The Spurs Lost Their Way

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Since 1999, the San Antonio Spurs have served as one of the model franchises in professional sports. They were the gold stand in player management, drafting, coaching, and style of play. No player was bigger than the whole, and all players bought into the system. The results: five NBA Championships since the inception of their dynasty. But somewhere along the way, the Spurs lost their center. And now, it looks like this one misstep could cost them the one man who was supposed to carry the torch passed to him by the great Tim Duncan. As of June 15, Kawhi Leonard no longer wants to be a part of the Spurs organization.

In many ways, Duncan was the physical embodiment of what it meant to be a Spur. Highly skilled in the fundamentals, zero ego, allowed his coach to coach him, took pay cuts for the betterment of the team, and wasn’t a ‘me first’ player. And for a while, it looked like Kawhi was cut from that same cloth. For the most part, Kawhi comes off as a quite player focused on the game and not much else. Articles were written about his humble nature, his 97 Chevy Tahoe, and how he still uses coupons to get his favorite wings from Wingstop. In many ways, he looked and acted like the perfect Spurs player. But everything changed when Kawhi was injured during the 2017 Western Conference Finals.

In the first season of the post-Duncan era, Leonard was showing himself to be the next big superstar in the league. He played great all the way through the playoffs before falling prey to Zaza Pachulia. And ever since that injury occurred, things have never seemed right. Kawhi was limited to just nine games this season. Reports about his return and his availability were often all over the place and confusing to follow. Kawhi sought a second opinion and reports began to fly about the involvement of his uncle in his affairs. This is something the Spurs don’t do. They keep things in house and with a great measure of control. When that control was threatened, they abandoned their way. It began with sneaky jabs through the media and ultimately ended in player confrontation. The organization believed the Kawhi could play but didn’t want to. They believed he quit. It got to the point where Spurs veterans like Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili openly questioned Kawhi, and it was supposed to end with Greg Popovich smoothing things over. But that time seems to have past.

Since when did the Spurs handle private situations so publicly? Since when did players and coaches levy attacks on the star player? And since when did the star player operate outside of the organization like this? What once seemed like a match made in heaven looks to be leading to a messy and public divorce. And it’s because the Spurs culture failed to adapt to their current superstar. And to top it off, a level of trust was violated between the two sides when the Spurs decided to try and pressure Kawhi publicly and question his character. Somewhere along the way, the Spurs stopped behaving like the Spurs. And Kawhi Leonard doesn’t want to deal with them any longer.