Coach Gregg Popovich and Kawhi Leonard have built a good relationship in their time of working together in the San Antonio Spurs. They made two appearances in the NBA Finals and won an NBA championship title in 2014. However, in the recent offseason, Popovich and the Spurs decided to part ways with Leonard.
After a season filled with drama and frustrations, Kawhi Leonard demanded a trade from the Spurs. The Spurs granted Leonard’s request by sending him together with Danny Green to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a 2019 protected first-round pick. In a recent interview with Michael C. Wright of ESPN, Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich admitted that there will be plenty of things that they will miss with Leonard but not his leadership.
“Kawhi was a great player, but he wasn’t a leader or anything,” Popovich said.
“Manu and Patty were the leaders. Kawhi’s talent will always be missed, but that leadership wasn’t his deal at that time. That may come as he progresses, but Manu and Patty filled that role last year, and LaMarcus [Aldridge] came a long way in that regard also.”
It’s not a surprise why Kawhi Leonard didn’t turn into a natural leader in his stint with the Spurs. When he arrived in San Antonio in 2011, the Spurs already have the likes of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. Leonard has succeeded to earn the title as the Spurs’ star player, but when it comes to leadership, his name would rarely be mentioned in San Antonio, especially with his shy personality.
Gregg Popovich offered an unflattering assessment of Kawhi Leonard's leadership abilities: "Kawhi was a great player, but he wasn't a leader or anything." https://t.co/z3tPthVjb4
— USA TODAY Sports (@usatodaysports) November 25, 2018
Before the Spurs decided to make Kawhi Leonard officially available on the trading block, Coach Gregg Popovich tried to talk with the disgruntled superstar and convince him to stay in San Antonio. When the rumors spread about the dispute between Leonard and some of the Spurs’ veterans, Popovich also defended the All-Star forward and denied that he’s a bad teammate.
“That is all ridiculous,” Popovich said at the time.
“Kawhi was a great teammate the whole way through. He did his work, and he was no problem for anybody. Talking heads out there have to have a story. “
The departure of Kawhi Leonard has deeply hurt the Spurs on both ends of the floor. Despite having DeMar DeRozan, the Spurs are noticeably having a hard time beating Western Conference powerhouse teams in the 2018-19 NBA season. Meanwhile, Leonard and the Raptors continue to establish an incredible performance and are currently sitting in the No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference with a 17-4 record.