It would be so great if Kawhi Leonard would tell us what’s really going on with his quadriceps therapy, or at least his with Pop and the Spurs. Is what Jalen Rose said true? Is Kawhi planning on signing with the Spurs when they offer him a Supermax contract?
Well, since we started this roundtable, Woj dropped a bomb about how Klaw might return as early as mid-March. Is this the finish line? Is there a light at the end of this tunnel?
This week our distinguished panel discusses all things Kawhi. Contributors Marilyn Dubinski, Bruno Passos, Mark Barrington, Jesus Gomez, and editor-in-chief J. R. Wilco tackle the interpretation of Leonard’s silence in face of issues that by now should have been clarified.
Kawhi Leonard has reportedly been cleared to play but is choosing not to. He might return soon, or not. He’s rumored to be unhappy with the Spurs. Should he hold a press conference to clarify what’s going on? Or would that just bring even more unwanted attention to this unfortunate situation?
Marilyn Dubinski: I don’t think the Spurs would say he’s been medically cleared to play if it wasn’t true, and I also respect Kawhi’s decision if he thinks playing would be detrimental to his health. Now if a bunch of other stuff that is being said or reported about him is untrue (like he wants out, he’s unhappy with the roster, Pop, San Antonio, etc) then it wouldn’t hurt for him to come out and deny that. Any attention is unwanted to Kawhi, but everyone involved with the Spurs, including fans, would benefit if he would clear the air a bit no matter if it’s what we do or don’t want to hear. It doesn’t even have to be a press conference; a typical interview during practice or morning shoot-around would suffice.
Bruno Passos: It could be that his body is telling him different things every day, so he’s not sure what good it would be to make a public statement. Still, a public statement might at least help smooth over the other concerns relating to his alleged rift with the team.
Mark Barrington: I must admit that I’ve been offline for the last week on a cruise ship, and I’m completely out of the loop on these rumors. As long as they have not been officially confirmed by a Spurs official speaking on the record, I would take these reports with a grain of salt. And since it has been reported that Kawhi is contemplating a return “sometime in March,” all of this speculation might turn out to be moot in a couple of weeks.
Jesus Gomez: My first instinct is to say he should simply clarify why he’s staying out and clear the air after all those rumors surfaced. But that would probably do more harm than good. If he actually says publicly that he’s going against Spurs’ doctors orders, the franchise might have to respond. If he takes questions, someone is going to ask him when he’s coming back. If he says he expects to play this season, then reporters are going to ask Pop about it. It’s a tricky situation, so it might be better for him to remain silent until he’s ready to suit up.
J. R. Wilco: It’s a Schrodinger’s Cat situation: there are two potential states that may currently exist. Either, a) Kawhi wants to stay with the team, or b) he doesn’t want to be a Spur anymore (or he isn’t sure yet). If he wants to stay, then that’ll be clear when the league announces that PATFO have signed him to a max deal, so there’s no reason for a presser. If it’s option B, then it wouldn’t do anyone any good to hold a presser to air dirty laundry. Regardless of what’s going on, I don’t see any reason for the team to talk about anything they don’t want to. They’re a private organization and there is no “We have a right to know!” argument that holds any water.
If there is a rift between Leonard and the Spurs, do you trust Pop to mend it like he did with LaMarcus Aldridge? Does Pop have any blame in how this has unfolded?
Dubinski: I don’t know what blame Pop would carry. From what I understand he allowed Leonard decide when he was ready to come back, let him determine on a game-to-game basis whether he was going to play based on how he felt at warm-ups, and he continues to let Leonard make his own decisions. Again, the fact that Leonard hasn’t come out and denied there’s a rift doesn’t help (unless his uncle, who is said to be his official spokesperson, is to be believed), but if Pop can mend things with Aldridge he certainly can with Leonard. Plus, the Spurs have something no one else can offer him: an extra $70 million.
Passos: My guess is whatever rift there is will be mended whenever Leonard’s quad is. I don’t really see a situation in which he’s healthy again and, yet, still harbors resentment.
Barrington: I suspect that the problem is mostly one of perception, and that Pop and Kawhi get along fine. Neither Pop or Kawhi are particularly forthcoming to fans about personal details, and there’s nothing more personal than medical problems and their treatment. Both the team and Kawhi have the same interests, a healthy superstar. They will find a way to work it out.
Gomez: I think the organization could have handled the communications aspect a little better. All the talk about how this was a strange injury and how Tony Parker was getting healthier faster only added to the initial confusion about the severity of the problem. Other than that, Pop and the Spurs seem to have done things right, at least publicly. If there’s a rift, it probably came from the shared frustration of everyone involved about Leonard not being able to play. Once Kawhi is healthy, I trust Pop to mend the relationship if it has in fact deteriorated.
Wilco: I’ll believe there’s a rift when Kawhi leaves the team, and not a minute before.
