If the San Antonio Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard has his way, both the Spurs and Leonard will be on top of the league when the trophies are handed out in June. The Spurs’ rising star is, of course, committed to improving on the team’s performance from last year, but he’s also setting some pretty lofty personal goals, saying he wants to be an NBA All-Star, as well as league MVP.
The Spurs are well known for being an impeccable team-oriented organization. It’s the sort of rep that’s evident in the way the Spurs handled their offseason. In arguably the best offseason in all of the NBA, the Spurs brought back Tim Duncan for less money, signed Kawhi Leonard at a pay bump, and brought in All-Star Lamarcus Aldridge. On top of that, David West turned down millions of dollars from the Indiana Pacers to take the veteran’s minimum to play in San Antonio. By all accounts, the Spurs are more committed than most in the league to winning as a team, and Kawhi says that’s an infectious attitude.
Of course, Manu, Tony, and Tim are showing their age now, and the Spurs will have to rely more heavily on Leonard and the newly-added Aldridge as the old-time Big Three ages. Fortunately for the Spurs, Kawhi has already shown he can step up when it counts. Two years back, Leonard was indispensable in the NBA Finals, leading the team to victory over the Miami Heat and winning the Finals MVP award for himself.
Kawhi says that the award is just a starting point, though. The Spurs’ small forward has his sights set pretty high as the spotlight moves increasingly onto him as the face of the Spurs’ next era.
“I want to be an (NBA) All-Star and MVP of the regular season,” Leonard continued. “I’m trying to be one of the greatest players so whatever level that consists of is where I want to take my game.”
Leonard is currently the second-highest paid player on the Spurs’ roster, with his $16.4 million salary next year coming in behind Aldridge’s $19.7 million, so San Antonio is definitely expecting big things from that pairing. The road ahead won’t be easy for the Spurs, though, even with their reloaded roster.
Last year, the Spurs were knocked out of the first round in an epic series with the Los Angeles Clippers, and the elite teams in the Western Conference will be similarly tough this season. Kawhi put up 16.5 points per game last season, and the Spurs’ team-oriented play may not require him to do too much more for them to compete this year, but if Leonard seriously wants that regular season MVP trophy, he’ll probably have to get around 20 points-per-game and up his numbers on defense to be in consideration. With how tough the Western Conference is looking for the upcoming season, the Spurs may well need him to do just that if they want to raise a championship trophy next year.
[Image via Ethan Miller, Getty Images.]