Gregg Popovich Says Kawhi Leonard Wasn't a Leader with SpursNovember 25, 2018
With the two-time All-Star no longer a member of the team, San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich offered his honest assessment of Kawhi Leonard's leadership skills.
"Kawhi was a great player, but he wasn't a leader," Popovich told reporters Saturday. "Manu [Ginobili] and Patty [Mills] were the leaders. Kawhi's talent will always be missed, but leadership wasn't his deal at the time. That may come as he progresses. Patty and Manu filled that role for us last year. LaMarcus [Aldridge] came a long way as a leader also."
Tim Duncan retired after the 2015-16 season, while Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker were approaching the ends of their respective careers. Prior to last season, it looked like Leonard would help bridge the gap to the Spurs' new era.
ESPN.com's Michael C. Wright wrote how Leonard was becoming a more outspoken leader for the Spurs until things changed after the 2017 Western Conference Finals.
An ankle injury forced him to miss the final three games of the series. Popovich then revealed during the fall of 2017 that Leonard had been battling a quadriceps problem. According to Wright, Leonard seemed to take issue with that and "became distant with the organization" going forward.
Leonard subsequently demanded a trade and was dealt to the Toronto Raptors.
The circumstances of his departure from San Antonio led to a general reassessment of his time with the team.
Popovich's comments toward Leonard's leadership seem a bit harsh, but they should also serve as a reminder that not every star is wired the same.
Because of his quiet disposition and often expressionless on-court demeanor, fans were perhaps guilty of misreading Leonard and assuming he displayed certain personality traits away from the court that simply weren't there.
It was also probably unfair to expect anybody—even a player as good as Leonard—to be the next Duncan. Duncan was a generational talent and an even bigger outlier given he spent 19 years with the same team.
The Spurs welcome in the Raptors on Jan. 3 in what was already a highly anticipated game. As if Leonard didn't have enough motivation to play well against his old team, Popovich added even more fuel to the fire.