Writer: Caleb Akpan
The Kawhi Leonard Vs. San Antonio Spurs saga has been quite easily the strangest story of the NBA season. After 20 years of little to no controversy, the San Antonio Spurs have been at the top of NBA news all year long for being at odds with their top star. Leonard has been dealing with a quad injury almost all season long, he has conflicted with the Spurs franchise over his return and how healthy he actually is. Initially, the issue seemed to be between Leonard’s personal doctors and the Spurs doctors regarding the injury, but now there just seems to be a disconnect overall on Leonard’s relationship with the franchise, to the point where many are beginning to rumor him being traded this summer. A breakup between the two sides would be shocking, and if it did happen, there’s almost no way it could benefit either party.
To start things off, Leonard is perfect for a place like San Antonio. A quiet, almost robotic kind of guy, Leonard works in a small enough market like San Antonio. The South Texas city iso big enough to have a loyal fanbase for a franchise and respected enough to get national recognition. Leonard can live in peace there while still being seen on TV every week and becoming a household name. Many have said the Claw may end up in a New York or Los Angeles, and while the bright lights may be good for some, there’s almost no way Leonard would take advantage of his environment.
Rumor has it that the young star wants to be in a bigger market to help with his endorsements deals, but is Leonard that marketable of a player anyways? Moving to a new city isn’t going to magically change his personality, but if these rumors are true, Leonard seems to have the mindset of a kid going off to college. He may think that he can show up in a new place and become a new person, but the odds are, things like Leonard’s introverted nature will never change, that’s just who he is. Plus, he’s clearly good enough to warrant endorsement no matter where he plays, it’s on the advertisers and companies to make the most of their clients, the pressure shouldn’t be on Leonard to make a change, especially one that could hurt him.
On the flip side, there’s simply no benefit for the Spurs to trade Leonard, their absolute best player, with another year on his contract. Leonard has already lead the franchise to a championship in just his third year, and since then, he’s only gotten better, improving his stats every season until this injury-riddled 2018. There’s no way the Spurs could get back equal value to Leonard in a trade, and even if they somehow did, it’s tough to think that someone would fit into the Spurs system as well as Kawhi had up to this point.
Leonard was the perfect dedicated, almost obsessive kind of player to learn from a legendary coach like Gregg Popovich and hall of famers like Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. There’s little to no chance the people they bring in are as willing to learn and commit, it would at best be a growing pains experiment on par with what the team went through with LaMarcus Aldridge until this season, where both sides seem to be excelling in harmony with Kawhi’s absence. That harmony is another reason that it’s best for he franchise to hold onto Leonard, combining him with a smoothly-aging Aldridge could put the Spurs right back in the Western Conference FInals, the last place Leonard was seen truly healthy.
If any franchise can mend a strained relationship with their star, it seems that would be the Spurs, and players on the team like Danny Green already want fans to know things aren’t as they seem in the news. But, even if they are, things should be OK. This year may be lost, but Leonard isn’t even close to being old at just 26, many would say he hasn’t even reached his prime. Despite losing their 50-win season streak, NBA fans would be stupid to think the Spurs are going anywhere, as long as they have Leonard with them. Maybe an Aldridge-esque stidown with Coach Pop will be needed, but be sure that the Spurs will fight tooth and nail before they even think about losing their franchise player.