In marital dissolution terms, Kawhi Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs are still hanging on to their marriage. Neither side is willing to push all the chips forward and announce the ultimate break. Call this interlude a legal separation with both sides beginning mediation in the summer. For the Spurs, there is a glimmer of hope in the report by ESPN. Kawhi was going to return to the bench during the playoffs if Gregg Popovich resumed coaching duties after the death of his wife Erin. Popovich didn’t return and so Kawhi remained in New York. The admission that Kawhi was willing to support his coach in these desperate days of agony illustrates that the situtation is far more involved than an injury and whatever trust may be broken. Kawhi still cares. His gesture is indicative of a family tie not yet shredded.
Kawhi’s quadriceps injury has been debated back and forth by multiple non-stakeholders. The question for all athletes navigating technology, expertise, and medical opinion: should a team hold all of the authority when it comes to an athlete’s body? There are multiple yes’s and more no’s but there is a third option that no one has considered publicly but the doctors that have evaluated Kawhi must consider as a worst case scenario.
What if the injury has done damage that cannot be reversed? What if Kawhi getting worse isn’t any one doctor’s diagnostic fault but is the result of degeneration because his body could not absorb the scarring? What if Kawhi is never the same, is chronically in pain?
No one knows how much damage the injury has done since Kawhi hasn’t played for most of the year. It may be completely healed or he may have to manage it throughout his career. Complicating everything is that he is eligible for the supermax contract. Yet, he still has pain after he plays. How do you, as an organization, establish your desire to maintain Kawhi Leonard as centerpiece of the franchise with his medical history? Will the supermax contract heal all? Will less than the supermax reinforce doubt and generate more bad feelings?
ESPN documents the shaky stability of Kawhi’s business advisors. Not to be undone by inconsistency with his sports agent, the owners of the Spurs, the Holts, who own 40% of the team, are divorcing. Peter Holt is no longer the controlling owner and chairman of the Spurs. His soon to be ex-wife Juliana Hawn Holt is the controlling owner and chairman of the Spurs as well as its CEO. She will decide the Kawhi supermax and what happens next if the mediation talks breakdown and the unresolved conflict moves into the nuclear option stage of trading Kawhi.
But the situation is a long way from that. That Kawhi still cares enough about his coach to be there in his lowest moment is an indication that all is not lost.
Not yet. Perhaps not ever. At least, that is what the Spurs are hoping. The cautionary tale of the Spurs in this most unusual season gives other NBA owners a stomachache. If quiet Kawhi and the durable and non-dramatic Spurs are near such a fork in the road, what about everyone else?
Good question. What about everyone else?