As things stand, Kawhi Leonard really wants out of San Antonio. Whether that would change if the Spurs offered him a supermax contract remains to be seen, but on the other side of that, given Kawhi’s injury concern and how fractured the relationship seemed to be last year, the Spurs might not even be willing to offer that deal.
Leonard played in only nine games last year, sitting out for months with an injury the Spurs clearly didn’t think was severe enough to warrant an extended absence. We know that from a rare example of Gregg Popovich going after his own player through the media, and from Tony Parker specifically saying he’d come back much more quickly from a much worse version of Kawhi’s quad injury.
The Spurs have long been a model franchise in terms of team-building and avoiding off-court headlines, which made the Kawhi thing so striking. Today, ESPN Spurs reporter Michael C. Wright was on Tom Haberstroh’s podcast, and he dropped a fun anecdote that illustrates just how weird things have gotten behind the scenes.
The time Kawhi’s people tried to hide Kawhi from Spurs staffers in NYC
— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) July 5, 2018
A transcript via Deadspin:
I probably shouldn’t say this, but I’m gonna say it because Kawhi is about to be outta there. There was a point during his rehab process in New York that some of the Spurs brass went out to see him in New York. As soon as those guys arrived to the building, Kawhi’s people grabbed him and sequestered him to another part of the building. And so the Spurs’ people couldn’t even see him.
That’s not great! Obviously Kawhi might have his reasons, too, and there’s no sense in blindly assuming the team is in the right. But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the weird mix of Argo and the time the Clippers locked DeAndre Jordan up to convince him to stay in Los Angeles that happened here. Because that’s amusing.
It’s also not promising for San Antonio’s ability to sign him long-term, which means Kawhi remains the biggest potential piece on the trade market as the summer continues. If healthy, he’d fit just about anywhere; he doesn’t need the ball to be effective on offense, and he can guard 1-4, maybe even 1-5 against smaller lineups. He’d be great in Philadelphia, or alongside LeBron in Los Angeles, or just about anywhere else. But he’s also a rental, there’s no guarantee he’d sign anywhere long-term, and apparently he’s willing to hide from team officials.
It’s tough for the Lakers or the Sixers or Boston or anyone else to get excited about trading a lot for just one guaranteed year. Anything could happen!