Let’s just get this out of the way right now, the San Antonio Spurs have no shot against the Golden State Warriors in the 2018 NBA Playoffs.
Even without the greatest shooter of all-time in the lineup, the Spurs simply can’t keep up with the firepower that the Warriors have in their arsenal. During the broadcast on Monday night for Game 2 of Warriors-Spurs, TNT analyst Reggie Miller stated that “Kawhi Leonard needs to be here” like he was missing his wife give birth to a child. No, a baby Klaw clad in straight-back braids out the womb is not on the immediate horizon. Instead, we’re in the dark on the health of Leonard, his relationship with head coach Gregg Popovich and his teammates.
What was once the pillar of stability of the NBA located in Southwest Texas is now a tumbleweed drifting aimlessly across the plains with only the wind guiding it’s future.
In short, I’m clueless as to how this ends between Kawhi and the Spurs, so I did what I usually do when I don’t know things…I asked for help, from other basketball savants who may or may not know more about basketball than me.
Alex Wong, writer at GQ and TheScore:
NWTS. (Photo by Bruce Yeung/NBAE via Getty Images)
I personally think this is what happened with Kawhi Leonard: he came back from injury, has a history of mistrust with the Spurs medical staff, and got really paranoid about re-injuring himself and jeopardizing his long-term health, and that message has been amplified by his own camp, hence why he’s been working out with his own science lab of doctors in New York instead of being with the team. The only question, and only Leonard know this, is whether he believed those things or if someone in his camp planted the seed of those thoughts in his head. I suppose it doesn’t matter because he’s missing time anyways, but I would love to know the full backstory, as would the Spurs I assume.
Anyways, I think when his teammates held a team meeting with him late in the season and pleaded with him to come back, it got too awkward for Leonard, who wants to come back but is also in a tough situation where he doesn’t feel comfortable returning, and, to be honest, probably sees no point in risking himself given the Spurs aren’t exactly title contenders this season anyways. And that’s why, aside from working to get back to full strength with his own camp, he’s not with the team.
Anthony Irwin, Lakers Outsiders and Locked On NBA:
Others have pointed out how insane it is that it’s the Spurs at the center of this but for me, the intrigue comes from how quickly this seems to have escalated. It’s gone from “huh, this a weird story” to seemingly irreparable faster than Pop can end a sideline interview. Speaking of Popovich, if Kawhi winds up in another city and gets back to being Kawhi, this has to go down as a blemish on Pop’s resumé. An NBA coach’s central job is to get the superstar to buy in. He very obviously has not done that, and not doing so is a failure of the highest order.
All that said, Kawhi has the most at stake than anyone else involved. He’s absolutely in the right to trust independent doctors, but this could very quickly turn into a classic “no, everyone else is crazy” case. He also needs to speak at some point. He seems to want everything that comes with being a public brand with none of the public scrutiny. To me, that seems to be the crux of this conflict. Until that is resolved, it doesn’t really matter where he plays.
Phillip Barnett, writer at Dime Magazine and TSFJ
Nothing about this Kawhi Leonard situation makes any sense. The injury doesn’t make sense. The rehab doesn’t make sense. The perceived tension between Leonard and the team doesn’t make sense nor does the tension between him and the players. The lack of anyone’s ability to make any sense of it is exactly what makes the situation so fascinating.
We’re talking about one of the five best players in the world in an ostensible standoff with what is arguably the best run organization in all of sports that can end with one of the most paradigm-altering power shifts in recent NBA history. The ends of this story — San Antonio trying to keep him at all costs vs. San Antonio looking to trade him before he walks for nothing — could not be more polarizing. Everything in me says that Leonard and the Spurs work it out off the strength of the supermax that Kawhi gets if he stays. Money isn’t everything, though. Especially for a man we’re not entirely sure is human.
One other point should be made here, something that’s reflective of the back and forth I had with the contributors to this piece. No one seems sure of how this is going to end, including those who are affected by betting lines, thus making it riskier for sports bettors to gamble confidently. With the uncertainty of this situation, gamblers in New Jersey and across the country, need to be more careful, especially if they think they may have a gambling problem.
To that point, it feels like the Spurs organization and even Kawhi Leonard himself, need to be careful…as basketball in San Antonio could be changed forever in the offseason.
Eddie Maisonet is the founder and editor emeritus of The Sports Fan Journal. Currently, he serves as an associate editor for ESPN.com. He is an unabashed Russell Westbrook and Barry Switzer apologist, owns over 100 fitteds and snapbacks, and lives by Reggie Jackson’s famous quote, “I am the straw that stirs the drink.”