Well this much is true. Kawhi Leonard can’t be swayed with emotion and pleas and doors closed and voices raised. The transactional persuasions on behalf of the San Antonio Spurs were futile and time wasted. Urgently, because what other hand is there left to play, the Spurs tried their best emotive version of a basketball intervention. With Tony Parker taking lead interventionist duties, in a players only meeting, the Spurs appealed to Leonard’s sense of team unity and competitive thirst. They begged him to return to the team so they could make a playoff seeding push and possibly avoid the Rockets or Warriors in the first round. According to Adrian Wojnarowski (ESPN), with his teammates passionately laying out the case for why they desperately need him for playoff longevity, Leonard remained committed to his line in the sand rigidity. He will play when he is ready [healthy] to play.
Kawhi 1. Spurs 0.
What’s difficult to unpack in this soap opera are the nuances that only Leonard knows and everyone is trying to guess at. Is he just toying with the Spurs, passing out like candy numerous dates of returning only to back down meekly? Is this some grand gamesmanship that leads to a road that has Kawhi elsewhere without regret and the Spurs wondering how it all fell apart? Or does he really want to come back to the Spurs but isn’t 100% confident his body is right? The truth is always somewhere in the middle between hysteria and overconfidence.
Without Kawhi, the Spurs are able to make the playoffs but not much else. They are overly dependent on LaMarcus Aldridge who is not a Batman but a Robin. Pau Gasol is old and barely functioning as anything but a rebounder. Manu is still gritty but he’s 40. Have you checked out Danny Green’s stats? He hasn’t shot 40% since Obamacare first made Republicans lose their minds. The Spurs haven’t drafted well, meaning no Kyle Kuzma to rescue at the bottom of the first round to interject youthful supertalent to the equation. Worse, they are boring. Their games put you to sleep.
Whatever the Spurs do in the next month will be heavy on Gregg Popovich excellence mixed in with a cast of hard workers that in many a game are just overmatched.
But for the glass is half full side of things. If Kawhi doesn’t show up in the next ten games, it’s better for the Spurs to miss the playoffs altogether and get in the lottery, acquire young talent, something that hasn’t happened since David Robinson broke his leg and they snatched up Tim Duncan. The Spurs, as an organization, have been very lucky these past 20 years. They haven’t had drama. At all. Until now. It’s what makes this story so strange and unbelievable. The Spurs run like a robotic machine. They are more myth than truth. This kind of stuff never happens to them. But let’s remember how they got Kawhi In the first place. They made a trade on draft night with the Pacers.
That feels so long ago in a Spurs season that has limped along like dog years. Here they almost are with Kawhi and his extension coming up this summer. He has already proven he is an invaluable asset with his Finals MVP hardware and Defensive Player of the Year trophies. He is deserving of whatever the Spurs plan to offer. But, also, he has already proven by his rigid stance that he has injuries that don’t heal quickly and he’s suffered because of medical advice he thinks did not benefit him. Or, made him worse. Whether he is with the Spurs or he is with someone else, when Kawhi Leonard is injured he is going to take his time. From now on until the rest of his career, Kawhi is running the show.
It leaves Gregg Popovich in limbo. A caring coach dedicated to his players, he wants Kawhi happy but he also wants Kawhi out on the floor. The Spurs are a hollow representation of everything they have been for two decades. Detailed. Efficient. Unselfish. Drama-free.
It’s inconceivable to think this has happened to them but the Spurs have reverted back to the days of Larry Brown. They are powerless in the aggregate and Kawhi Leonard, today, is more powerful than he has ever been.