Tell us, Pop.
Not that it’s ever been too hard to figure out where he stood on the whole Kawhi Leonard situation, but Gregg Popovich isn’t leaving anything to interpretation. And he shared exactly what he thinks about the leadership traits of his former superstar when asked Saturday.
Per Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express News:
“Kawhi was a great player, but he wasn’t a great leader. Manu and Patty were the leaders. Kawhi’s talent will always be missed, but leadership wasn’t his deal at the time. That may come as he progresses. Patty and Manu filled that role for us last year. LaMarcus came a long way as a leader also,” he said.
Though Popovich did praise Kawhi’s skillset and noted that Leonard could turn into more of a leader as he grows as a player, it’s clear the Spurs bench boss thought less of Kawhi in that role compared to Spurs legends like Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker — or even Patty Mills, apparently.
There was a lot of bad blood between the two parties throughout of Kawhi’s final season in San Antonio, with a mysterious quadriceps injury limiting Leonard to just nine games in 2017-18 while the player and team battled vigorously over Leonard’s rehabilitation plan. The team reportedly believed Leonard would be back on the floor by February, while the 2014 Finals MVP continued to seek treatment from outside the organization on his own.
It was confirmed that the relationship between the Spurs and Kawhi was at the irreparable stage when the latter opted to attend none of San Antonio’s five postseason games while rehabbing on his own in New York.
Through it all, the Raptors were able to pull the trigger in the offseason and acquire the disgruntled forward in what many saw as a risky move — and one that saw the franchise give up one of its all-time greats in DeMar DeRozan.
So far, anyways, the gamble has paid off with Kawhi looking healthy, happy and accepting of his new city and teammates as he rounds back into arguably a top-five NBA player.
No one really knows how to calculate or quantify ‘leadership,’ but as long as Kawhi keeps balling out like he has been and Toronto’s East-leading powerhouse continues to soar, I doubt anyone that considers themselves a Raptors fan will care to figure it out.
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