Kawhi Leonard wants out of San Antonio. The two-time defensive player of the year, two-time all-star, two-time All-NBA selection and 2014 NBA Finals MVP has decided he wants to leave the Spurs franchise.
The news dropped Friday after a season where Leonard played only nine games while dealing with quadriceps tendinopathy, which he feared was misdiagnosed by the Spurs when he sought out second opinions during the season. The 26-year-old had finished in the top three of the MVP vote each of the previous two seasons, establishing himself as one of the best two-way players in the league.
Even during the uneasiness of Leonard’s absence, which was first reported just weeks before the start of the season as something that wouldn’t linger, it seemed like he’d remain a Spur. As time went on and his presence was only felt on the sidelines, questions mounted. But it still felt like he’d remain a Spur.
Leonard is stoic at best, near mute at worst. And that’s when he’s finished winning the NBA finals, or dropping a career-high while matched up against LeBron James. He was never going to speak out about his health and clarify the situation. It’s not in his DNA. But $219 million was waiting, so it still felt like he’d remain a Spur.
When talk started circulating last week linking Leonard to an impending sit down with Gregg Popovich, it didn’t just feel like he’d remain a Spur, it almost was certain. Then the news of Leonard’s trade demand hit the news before the pair could even get in the same room, further damaging a relationship which has spent the last year splitting at the seams.
So now the Spurs are left with two choices: sit down with Kawhi, who himself hasn’t said anything about a trade (or anything else for that matter), to try to mend the fences and get one the NBA’s best players to commit to South Texas or trade him as soon as possible for the best package available.
Los Angeles, just a stone’s throw from where Kawhi grew up, was a rumored first choice, particularly the Lakers. The Boston Celtics made trade inquiries in February, so they may call again. Throw in the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets, both located where Kawhi spent most of the last three months rehabbing and has family, and you’ve got a who’s who of big markets trying to get their hands on the largest hands in the NBA.
It’s hard to imagine Leonard no longer suiting up for the Spurs, but maybe it’s time to start coming to grips with it.
The end of an era seems imminent.