Shocked by the Kawhi news? Then you haven't been listening
SAN ANTONIO - They call it a Woj bomb for a reason.
ESPN’S Adrian Wojnarowski breaking news on twitter can leave the basketball world stunned and amazed. This time it was a retweet of former colleague Shams Charania who was two minutes late to the party.
Jabari Young of the Express-News was actually the first to report that Kawhi Leonard wants out of a San Antonio.
No matter the outlet the news shocked and stunned most Spurs fans. Really? If you were surprised by this news, then you have not been listening.
Selective hearing is common place in America these days. From sports to politics we hear only what we agree with or what we want to believe. Spurs fans wanted to believe that things would be just fine between the Spurs and Kawhi Leonard, but the truth has been evident for months. I first reported Nov. 29 of the tensions between the two.
The questions that remained unanswered at the time. Why was Kawhi not around? Why did he seek his own medical and training personnel outside of the organization? In hindsight we should have seen the signs way before then. We should have been more inquisitive during training camp, then the pre-season. The Spurs covered for Kawhi early on, but then the rift became obvious. Were you listening?
Were you listening when Manu said “He’s not with us”? He was not referring to Leonard’s geographical location. Were you listening when Manu said “You have to make an effort to be a part of the team”? He was implying something obvious. Behind the scenes the Spurs, especially Tony Parker and Manu, were livid that Kawhi had violated the #1 tenant of being a Spur. TEAM before ME. They had both been injured over their careers. They had seen themselves, Tim Duncan and others injured for long stretches. Their problem with Leonard was not that he didn’t play, but that he didn’t participate.
Were you listening when Tony said “It’s the same injury, but mine was 100 times worse”? Leonard didn’t attend meetings, film sessions, or hangout with the fellas. He wasn’t there to be an example to young players like Dejounte Murray or Kyle Anderson on sticking together through hard times. Bottom line, he didn’t lead.
And when asked about his lingering absence, were you listening when Coach Pop said, “I don’t know you’ll have to ask Kawhi and his group”? Since when does Coach Pop not know everything going on in his organization? Could you hear the tension? Did you understand the intended meaning? or did you only want to hear what you wanted to, the parts that made you feel like it might all be o.k.?
There is no denying Kawhi’s ability, but it’s apparent that he is not the heir apparent to Tim Duncan no matter how hard the Spurs tried. Leaders communicate to teammates. Leaders observe those around them, Leaders do more than work on their own individual games. Leaders understand that it is about more than just one person.
In 30 years of knowing coach Pop and in 25 of covering him as head coach and GM, I knew better than to think that the Spurs would sacrifice any of the values that built the finest organization in pro sports for a single player, no matter how great. Spurs fans know better too.
If you thought the Spurs would hold Kawhi to a lesser standard because of his talent, you haven’t been listening.\
If you thought the Spurs would give $220 million to a guy who abandoned them last year, you haven’t been listening.
If you thought that Kawhi was “happy” and there was no tension, then you were listening only to those reporting what “his group” wanted reported.
The leaks were to protect Kawhi from the backlash that will now certainly come from Spurs fans. They were lies. The same people surrounding Leonard will now frame this as some sort of betrayal by the Spurs. Problem is, some WERE listening all along.
It’s clear that long ago, Kawhi decided that the shadow of Tim Duncan was too great or that San Antonio wasn’t big enough to market his brand, or that it’s not big enough for both he and LaMarcus Aldridge. Ask Tony or Manu or Pop where the betrayal took place. It was easy to be the Finals MVP with 3 Hall of Famers laying down the cover fire, but being THE MAN isn’t as easy as it looks.
When Duncan retired, and with Aldridge grumbling, Kawhi learned that first hand. When adversity stared him in the eye and the moment required him to take a big step forward, He blinked and stepped back. Some will blame his handlers, his family or his management, but the blame lies solely at Kawhi Leonard’s feet. He had the opportunity to lead the best organization in pro sports. He had the opportunity to continue one of the most respected legacies in NBA history.
But the simple truth is, he didn’t want the job. Yes, he’s a man of few words but his silence spoke volumes.
Silence spoke volumes, but problem was, you weren't listening.