By now, everyone knows the Kawhi Leonard story.
Leonard only played in nine games last season due to a lingering quadriceps injury. Although cleared by team doctors to return, Leonard was never cleared by his own doctors to play, causing tension between Leonard and the franchise.
Tony Parker‘s comments about his quad injury being “a hundred times worse” than the ailment Leonard dealt with was the “last straw” for Leonard, according to ESPN reporter Adrian Wojnarowski. Parker and Manu Ginobili reportedly led a players-only meeting in which Spurs veterans asked Leonard whether he planned to return. Leonard was caught off guard by the meeting and left the team for New York to rehab his injury.
Jeff McDonald, who covers the Spurs for the San Antonio Express-News, joined Chris Mannix’s Yahoo Sports NBA podcast and said the players in San Antonio became “fed up” with Leonard’s antics last season.
“It was in March — yeah, they were getting a little fed up with what was going on,” McDonald said. “There were a couple of times in March where [Leonard’s] ‘group,’ as Pop calls them, would come to Pop and say, ‘Okay, we’re looking at this game, this is the game Kawhi’s gonna come back, we have this targeted.’ And then it’d be like the morning of — and they’d call and say, ‘Wait, no, not this one.’ There would be another one a week or two down the line, it’d happen two or three times, and the players would hear about it and be excited like, ‘We’re getting Kawhi back, we’re getting ready to make our big playoff push.’ And then it wouldn’t happen.
“I think that was sort of the impetus behind the infamous team meeting that Tony Parker spearheaded. They got everybody in the locker room and basically said, ‘Kawhi, what’s the deal?’ There’s two ways of looking at that. Maybe Kawhi thought they were coming at him, while others said, ‘Well, we’re just asking the question. What’s the deal? Are you gonna play? Are you not gonna play? What’s going on?’ ”
Leonard, of course, is now a member of the Toronto Raptors. The Spurs traded Leonard after the two-time Defensive Player of the Year requested a trade.
Raptors president Masai Ujiri was made aware of Leonard’s unwillingness to play for the Raptors before pulling the trigger on the trade with the Spurs. Ujiri made the deal anyway, as now that LeBron James is in the West, Toronto feels it has a great chance to get to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history with Leonard in the mix.
The Raptors had the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference last season and are essentially replacing DeMar DeRozan with Leonard.
Ujiri and Toronto now have roughly 12 months to convince Leonard to re-sign with them. The Raptors can offer Leonard almost $50 million more than any other team in 2019, including a fifth year. Raptors head coach Nick Nurse sat down with Leonard for the first time in July and said the meeting was “really enjoyable.”
Nurse and Leonard had never met prior to their chat. The conversation lasted around 45 minutes.
“I sat down first and said, ‘Do you have any questions?’ and he started firing them [at me],” Nurse told TSN and The Toronto Star. “It led us to a really easy going [meeting]. It was not what I was expecting. He’s very smart, very intelligent and very engaging. It was really enjoyable.
“He lit up like a Christmas tree. He was prepared, he had a list of questions. Then when I got up, he started asking me about the offense, and I told him how we built it and the things that we do, the shot spectrum and showing him the spacing. He got out of his chair and got up at the board with me, and they had to drag us out of there in the end because they had to go do something else. But it was great.”