The 2017 NBA season showcased Kawhi Leonard’s coming out party. He had jumped from being a secondary star to firmly planting himself in the talks of leagues best players. Quietly lurking, season by season as if a Great White were hunting for pray, and finally breaching into attack mode to take the league down with a steady cast behind him. Leading us to believe he was a quiet superstar who fit the Spurs system to a T. Kawhi was ready to fill the void that Tim Duncan had left behind. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, remind a few years and lets take a look at Kawhi’s rise.
Coming into San Diego State University, Leonard immediately jumped onto the scene. This made the Spurs gasp at his ability and trade up for what essentially was Kawhi Leonard for George Hill (the other players never panned out and for their safety shall remain nameless). Immediately following the conclusion of the 2010 season lockout he signed an extension with the Spurs. As the Spurs do, they find the right player that fits their brand of basketball and gradually bring them along. Greg Popovich sheltered the 15th overall pick, cuddled him and employed him into situations where Leonard could thrive. He was never rushed or put into a position he wasn’t capable of handling. He quickly became labeled as one of the best two way players in the NBA. Yeah, Kawhi’s was exceptionally good at basketball. Fast forward to the beginning of the 2017 post-season. Kawhi was tearing up the playoffs until he had an unfortunate ankle injury.
Kawhi had just come off his best season statistically and looked ready to compete for a top spot in the West. He was named All-NBA and All-NBA Defensive team. However, missing a ton of games to bookend the season and plenty throughout because of his ankle and an apparent thigh injury began to cause a rift. The Spurs claimed Kawhi was cleared of his injury and could play, while a second opinion said otherwise. Which is where things start to get foggy.
First, the NBA and NBA organization’s employee team doctors that work with CBA and players union to make sure that no lines are crossed. So for Kawhi to have no faith in his team’s doctor smells fishy. No one is perfect and not everyone heals the same so doctors can miss diagnosis an issue. However, Tony Parker tore his thigh which would seem to be a worse injury at an older age and had recovered and began playing again. Which makes his injury a bit bizarre. But there are many branches to this story that don’t look so favorable for Leonard.
In March, Jordan brand was “very close” to resigning him to a 4 year $20 million deal. Kawhi was upset he wasn’t getting the figures that other stars were and demanded more money. Jordan brand didn’t believe he was doing enough PR and balked at the idea of giving him more money and ultimately backed out. Which begins to make Kawhi less “quiet” and more passive aggressive.
Many stories came out in the playoffs to why Kawhi wasn’t playing. He was hurt, Spurs didn’t need him, he didn’t want to be there and so on. The Spurs organization never closed the door on him to return and continued to help Kawhi as much as he would let them. This caused the drama to ensue and the relationship to separate between organization and player. Following playoffs Kawhi demanded a trade to LA, namely the Lakers. His camp even went as far as to say he would sit out the season if not traded, which is the worst thing Kawhi can do for himself. As of recent, there were reports he would potentially extend with the 76er’s as well. If those are the only two teams, the Spurs can drive the trade WAR between them up.
The Spurs don’t actually think they can get Ball, Kuzma, Ingram, and 4 first round picks for Kawhi. What they can do though is put that on the table and make the Lakers trade floor rise. When their floor rises the floor of the 6er’s does the same.
In a scenario where he is traded, the GM’s first question is “Are you healthy to play?”. If he says yes, then “Why didn’t you play last year?”. Pretty hard for Kawhi to answer that. If he responds “no”, “then what happened between you and a first class organization?” Kawhi can’t come out ahead on that question.
Circling back to Kawhi sitting out a year, per CBA there is an article that is called “withholding services”. This states that if he chooses to sit out the first 30 days on the NBA season his contract becomes voided and moved to the following season. If Kawhi sits, Kawhi is a Spur in 2020. Him sitting only give the Spurs more time to find a partner. On top of sitting he will have been out almost two full NBA season since he played in only 9 games during 2017-2018 season.
So hoping he hits free agency on his own terms and wants to sign with anyone even the Lakers he has just lost himself a max deal. Cousin’s was reported to have only been offered a mid-level exception after being considered a Max player. Half a season of injury, ruined that along with character issues.
Kawhi Leonard has tarnished his reputation. He will end up on the Lakers most likely, but it will be on the Spurs terms, not his. What player are they getting a whiny cry baby like Kyrie to play with Lebron (eye roll) or the injured player that can’t handle pressure in a small market?