager Gregg Popovich told the media that LaMarcus Aldridge, after his first year with the team in 2016-17, requested to be traded after feeling like he wasn’t being properly utilized. And then of course, there is the story of Leonard, who was the most bizarre story of the 2017-18 season. In the 2017 Western Conference Finals, Leonard suffered a quadriceps injury which cost him the early part of the 2017-18 season.
However, the team and his representatives had major differences over his actual health, with the team saying their doctors cleared him to play in December, and that it was his camp holding him back. Leonard only played nine games last season, and spent a bulk of the season rehabbing in New York.
Charania said that Leonard, who was drafted by the Indiana Pacers in 2011 but traded to the Spurs the same night, has grown uncomfortable with the Spurs and is ready to part ways. There were rumblings all last season that Leonard felt betrayed by the Spurs and that he felt like they made him out to be the bad guy in the entire ordeal. On March 21, though, he told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne that the media is going to spin it however they see fit.
“People are just looking for spin,” Leonard continued. “I haven’t been here long. I’ve been here six years. The Spurs have been here way longer than that. People are gonna go with that take first.”
Looking at this from the outside, this says multiple things. One, it says that his camp is looking to get Leonard into a bigger market, which was what the Spurs have worried about in private all year. Sources say that Leonard isn’t worried about losing his super-max contract that only the Spurs can give him, so this makes the move more palatable on their end. With that being said, this could potentially backfire on them, seeing how superstars rarely get traded to where they want.
Amid the Kawhi-to-LA situation, and not saying it won't happen, BUT, when was the last time a SUPERSTAR ended up being traded to their preferred destination? Kyrie, no; Paul George, no. The trade that happens is the one NO ONE sees coming! Don't be surprised by 3-way trade!
— The Ball Out (@theballoutmedia) June 15, 2018
Already, there are multiple teams that have been listed as potential suitors for Leonard, like the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers (his preferred destination), the Los Angeles Clippers, and the Sacramento Kings. However, don’t be surprised if the Cleveland Cavaliers try to enter the fray as a way to entice LeBron James to stay.
Two, this may hasten the eventual departure of Popovich, who is rumored to hang it up after the 2019-20 season to focus on the U.S. Olympic basketball team. Three, depending on what the Spurs can get back, they aren’t completely ruined without Leonard (they went 47-35 and made the playoffs), so the team may actually see this as a blessing in disguise and feel more comfortable with him leaving.
Either way, this is a major development in the NBA off-season, and be assured there will be more on this as it grows.
Before joining The Ball Out, Chris Bullock was part of SB Nation’s Swish Appeal for nearly three years, covering everything women’s basketball. Chris has had the honor of doing live coverage of the WNBA Finals, the NCAA Tournament, and also was given his own column, “The Triple Double”. A self-described “foodaholic”, Chris lives in the San Diego area with his wife and two daughters, and also hosts his own podcast, “Conscious Cravings”, where he speaks about his experience as a mental health advocate.