Eric Gay / Associated Press
Perennial All-Star Kawhi Leonard and San Antonio Spurs have reached an unlikely impasse, with questions about loyalty, trust, money and control .
Leonard's absence from the Spurs bank became a subject of discussion once again during the nationally televised telecast on Saturday. His relationship with his franchise player is getting darker, with a report by Shampton Charania of The Vertical that Leonard will continue the rehabilitation in an injured quadrilateral in New York instead of leaving the shadows of ambiguity to join his team against the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the playoffs.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich issued statements that appear to be coded, as team doctors have apparently authorized Leonard to play. Leonard's consultation with independent doctors produced a different prognosis, since the second opinion he has sought has confirmed his feeling that he is not ready to return.
Popovich seems perplexed by Leonard's inactivity, and when asked about Leonard's potential availability, he told reporters: "You will have to ask that question to Kawhi and his group."
Brandon Dill / Associated Press
It is not the first time that a star player and a team have different opinions, where a player has relied on outside opinions to determine the best course of action, and the future Leonard's free agency comes into play, as he could exercise a player option in the 2019-20 season or go to the open market.
Leonard takes control of his future, while t the Spurs move through the present with fear.
Leonard need look no further than the events of last spring when Isaiah Thomas fought for a deteriorating hip and the emotional strain caused by his sister's unexpected death to act for the Boston Celtics.
His dream of a maximum contract and being the unquestioned leader of a contender was in his power, until he finally gave up and missed the final games of the conference finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Then the second riddle started and it has not stopped since. The maximum contract he craved now seems as unlikely as his rise to stardom in the last election in the 2011 draft.
It's all due to his decision to play with a hip injury in March Past, believing his dedication and willingness to play badly would result in loyalty and respect in the form of a long-term contract.
Thomas will be penalized for his subsequent sacrifices and events within and beyond his control, since he would probably wish he had put himself. and the fiscal potential first in retrospect.
"Look at Isaiah's situation," said a West Conference executive to B / R. "Are you kidding me? You cost that guy a lot of money by going out trying to play."
Nathaniel S. Butler / Getty Images
The Celtics exchanged Thomas in the deal with Kyrie Irving and then dismissed the former medical staff who treated Thomas and advised him that his hip would not worsen, which involved in an interview with Rachel Nichols of ESPN.
He consulted several specialists after the fact, but that is one reason why the players are not only taking the word from the teams at this moment.
"A lot of these guys are starting to have their own training people, doctors," an Eastern Conference executive told B / R, citing the work that LeBron James did with his coaches, since he played the 82 games for the first time in his 15-year career. "They are paying these guys, and many times these guys have a different opinion than the team, or they present themselves as dedicated to [player] 100 percent.
" It has to be a collaborative effort between the team and be that external entity. Because at the end of the day, both entities want the best for the player. "
Money has grown even more than it has in years, making teams cautious by committing nine-figure salaries for players without the certainty of availability and the players have understood the importance of keeping their bodies properly adjusted to ensure their present and future.
Therefore, both parties are often in a dead end about how to proceed. Solid trust-based ones often become strained, even when there is no friction beforehand.
"That's your money generator. This is how you make a living. That's your advantage, "said the executive. If you feel that [team doctors] did not do a good job or was not exhaustive enough, I do not have any problem with the players getting second opinions.
"For peace We have confidence in our capacity as an organization, we encourage it, go find one, we agree with that, whatever makes you feel mentally comfortable, go for it."
Leonard is simply the last to leave. through the range. And the Spurs, a franchise praised for the lack of drama, are discovering that no one is immune to such circumstances.
& # 39; Kawhi is not Tim Duncan & # 39;
Ronald Cortes / Getty Images
Tim Duncan set the standard for what became known as "The Spurs Way", which means disinterested sacrifice inside and outside the floor. The thought was: if Duncan, possibly the best forward of all time, set a high bar, everyone else would have to give an account. It worked-Duncan and the five NBA titles will attest.
That extended to contract conversations and taking less money than the maximum, or relying on the singular word of the team's doctors. The Spurs Way was not challenged.
Leonard is the best Spur since Duncan was recruited in 1997. Although his stoic exterior behavior is similar to Duncan's, comparisons may end there.
The Spurs doctors have cleared Leonard, but he has sought second opinions from medical personnel outside the organization and has not been approved by the independent doctors.
" The totally clean part & # 39; The doctors say they feel they can no longer harm the injury if you play. Out of a strange accident," said the executive. "But if you do not feel that you are, it's a mental part for these guys, that's great."
Leonard may be offered a "supermax" contract this summer, a five-year agreement worth up to $ 219 million. But rival executives believe that neither the Spurs' offer nor Leonard's acceptance are a certainty, therefore, the chicanery of the old-school Spurs modes and Leonard's modern sensibility.
"As a player, potential free agent, that sticks a little for him," said the executive. "If you hurry, you end up in Grant Hill in Orlando"
Carlos Osorio / Associated Press
Hill was one of the five best players in the game like Detroit Piston, but he played in an ankle injury at the end of the 2000 season that should have marginalized him. It was the beginning of a cycle that robbed Hill of his best years when he left Detroit to go to Orlando that summer. Five years passed until he regained his health and became a valuable role player as his career declined.
It can be assumed that Leonard does not want to put himself in such a vulnerable position. The injuries of Stephen Curry, Jimmy Butler and Irving are issues related to the legs, perhaps a by-product of a changing game that requires more torque and cut as the offenses become more sophisticated. It is no exaggeration to say that Leonard, possibly the best double-track player in the NBA, needs his body in optimal conditions to be the player he hopes to be.
"A team or organization has it under contract," said Bucks forward Khris Middleton. "Once you're damaged, after about [number of] years go to the next, you must do the right thing and do what's best for you"
Knowing everything that is at stake for Leonard, it's still leaves the Spurs baffled.
"They have their people at home, they think they can go, what's happening," the executive said. "We're trying to make this jump-off. What else do you have to do?"
Leonard has his own medical people, and in this day and age, that's not unusual.
Stories about the team meetings and sinister statements from former Spurs leaders Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have been out of place for the notoriously private Spurs
"The same type of injury [as Leonard’s] but mine was a hundred times worse, but the same type of injury, "Parker told reporters at the end of March. "I could have gone anywhere, but I trust my Spurs doctors, they've been with me my whole career."
Darren Abate / Associated Press
It was reported that Leonard was on track to evaluate the injured quad 15 March, but he has not felt comfortable enough to play, and his doctors apparently agree with he.
"We fell in love with it a week ago, again," Ginobili said at the end of March. "I guess you [reporters] made us fall into the trap"
Several executives believe that the Spurs have used several tactics to urge Leonard to play, but to no avail.
"It's a bit of 'how dare you'," said another executive of the Spurs process, since his path has been praised and copied by other teams for years.
"Kawhi is saying for any reason that he does not feel ready to go back in. When you try." jumping into a player's body and mind is a slippery slope. "
Leonard is not doing things like the Spurs, and it seems they have not yet adapted to him, leading to all types of speculation about his present and future.
"Kawhi is not Tim Duncan, who has bought himself Spurs-style, to take less money," the executive said. "And now he's putting a little egg in Kawhi [reputation] "
But if the Spurs or other teams in similar situations do not adapt to the new rules, they will be left with no superstar and no one worth the maximum – only one who will take less.