People probably haven’t come down on Kawhi Leonard as hard as they should.
Maybe it’s because of Leonard’s stoic personality and shyness from the spotlight; perhaps it’s due to his accomplishments. Whatever the case may be, Leonard’s perception around the league will change after the roller coaster of a season between the small forward and the San Antonio Spurs.
And that includes other teams. In fact, if you’re a team in the running for the two-time Defensive Player of the Year and NBA Finals MVP, you use this 2017-18 season between Leonard and Spurs as leverage — call it a bargain.
The window has never been more optimal.
Leonard’s season has been marred by injuries, though teams potentially in the hunt for the 26-year-old either in the future market or via trade are undoubtedly more worried about loyalty and trust than they are about injury history.
Leonard has played in all but nine games this season. He’s been knocked for not getting back to the team, instead choosing to continue rehabbing. Team doctors have given him the green light, though a steadfast Leonard went with a second opinion from his own medical staff.
There’s an impasse in San Antonio, and it became clear when Leonard was missing from the bench during the first round of the playoffs.
Should teams take the rift, primarily the lack of loyalty and unwillingness on Leonard’s end, into account? Absolutely not.
The phone lines in the Spurs front office should be ringing off the hook sooner than later, and this summer should be a period of opportunity for suitors.
If the Spurs brass was asked what they’d be willing to give up for Leonard before the season, they’d all be deceased from laughter. Now, with the two sides at a standstill and the fracture unable to mend, Leonard is no longer as coveted or off grounds, and the Spurs won’t be such a tough cookie to crack with an asking price.
Leonard’s loyalty is far from unwavering but who’s to say he’s not avoiding the Isaiah Thomas route — playing through injury with a max contract on deck, only for that to merely loom.
The Spurs-Leonard saga has hinged on leverage. Teams that want to pick up the phone and call the Spurs in the near future should use the same.
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