After almost seven seasons as a key component of one of the NBA’s most decorated franchises, rampant speculation has enveloped the San Antonio Spurs and the basketball universe that Kawhi Leonard’s tenure with the team is drawing to a close. In a desperate and sensational plea, Leonard’s teammates are holding a closed-door team meeting on March 22nd, begging him to stay.
It all began with a salacious January 22nd report from Adrian Wojnarowski. In the article, entitled ‘Sources: Kawhi Leonard’s rehab creating a chilling effect with team,’ Woj outlines an increasingly icy relationship between Kawhi and Greg Popovich and G.M. R.C. Buford, all relating to disagreements on injury treatment and rehab. Kawhi has wanted to control his playing time and minutes, which the Spurs have not allowed. It seems unlikely he will get what he wants in the ‘whole greater than the individual’ Spurs basketball institution.
In a move that has an air of cynical spite, Kawhi is refusing to play, despite Spurs team doctors clearing him of his quad injury and giving him permission to take the court. Kawhi has his own medical team, separate from the team, and he has stated that he will not play until they, rather than the San Antonio doctors, clear him.
Since the late January bombshell and Leonard’s subsequent hardwood boycott, other drips, drabs and leaks have come to light, only adding to the conjecture that Leonard is looking to leave South Texas. One particularly juicy rumor is that Leonard is looking to return to his home of Southern California, teaming up with Lebron James and perhaps one other star on the Los Angeles Lakers.
Whatever Kawhi’s plans are, the controversy seemed to be reaching a stunning climax yesterday, as long-time Spurs legend Manu Ginobili stated that “he,” I.E., Leonard, “is not coming back.” Though some took this to mean that Kawhi was finished as a Spur, Ginobili clarified that he only meant this season.
Either way, on the heels of the Ginobili comment, today the Spurs players, led by future hall of fame point guard Tony Parker, held an emotional get together behind closed doors with Leonard. Once again reported on by Woj, the meeting was designed as an opportunity for the San Antonio players to release tension and clarify grievances with their star teammate. Despite their impassioned begging and genuine openness, it appears that Leonard was not swayed, with Woj writing that “Leonard was resolute in his response, insisting that he had good reason for sitting out all but nine games with a right quadriceps injury this season.”
Fair or not, Kawhi does not seem keen to relinquish his stubborn position. If his teammates cannot sway him, it is indeed fair to wonder if Kawhi Leonard will be wearing another uniform come fall 2018. It is stunning to consider when one remembers that up until this season, it was widely believed that he was Tim Duncan’s rightful and long-term successor on the Spurs.