Kawhi Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs desperately need to figure out their relationship. After one of the most bizarre seasons in recent memory, the franchise has to decide whether or not to keep its best player around. For that to happen, there’s going to have to be a lot of issues hashed out over the next few months.
Reports surfaced on Monday that suggest the Spurs want to meet with Leonard’s representatives to begin mending fences, so they can offer him a five-year, $219 million supermax contract extension. The money the Spurs can offer will obviously be tempting for Leonard, but it will take more than that for the two sides to patch up this marriage.
The 26-year-old forward played in just nine games this season as he attempted to work his way back from a quad injury that has bothered him for years. Some believed Leonard wasn’t fully invested in returning to the team and that he could have played. In fact, Spurs doctors actually cleared him for a full return in December. For some reason, that wasn’t good enough. He was shut down for good after playing 28 minutes on January 13.
Since that time, Gregg Popovich took not-so-subtle shots at him in press conferences, he sat through a heated team meeting where he was called out by Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, and he’s faced endless speculation about his future. If he wants to return to San Antonio the path is there, but he’ll have to do some work as well.
Both sides need to regain the trust of the other party. Those inside the organization claim that since Brian Elfus left Leonard’s representative team, his relationship with the franchise has soured. Elfus reportedly had a great rapport with the Spurs, and when he left Kawhi’s team to start his own sports management company in 2016, things went downhill.
Leonard’s uncle, Dennis Robertson, has taken a bigger role in his representation since Elfus’ departure and things have fallen apart. It’s not all Robertson’s fault, but he’s been described as “difficult” and clearly doesn’t have the relationship with the Spurs that Elfus did.
When Popovich has derisively discussed Leonard’s “group” he’s referring to Robertson and Kawhi’s agent Mitch Frankel. Clearly there is a massive disconnect between those guys and the Spurs. That must be cleared up as soon as possible if the two parties are going to remain in business together.
The first step in a reconciliation would be for the Spurs to meet with Frankel, Robertson and Leonard. Some kind of understanding must be established, because without that, there is no moving forward.
Then they need to plan for the future. If Leonard is going to sign a five-year extension, the two sides must clarify a vision. Popovich will turn 70 next year, how much longer does he plan on coaching? What will the roster look like around Leonard? All of that has to be ironed out or these two sides will be sniping at each other again in two years.
After that, Leonard needs to reconnect with his teammates and ensure they are all on the same page. If he wants to be paid an elite salary, he needs to carry himself like an elite player. That includes taking a leadership role on and off the court with his teammates.
After all of that is worked out, the Spurs and Leonard’s “group” can start discussing that supermax extension.
If Kawhi Leonard is going to be San Antonio’s franchise player, he needs to act like it and, in turn, the Spurs need to treat him like it. Money won’t solve this problem, but getting on the same page will.