The curious case of Kawhi Leonard’s 2017/8 season

He’s regarded as the best two way player in basketball but things have not gone according to plan for Kawhi Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs this year. Jason Harris reports on a complicated situation…

There is no question that the San Antonio Spurs have been one of the great sporting success stories of the last twenty years.

Five NBA titles, countless playoff experiences and a cavalcade of future hall of famers have taken to hardcourt in the silver and black.

The Spurs organisation have had a incredible knack to draft and sign outstanding characters, free of any kind of drama or friction that highly paid sport stars usually bring to the table.

Speaking as a long time fan of the team, it has been a pure joy following their amazing success as they have produced a beautiful brand of team-first basketball which other teams can only hope to replicate.

However just like anything in life, you are bound to get an unexpected bump in the road and when it occurs, you have to deal with it accordingly.

This has been a season of which the Spurs and their fans have not really been accustomed to.

A series of injuries to the squad has seen the lineup change on virtually a game-to game-basis, and that uncertainty has contributed to a below par regular season.

With 20 games to play, the Spurs are no guarantee to qualify for the playoffs for what would be a 21st consecutive season.

Despite currently sitting fourth in the Western conference, they are currently just three games clear from ninth position and falling out of the playoffs.

In addition, their remarkable stretch of 18 straight seasons with 50 plus wins is severely under threat.

Currently they have a 36-26 record meaning that they will have to win 14 of their remaining 20 games to keep that streak going.

The other question mark comes with the uncertainty over the status of their franchise player Kawhi Leonard.

The 26 year-old has played just nine games this season due to a recurring right quad tendinopathy injury.

When he returned to the court after missing the first 27 games, it was clearly evident that this was not the player that many good judges view as the best two-way player in Basketball.

The decision was then made to put him back to the rehab group with a timeline for his return unclear.

A few weeks ago, coach Gregg Popovich, who is notorious for keeping his cards close to his chest, said that it was unlikely that Leonard would be seen again this season.

There has been plenty of mixed messages about the status of Leonard with the Spurs keeping it a closely guarded secret, but there is speculation that all is not rosy in the Alamo city between club and player.

There have been rumblings coming from the Leonard camp that they have not been happy with the rehabilitation program that the club has set out for him.

Stories from highly reputable journalists such as Adrian Wojnarowski from ESPN emerged that despite being medically cleared to play, he had chosen to sit out games and get a second opinion on his injury.

However it must be said that Leonard has not spoken pubically about the matter.

In the day and age of brash and highly personable stars, Leonard is largely stoic by nature.

Tim Duncan, the Five-time NBA champion with the Spurs and all time legend of the game, was cut from the same cloth as Leonard where they let their basketball do the talking.

He certainly does not seem the type of player to produce ‘diva demands’ from the team, it goes totally against the grain of what he is about.

However, there is no doubt he would be frustrated over what has occurred this season.

After an outstanding last two seasons, many believed this was the year where Leonard would add the crowning glory of league MVP to his finals MVP (2014) and Defensive player of the year awards (2015 and 2016).

The all round improvement in Leonard’s game is clearly evident by his career statistics.

In his third season he was averaging 12.8 ppg while shooting 53% from the field, however his strength lay in his ability to lock down on opponents, leading to Spurs fans giving him the nickname ‘The Claw’.

Three years on Leonard boosted that average to 25.5ppg, while still keeping that core defensive element to his game.

In a story which has more twists and turns than a rollercoaster, in the last couple of days there has been promising news regarding a possible return by Leonard in late March.

He is beginning to train with his teammates at the Spurs facility, and while he will ease into the workload, there is a chance he will be seen again this season.

Speaking purely as a fan, I would not want Leonard to jeopardise his whole future just for the sake of a playoff run, especially as he is eligible to be offered a supermax extension by the Spurs at the end of the season.

That type of deal will mean that San Antonio will lock up their number one asset for the long term as they transition onto the next phase post Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and more than likely Popovich too.

If they do not lock him up at the end of this season, then he becomes a unrestricted free agent in the following off-season which will unquestionably lead to a number of suitors for his services with his hometown LA Lakers being at the top of the list.

So there is a lot on the line in the next few months for a team which has had a fair degree of smooth sailing for the best part of two decades due to their professionalism and success.

They have a decision to make over which path they go down, either take a risk and play Leonard again this season knowing the consequences could be dire if he aggravates the injury again, or put him on ice for the rest of the season, and then sit down and discuss his future with the team.

One thing is certain, Leonard would want to put this nightmare season behind him as soon as possible and aim to regain his mantle as a top 3 player in the league.

 

Jason Harris
@JayHarry80

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Jason Harris
I pride myself on being an all round sports fan. While Football (to be specific Liverpool FC) is closest to my heart, I also have a real passion for the NBA and in particular the San Antonio Spurs. I also follow the NFL very closely (Cowboys fan). I greatly enjoy being able to write about my thoughts on the sports I love.
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