The Kawhi Leonard trade saga was one of the most talked about events of the NBA Off Season. It all started with San Antonio Spurs’ medical staff (allegedly) misdiagnosing Kawhi Leonard’s quadricep injury and clearing him to play. However, Kawhi Leonard still felt some pain and discomfort in the injured area and sought a second opinion. The San Antonio Spurs organization allowed him to go ahead and do that. Coach Gregg Popovich said that Kawhi Leonard’s return to action was completely dependent on Kawhi Leonard. As the season went on and Kawhi Leonard had only played in 9 games (averaging 16.2 points 4.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game), people all across the NBA started wondering about what was happening with his injury.
The San Antonio Spurs players held a players only meeting with Leonard, veteran Tony Parker (who suffered a ruptured quadricep himself) claimed that his injury was a hundred times worse than Leonard’s. The Spurs limped through the regular season and won only 47 games to earn the 7th seed in the playoffs. This broke the streak of 18 straight seasons with 50 or more wins. Their seeding landed them a first round match up against the mighty Golden State Warriors, who swiftly disposed the Spurs in 5 games. The outcome wasn’t a surprise to anyone. Nobody expected a San Antonio Spurs team without their best player Kawhi Leonard, to pose any challenge to the Golden State Warriors led by Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green (Stephen Curry missed the series because of an MCL injury). What surprised people, was the absence of Kawhi Leonard from the San Antonio Spurs bench. He wasn’t the first player to miss games because of injury. However, injured NBA players always attend important games with their teammates from the bench. It was extremely unusual for Kawhi Leonard to not even be with his team, supporting from the sideline.
It soon turned out to be a sign of much uglier things to come. Halfway through June, Kawhi Leonard’s representatives publically expressed his desire to be traded from the San Antonio Spurs. The team-player relationship had reached such lows that it was difficult for the Spurs organisation to even set up a meeting with Kawhi Leonard. He wanted out of San Antonio so badly that he was ready and willing to leave almost $80 million on the table. After numerous attempts to reconcile the differences, which included a brief Gregg Popovich – Kawhi Leonard meeting in San Diego, California, the Spurs organization decided that it’s best to trade Leonard and move on. The Spurs started actively shopping Leonard and received offers from many teams. The Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics had emerged as the frontrunners for the trade. However, the Spurs were asking for too much in return for the two time Defensive Player of the Year and 2014 Finals MVP. Ultimately, the talks fell out with the aforementioned teams and on July 18th, Kawhi Leonard (alongwith Danny Green) was eventually traded to the Toronto Raptors for All Star DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a first round draft pick.
Upon the completion of the Kawhi Leonard – DeMar DeRozan trade, Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich was asked about his opinion on the latest events. This is what he had to say:
“We wish him well as he moves into Toronto. I think he’ll be great, I think this trade is going to work out great for both teams. We wish [Leonard] well, but at this point it’s time to move on. It’s time to move on. Kawhi is not going to stop being a great player. But we’re thrilled with DeMar. … To get back a proven NBA player and a proven All-Star, we have to be thrilled.”
This whole event had an exceptional amount of drama, something which is extremely unexpected from the San Antonio Spurs. Throughout the series of events, Kawhi Leonard stayed silent in his usual way. Even after the trade, Leonard didn’t say anything. Finally, after all this time, Kawhi Leonard has spoken, and the two most prominent words to come out of his mouth, are THANK YOU, mainly directed towards the fans and members of the San Antonio Spurs, his team from 2011-2018.
This is what Kawhi Leonard had to say through a letter submitted to the San Antonio Express-News :
I have been going back and forth the last few weeks trying to figure out the right things to say, and it comes down to two simple words: THANK YOU!
My family and I want to say THANK YOU to the entire Spurs organization and the people and fans of San Antonio.
THANK YOU to every one of my teammates I’ve played with over my seven years in the NBA.
THANK YOU Pop I’ll always be grateful for my growth under your guidance.
THANK YOU to the fans! There is not a more passionate or dedicated fan base than what I’ve witnessed in San Antonio.
Through all the ups and downs – I’m glad there were many more ups! – I’ll never forget what we have shared and accomplished together.
While I’m looking forward to the next chapter in my career, I’ll always remember the city and the people of San Antonio! THANK YOU!
– Kawhi Leonard
The San Antonio Spurs won’t just be without Kawhi Leonard as the 2018-19 NBA season tips off, they lost future hall of famer Tony Parker during free agency as well. He signed a 2 year, $10 million deal with the Charlotte Hornets. Tony Parker had also sent out a Thank You letter to the Spurs franchise and fans through the Players’ Tribune website.
Parker’s departure, winning less than 50 games for the first time in 18 years, and the dramatic and ugly trade of Kawhi Leonard mark the end of an era in San Antonio. An end, which began with the retirement of NBA legend Tim Duncan in 2016. Kawhi Leonard was supposed to carry the torch, but now he is gone. With Tim Duncan retired, Tony Parker gone and Manu Ginobili‘s status for next season uncertain, The Big Three era is also officially over. With Gregg Popovich slated for stepping down from the head coaching job in 2020, the Spurs need to re-build and re-focus their franchise if they want to continue being the paragon of consistency and success in the future.