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Perennial All-Star Kawhi Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs have arrived at an unlikely impasse, with questions surrounding loyalty, trust, money and control.
Leonard’s absence from the Spurs bench became a topic of discussion yet again during Saturday’s nationally televised broadcast. Their relationship with their franchise player looks murkier by the day, with a report surfacing from The Vertical’s Shams Charania that Leonard will continue rehab on an injured quad in New York as opposed to emerging from the shadows of ambiguity to join his team against the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the playoffs.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has issued statements that appear to be coded, as team doctors have apparently cleared Leonard to play. Leonard’s consultation with independent doctors produced a different prognosis, as the second opinion he’s sought has confirmed his feeling that he’s not quite ready to return.
Popovich seems perplexed by Leonard’s inactivity, and when asked about Leonard’s potential availability, he told reporters, “You’ll have to ask Kawhi and his group that question.”
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It’s not the first time a star player and team have differing opinions, where a player has relied on outside opinions to determine the best course of action—and Leonard’s future free agency comes into play, as he could exercise a player option in the 2019-20 season or hit the open market.
Leonard is taking control of his future, while the Spurs move through the present with trepidation.
Leonard need look no further than the events of last spring when Isaiah Thomas fought through a deteriorating hip and the emotional strain caused by his sister’s unexpected death to perform for the Boston Celtics.
His dream of a max contract and being the unquestioned leader of a contender was in his grasp—until his hip finally gave out and he missed the final games of the conference finals to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Then the second-guessing began and hasn’t stopped since. The max contract he craved now seems as unlikely as his rise to stardom from the last pick in the 2011 draft.
It all stems from his decision to play on an injured hip last March, believing his dedication and willingness to play hurt would result in loyalty and respect in the form of a long-term contract.
Thomas will be penalized for his sacrifices and subsequent events in and out of his control—as he probably wishes he’d put himself and fiscal potential first in hindsight.
“Look at Isaiah’s situation,” a Western Conference executive told B/R. “Are you kidding me? Cost that guy a whole bunch of money by coming out trying to play.”
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The Celtics traded Thomas in the Kyrie Irving deal and later dismissed longtime medical personnel who treated Thomas and advised him his hip wouldn’t get worse, which he implied in an interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols.