You can slice it a million different ways and this Kawhi Leonard thing will still come out the same every time.
A bad look for the player.
The San Antonio Spurs are fighting for their playoff lives and Leonard — their most dynamic player — is nowhere to be found.
The people inside the San Antonio Spurs camp could fill us in on what’s going on with their best player, but to do so would be to shine an even bigger spotlight on an organization that rose to prominence with a no-drama modus operandi in a small NBA market.
Leonard’s passive aggressive refusal to return due to an apparent dissatisfaction with his health status and the accompanying backstage drama is the least Spurs thing ever. He isn’t returning this postseason — which could be only a couple more games — and why would he after playing only nine games in the regular season?
He should have been supporting his teammates in Games 1 and 2. He should be in the Alamo City for Game 3 but at this point, he’d be an even bigger distraction if he showed Thursday night. (He isn’t, by the way.) Teammates like Manu Ginobili have all but moved on from him as far as this season is concerned and coach Gregg Popovich, who helped transform Leonard from a reluctant scorer into an assertive, confident two-way player, is referring any Kawhi questions to “his camp.”
In recent boxscores, Leonard’s DNPs are labeled “return from injury management,” a real indicator that the Spurs are shaking their heads about his inactive status. While San Antonio was falling into an 0-2 hole against the defending world champion Golden State Warriors in Oakland on Monday night, the former Finals MVP was on the opposite coast reportedly getting rehab treatment on the slowest healing quad injury in history.
Without him, the Spurs have been reduced to a one-man gang. After a slow debut in his first season, Texas ex LaMarcus Aldridge is playing some of the best ball of his career but L.A. doesn’t have enough help to even put a scare into the Warriors. Even more eye-opening was Pop’s comments on his power forward after Monday’s loss.
“LaMarcus has been a monster all year long,” Popovich said. “He’s led the team on both ends of the floor. He doesn’t complain about a darn thing out on the court. He just plays through everything. I can’t imagine being more proud of a player as far as playing through adversity. And he’s been there for his teammates night after night after night. He’s been fantastic.”
Can’t help but wonder if Popovich — with that effusive praise of Aldridge — was sending a subtle message in Leonard’s direction. Wouldn’t blame him one bit.
Supporting your teammates in good times and bad comes with the territory. Leonard’s Q rating in the Alamo City is on a steady decline after he missed 73 games. It didn’t help that veteran point guard Tony Parker, who turns 36 next month, called his ruptured quad injury 100 times worse than Leonard’s. Parker played 55 games this season.
“His teammates are starting to, you know, feel let down by him,” Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen told ESPN.com. “So they probably don’t want him on the bench. I wouldn’t want a guy on a bench that should be playing, can play, and he’s having these problems with management.”
When reporters asked about Leonard on Monday night, Aldridge said, “I have no comment. He has to do what’s best for him.”
We know if Kawhi was a sideline reporter, Pop would have given him the gate months ago but he just so happens to be one of the five most versatile players in the league and a lock-down defender who can guard four positions. So the patient approach is the best approach.
When July rolls around, the Spurs will have the option of offering Leonard a five-year, $215 million extension, but that seems unlikely given the current state of affairs. Tim Duncan, the greatest player in franchise history, famously took less money so the team could remain competitive without overspending. Leonard’s actions have a selfish tint to them, making a reconciliation dicey at this point.
As for this series, the Spurs are cooked and they know it. Teams that trail 0-2 in a best-of-seven series are 19-273 all-time, so history — and Golden State’s deep roster — points to San Antonio starting its offseason much earlier than usual.
That gives the organization plenty of time to solve the growing enigma that has become Kawhi Leonard.
Spurs vs. Warriors (best-of-7)
Warriors 113, Spurs 92
Warriors 116, Spurs 101, Warriors lead 2-0
G3: at San Antonio, 8:30 p.m., Thursday, TNT
G4: at San Antonio, 2:30 p.m., April 22, ABC
G5: at Golden State, TBD, April 24*
G6: at San Antonio, TBD, April 26*
G7: at Golden State, TBD, April 28, TNT*
* if necessary