In the first game of their series against the Warriors, more became clear about the Spurs than just their inability to win the series. The Warriors’ domination shows the Spurs everything they need to know about Kawhi Leonard. If there is any lasting hope to repair the broken relationship, the Spurs must do, and give up whatever it takes.
Whether it is coach Gregg Popovich, a certain number of his teammates, the front office, and/or the team’s medical staff that is causing the trouble they must be sacrificed. The Spurs’ regular season showed how they can stay relevant without the services of Leonard, but the flaws are manifest when it matters most.
The Spurs are a championship organization, therefore, their fans settle for nothing less. If they are not centered around a player of Leonard’s caliber, they become just another team in the West. There has been a plethora of speculation that he could be traded this offseason before he becomes a free agent in 2019.
It would appear to be an easy decision if the Spurs had to move on from members of their medical staff, or Tony Parker, who publically took shots at his injured teammate, but the real question is would they choose Leonard over the iconic Popovich.
The speculation here is that Leonard’s animosity stems largely from Popovich. This first began after former Spurs Stephen Jackson claimed that the players’ outrage over Leonard is actually coming from Popovich.
Popovich, like Bill Belichick, is the ultimate dictator of his team. As seen with Belichick recently, that type of style does not sit well with this generation of players.
If this potentially broken relationship is fixable, the Spurs actually have no choice. They must choose the player. Popovich has a solid case to be considered the greatest coach in NBA history, but the best coach of all-time does not outweigh one of the best players in the NBA at given time.
The NBA is the ultimate star-driven league. If healthy, Leonard is one of the best players in the entire NBA. That puts the Spurs in a class with very few other teams. (Of course, this all gets thrown out the window if he is unable to perform based on his health).
If today’s 21-point loss is too small of a sample size, last year’s Western Conference Finals drew it out clear. With Leonard last year, the Spurs were well on their way to defeating a fully armed Warriors team (up 78-55), after his injury in the third quarter, they could not shine the shoes of the Warriors. At the very least, with Leonard, the Spurs showed they could hang with a team that went 16-1 in the postseason.
The Spurs probably will not get Leonard back this season, and they are going to receive multiple trade offers for him this summer, they must say no to all of them. Along with that, whatever it takes to satisfy him, they must do it.