David Griffin, the former general manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers who won a championship in 2016, recently shared his thoughts on the Kawhi Leonard situation while on SiriusXM NBA Radio.
Despite all the reports about Leonard seeking a trade and the rumors about which suitors will be pursuing the two-time All-Star, Griffin said that none of the talk matters until San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich and general manager RC Buford sit down with Leonard and have a conversation about the forward’s future.
That’s the only way to know if the relationship is truly irreparable. This would also allow them to confirm that this is what Leonard truly wants (and not just the people in his inner circle). Here is what Griffin said on his SiriusXM NBA Radio show:
“San Antonio is not into media frenzy. Until they have a conversation with Kawhi Leonard and he looks Coach Popovich and RC Buford in the eye and says, ‘Guys, I want out,’ none of this means anything. It really doesn’t. It’s a lot of fun to talk about. It’s a fascinating story. It’s wonderful, in some ways, that they’re now part of that media frenzy. But what makes them special is that they’ve ignored the noise for 21 years! They didn’t forget how to do that just because there’s some scuttlebutt out there.
“Be very careful with the notion that they ‘must do something.’ Those dudes have been phenomenal at not forcing anything until it was absolutely the right time in their own minds. If something happens relative to the draft, it’s going to be because they heard something directly from [Leonard] and not because of the things we’ve heard [in various reports].”
According to reports, the Spurs learned of Leonard’s trade request via social media. It’s possible that the Spurs’ decision-makers still haven’t had a conversation with Kawhi or his camp about his unhappiness, as no such talks have been reported.
With that said, the Spurs likely have some idea of how Leonard is feeling. After all, there was tension between Leonard and management throughout much of the 2017-18 season over how his quad injury was being handled.
But Griffin is right in saying that it would be very unlike the Spurs to make a rash move just based on the current media frenzy. Instead, they will certainly try to meet with Leonard first – either in an attempt to resolve this conflict or, at the very least, confirm this is how he feels. They’ll want to hear it directly from the source before giving away a superstar-caliber player like Kawhi.
Remember, this is a player who just turned 26 years old, yet he already has a Finals MVP trophy, two All-NBA First Teams nods and two Defensive Player of the Year awards to his name. He also finished third in MVP voting just one season ago after averaging 25.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.8 steals and 2.0 made three-pointers per game while shooting 48.5 percent from the field and 38 percent from long range.
That’s not a player you ship off unless he’s extremely disgruntled and prepared to leave in free agency. (Kawhi can opt out of his contract following next season and become an unrestricted free agent).
It’s also worth noting that the Spurs could take their time with this process and trade Leonard after the draft or even after the season starts. It would certainly be awkward, but it wouldn’t be unprecedented. Carmelo Anthony demanded a trade from the Denver Nuggets in the summer of 2010, then had to play 50 games for the organization during the 2010-11 campaign before finally getting dealt to the New York Knicks in February.
If the Spurs feel that they can repair this relationship over time – or if they believe the offers will improve if they wait – it is certainly possible that they’ll take this process slowly.
This situation feels somewhat similar to the Dwight Howard saga that the Orlando Magic dealt with in 2012. Entering the season, Howard requested a trade. Then, several months later, he changed his mind and signed paperwork to waive the early termination option in his contract. This stopped the Magic from moving him prior to the trade deadline and delayed his free agency for at least one season. Howard then made another trade demand in the offseason and landed on the Los Angeles Lakers.
At that time, some within the Magic organization felt Howard was committed to the franchise whenever he was around the team (hence his decision to waive his ETO during the season). But then once he’d be around his inner circle and listen to their input, he’d want out, which is why both of his trade requests happened during the offseason or right after the summer ended (when he was away from the team for a long stretch).
Leonard spent much of the 2017-18 season away from the Spurs and with his inner circle, working out in New York to be near his own medical team. However, when Leonard was around the Spurs, he downplayed his frustration. He was also texting Popovich and Spurs teammates, suggesting that he would be back and that the reported tension was blown out of proportion. Howard did the same thing, sending mixed messages and sounding committed for the long haul when communicating with his Magic teammates. The Howard situation was like a tug-of-war match between the Magic organization and the center’s inner-circle. Perhaps the same thing is unfolding now with Leonard, who is unsure of who to trust.
This is why the Spurs likely want to sit down with Leonard – to see if this is truly his wish and not largely his camp’s doing – and also to see if they can salvage the relationship by bringing him back around the organization.
It remains to be seen if Leonard would agree to a sit-down with Popovich and Buford. He could just inform the Spurs that the reports are accurate and then let his camp handle everything going forward.
Still, Griffin is right in shooting down the notion that San Antonio’s front office “must do something.” First, they need to try to get face-to-face with Leonard and hear what he has to say rather than making a franchise-changing transaction based on reports from anonymous sources.