New details have emerged in the Kawhi Leonard/San Antonio Spurs saga. According to Get More Sports’ Chris Sheridan, the Spurs are open to trading Kawhi but not to a western conference team. That means both LA franchises are out. Leonard has leverage in that he can tell any team considering acquiring him via trade, that he won’t re-sign long term. Essentially making him a rental for a season. Unless you are on the verge of winning a championship, getting seriously into the tax or clearing space to acquire Leonard for a year makes no sense. No team “close” to the title has the ability to do that, without actually severely negatively impacting their chances to win a title.
The Spurs do however need to think seriously about getting back as good a haul as possible and that may mean they need to reconsider their stance on LA or western conference teams. Kawhi is under contract with the Spurs for this season and at the end of it, he becomes an unrestricted free agent. He has already said he wants out of San Antonio, so they can’t let him walk and get nothing back next summer. I previously mentioned Kawhi telling teams he won’t re-sign with them, that limits the Spurs options. But how much spite has developed between Pop and Leonard’s camp? The two reportedly attempted to clear the air and re-establish a relationship. Everything we are hearing is saying that was unsuccessful.
We in the media are often guilty of lauding the Spurs for always handling their business the “right way” and naming them a model franchise. This is not to say they aren’t but are we sure every player that’s gone through San Antonio has glowing things to say about Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford? Sure, we could chalk up many “unhappy” players’ feelings about the organization to their inability to “buy in” or acclimate to the Spurs and their winning “culture.” But, Kawhi is a top 3 player in the world when healthy and by all accounts a good teammate. Why would he suddenly not be “cool” with an organization willing to make him the face?
We can talk about rumors of Kawhi’s Uncle Dennis and his increasing influence over his nephew’s business decisions. Kawhi’s alleged desire to be in a top-tier market like LA or NY for more business opportunities, or the rumors that Kawhi did not trust the Spurs medical staff as he was recovering from an injury. All of this is speculation as Kawhi has yet to say anything publicly to anyone. What’s really going on in San Antonio?
I have my theories, but I will leave you with this fact. In 2017 when the Spurs played the Nets at Barclays Center, I spoke to Kawhi right after the assembled media heard from Pop that Kawhi was on the injured list. I said to him, “So, you’re not playing tonight, Pop says you’re on the injured list. What’s ailing you?” Leonard responded, with mild surprise that he wasn’t playing and said, “you’ll have to ask Pop or the trainers about that.” At the moment it was sort of a throwaway. Pop always rests his players in the regular season so they are fresher come playoff time. In hindsight, thinking about it more and looking at the way Kawhi handled his actual injury, maybe the Spurs system of managing players is not something Kawhi is cool with. Maybe he thinks Pop and the Spurs have too much control and he is seeking more agency. Who knows? I do know this. This is a high stakes game of chicken and if the Spurs don’t want to be left with nothing, it may be time they let a player “win” this battle.