Has this situation changed your opinion of Kawhi Leonard in any way? Do you still want him to be the Spurs’ franchise player for years to come?
Dubinski: Of course I want him to stay. I’ve never been one to shout “trade ‘em!” every time a player annoys me, and the odds of the Spurs finding a similar talent to immediately replace him are slim-to-none. For now my opinion of him hasn’t changed considering staying mum over something is not out of the ordinary for him. The only thing that will change my opinion of him is if he turns down the super-max extension or publicly comes out and demands a trade, neither of which seem very likely.
Passos: Not at all. Kawhi may have always been seen as the archetypal, deferential Spur, but some injuries are complicated, and it’s fine to have doubts -- or seek other second or third opinions — if they give you the peace of mind you need before putting extreme strain on your body again.
Barrington: As for my feelings about Kawhi, I can only quote Whitney Houston, and say that I will always love him. He belongs in the Spurs pantheon with Gervin, Robinson and Duncan, and the only things that could stop that would be an injury-shortened career or moving on to another team. I hope the first doesn’t happen, and I doubt the second ever would, not just because he has a great situation in San Antonio, but also because that’s where he can make the most money under the current CBA.
Gomez: I think people who have followed Kawhi’s career know that he’s not the robot outsiders paint him to be. So I’m not surprised he’s taking an active role handling something as important as a potentially career-altering ailment. It’s understandable that he’s being cautious. I do wonder whether his personality and Pop’s are compatible long term, but that concern is not serious enough for me to want Kawhi gone anytime soon. If he’s healthy, I’d love for him to remain the Spurs’ franchise player for the foreseeable future.
Wilco: I’ve seen some ... interesting takes on Twitter since the news broke that he was cleared. I don’t understand how anyone who calls themselves a Spurs fan could turn on Kawhi when, a) the entire story isn’t known, and b) for all we know he’s prepping to sign a Supermax deal that’ll tie him to the franchise through the prime of his career. So my opinion hasn’t changed, and I want him to stay with the Spurs.
In your opinion, will Kawhi Leonard be wearing Silver & Black in 2018-2019?
Dubinski: I don’t see any scenario where he’s not here next season, or the rest of his career for that matter. I don’t see him turning down the extension, and we already know the Spurs aren’t looking to trade him. Of course if he doesn’t sign the extension then maybe you start watching the trade deadline next year since he can opt out in the summer of 2019. At the bare minimum I see him as a Spur to at least start next season, especially since his trade value is down until he shows he can play again.
Passos: I’m wrong about literally everything, so you’re not gonna like this answer: yes, yes he will be.
Gomez: Unless the rift between franchise and player is somehow much bigger than it’s been reported, I can’t see the Spurs trading him. He’d have to ask to be moved and be very public about his issues for PATFO to give up on him. I expect him to be with the Spurs in the 2018/19 season and hopefully for many seasons after that one, too.
Wilco: I can imagine a world in which Kawhi leaves San Antonio for ‘19-20, but I don’t want to live in it.
Zaza Pachulia has been accused by Russell Westbrook of attempting to hurt him in the 3rd quarter of Saturday night’s game. Spurs fans are very familiar with his history of seemingly dirty plays. Is it time for Adam Silver to finally act or has Pachulia gotten an undeserved rap?
Dubinski: Watching the play, it certainly seemed intentional by Zaza, but once again it is being excused away by “clumsiness.” Nothing forced him to fall on Westbrook, and even if Nick Young’s foot did make the oaf lose his balance a little he could have easily caught himself with his hands without falling directly on Westbrook’s legs (which it looked like he originally did before seeing an opportunity and taking it). I’d love for the league to do something about him and other idiots like Salah Mejri, but they don’t seem overly interested.
Passos: There’s no way to retroactively punish Pachulia in a way that’ll satisfy Spurs fans, but measures should still be put in place to make sure that repeat offenders can’t hide behind the excuse of well-intended recklessness time after time.
Barrington: Pachulia is a goon and should be banned from the league. Full stop. There is no place in the association for a player who intentionally tries to take out superstars and destroys the league’s most valuable assets. This isn’t hockey.
Gomez: I do think the league should step in, even if it believes it’s recklessness instead of ill intent what causes Zaza to be in situations that could result in injury to others. Draymond Green said that he kicked people as a result of movement that was natural to him, but after the league suspended him, he’s been more careful about it. Something similar could be done about Zaza. It’s too late for Kawhi, but admonishing Pachulia could help others avoid injury.
Wilco: I’m beyond being able to understand how the league allows reckless players to take every opportunity to knock their opponents’ best players out of the game. I wondered about it when it was Dennis Rodman doing it for the Bulls, when it was Bruce Bowen for the Spurs, and now that it’s Zaza with the Warriors. I guess the league figures it’ll legislate after infractions (like they did last summer) and hope they won’t have to do anything.
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