Kawhi Leonard has always been regarded as one of the most enigmatic players in the NBA. Although not very outspoken, he was always respected, and never let his emotions override his decisions on or off the court. With his iconic 97’ Chevy, he was the symbol of humbleness in the NBA, not a common trait found in athletes getting a 7-digit paycheck. One of the best perimeter defenders in the history of the game, the 2-time Defensive Player of the Year was set to be one of the legends of the Spurs franchise.
His public image came crashing down after reports of internal unrest between Leonard and the Spurs. The unrest apparently stemmed from the Spurs organization’s treatment of Leonard during his quad injury in the 2017-18 NBA season, which sidelined him for most of the Spurs’ campaign. Leonard believed the Spurs did not give him enough public support during his injury, most likely due to the negative tone the Spurs used to announce the severity of his injury, on top of veteran point guard Tony Parker calling his own quad injury from a few seasons ago “much worse” than Leonard’s.
Although reasons for this dissension is not completely clear, other reports claim the injury situation was just a nail in the coffin for Leonard, and real problems had been developing for a while now. According to Jeff McDonalds of the San Antonio Express-News, Leonard apparent grew dissatisfied over the lack of star treatment the Spurs provided for Leonard, and grew jealous of other players at Team USA training camps. While other Allstars were designated premium transportation methods provided for them by the teams, Spurs used standard NBA transportation methods. This comes as a shock to many fans of Leonard, simply because of the humble image Leonard had maintained for all of his career. No fan ever suspected Leonard to be a head case for the Spurs.
This dilemma has been one of the most bizarre sagas the Spurs organization have faced in a long time. Priding themselves for their spectacular coaching staff, management and long-time stability, the Spurs having to trade away their franchise player at such a crucial time with legendary coach Greg Popovich facing retirement soon is a huge blow for them. Although Demar DeRozan is now with the Spurs, a result of the trade that sent Leonard and Danny Green to the Toronto Raptors and DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a future first round pick over to the Spurs, losing a top 5 NBA player will serve as a huge detriment to the Spurs’ title hopes. This incident has taken a toll on Leonard’s public image as well, with the media now often framing him as “soft”. Leonard will need a career season with the Raptors next season to disprove his doubters and improve his free agent stock.