In recent history, the San Antonio Spurs have never found themselves short on identity. David Robinson quickly emerged as an all-time great, and in 1997 he was joined by another superstar, Tim Duncan.
The next chapter of basketball in San Antonio was known as the Big Three era, when Duncan was accompanied by Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.
However, Duncan and Ginobili are well past their primes, and for the first time in years, the Spurs are in the search for a new identity. Parker is talented, but in a league overflowing with talent, he can only take the Spurs so far.
Luckily for the Spurs, their answer may reveal himself this very season. When Kawhi Leonard fell into the Spurs' lap via trade in June 2011, the team knew it was getting a quality player. The extent of his abilities, however, were unknown until the young forward began play in December.
Without any formal training camp, Leonard exploded onto the scene as one of the league's most talented rookies and soon found his name in the starting lineup.
On the stat sheet, Leonard wasn't incredibly impressive, but taking into account his playing time and the limited opportunities he had to showcase his talent on such a star-studded roster, there should be no doubt that he was one of the best players from his draft-class.
His intangibles were great, and his professionalism and willingness to learn and improve offset any doubts critics had of his raw talent.
Now going into his sophomore season, Leonard must ready himself for a transitional phase in his career.
Duncan and Ginobili's seasons are limited, and while they still are some of the league's best players, they are now truly role players at best.
Parker will hold the title of "leader" at least for the time being, but he could certainly use a partner in crime to help ready himself for the next era.
Leonard has already been tagged as the next face of the Spurs, and it is vital for him to prove it this season.
However, until he receives superstar minutes, he can only do so much. Gregg Popovich is known for spreading out playing time evenly among starters and bench players, or at least more than any other coach, but if he really plans on giving Leonard the keys to the team, Leonard's minutes need to see a rapid increase.
Leonard is perhaps the best rookie that San Antonio has seen since Duncan, and Duncan found himself averaging close to 40 minutes per game early in his career.
While Leonard is no Duncan, his age and motor should make it easy for him to play for long amounts of time, and from a talent standpoint, he certainly deserves bigger opportunities.
He'll also likely be the star of the defense, as Parker is an average defender at best. Leonard is much more suited to being the team's defensive anchor, with his hustle, length and determination.
The NBA has grown around the Spurs, and a fifth title this year may be out of reach. It's time to begin preparing for the future, and if the Spurs want to be in the upper echelon of teams once more, Leonard needs to accept a lead role now.
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