Last weekend, a report from the San Antonio Express-News took a long and detailed look at how Kawhi Leonard fell out with the San Antonio Spurs and suggested that the superstar forward, who was recently traded to the Toronto Raptors, first became unhappy with the team during the 2016 NBA All-Star Weekend. A more recent report, however, hints that none of that would have happened if Leonard had only spoken up about what bothered him at that time.
As recalled by the San Antonio Express-News on Sunday, Leonard originally seemed like the perfect player for a smaller-market team like the Spurs. Despite his many accolades, which include two Defensive Player of the Year awards and the 2014 NBA Finals MVP award, Leonard carried himself in a similarly “stoic” manner as the Spurs’ former franchise player, Tim Duncan, and mostly focused on his game, with little regard for his celebrity status.
The report added that things started to change when Leonard was preparing to suit up for his first All-Star game in 2016, which ironically took place in Toronto, where he will be playing in the 2018-19 season. According to the Express-News, Leonard noticed that other All-Star players such as Russell Westbrook were eschewing the NBA’s standard transportation options and driving around in private luxury cars.
As another example of how Kawhi Leonard appeared to be craving “star treatment” as a San Antonio Spur, the publication also mentioned how he seemed to change after a trip to China in August, 2017, where fans wearing Spurs merchandise, including his No. 2 jersey, mobbed him consistently. This was also observed by his advisers, including his uncle, Dennis Robertson, who saw potential in Leonard as a “top-shelf star and global brand.”
In reaction to these fairly recent rumors, ESPN’s Michael C. Wright said on the latest episode of colleague Zach Lowe’s podcast that Kawhi Leonard could have avoided his issues with the San Antonio Spurs by speaking up and telling the team that he also wanted to drive a luxury car during the 2016 All-Star Weekend.
“This comes down to what the issue has always been between the Spurs and Kawhi Leonard, that’s communication,” said Wright, as quoted by NESN.
“You know, it’s hard to get Kawhi to say three words to you. So I’m sure if Kawhi would have said, ‘Hey, I want a Bentley,’ or ‘I want this,’ or whatever, the Spurs would have done everything in their power to make that happen for him.”
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According to NESN, it’s indeed possible Leonard’s rift with the Spurs had been simmering for some time and was exacerbated by the team’s perceived mishandling of the quad injury that kept him out for all of nine games in the 2017-18 season. While it’s still unsure whether that was indeed the case, Wright speculated that the problems truly started when Leonard had “woke up [one day] and realized he was a superstar in the league.”
Although Kawhi Leonard is now free from the San Antonio Spurs after he and Danny Green were traded to the Toronto Raptors for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a 2019 first-round draft pick, most rumors still suggest he’ll only be playing one season north of the border.
According to a recent report from the Inquisitr, the 27-year-old Los Angeles native is still targeting a move to the hometown Lakers once he enters free agency in the summer of 2019.