Kawhi Leonard and Pat Riley’s final triumph

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With a question mark surrounding his future in San Antonio, Kawhi Leonard represents the perfect final act of Pat Riley’s tenure with the Miami Heat.

As the saying goes, where’s there’s smoke there’s fire. In the case of Kawhi Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs, the speculation regarding the injury sustained by the Spurs’ resident superstar has been a source of conjecture all season.

Having missed the first 27 games of the season due to right quadriceps tendinopathy, Leonard returned to the court but managed to participate in just nine games before succumbing to the same injury.

As a result, Leonard has yet to return to the court, with the lengthy absence leading to a great amount of speculation as to the handling of the injury, and as a consequence his long-term future with the franchise.

The Background

The subject of Leonard’s future with the Spurs was first raised in a significant manner by Jalen Rose of ESPN. Speaking on ESPN’s First Take, Rose expanded his thoughts:

“Kawhi Leonard wants out of San Antonio, is what I’m hearing. The reason why is tenfold. One is, they’ve been unable to attract elite, All-NBA caliber free agents to come play with him….We always talk about players going to join large market teams, who’s going to L.A., who’s going to New York….we never say who’s going to San Antonio to play with Kawhi.

“So for Kawhi, and the way his injury situation was handled, you see him in the lineup, you see him out of the lineup – is it his quad? What’s going on with his history? Was he misdiagnosed? Will we look back at this situation with his injury kinda like we are doing with the Boston Celtics? Remember, the Celtics fired their entire staff as it related to how Isaiah Thomas‘ injury was being handled, because his hip was misdiagnosed.

“Maybe the same thing will happen in the future in San Antonio, that remains to be seen.”

Although not a journalist, Rose’ connections and friendships throughout the league are well recognized, and his sources are certainly well-informed and in tune with the situation.

Another media identity certainly on top of things in the league is ESPN ‘s Adrian Wojnarowski. Shortly after Rose’s critique, Wojnarowski added credence to Rose’s thoughts:

“This has festered now for several months….The relationship between he and the organization, it needs repair right now, sources tell me. Words that sources have used with me are ‘disconnect,’ certainly distance, they are having trouble right now getting on the same page with the whole process in what’s been a very complicated injury…..This is certainly something that is an issue within that Spurs organization.”

Shortly afterward, Wojnarowski reported that Leonard was looking at getting back into training with the Spurs, with the hopes of returning to play by late March. This was followed up with the following tweet:

However, despite Leonard coming out in recent days and stating his intentions of remaining with the Spurs for the long-term, Rose remains unconvinced:

“For Kawhi, it’s a unique situation because he has so much success as a young player attributed to the San Antonio Spurs way….When you see Kawhi, he would have to take a $40 million haircut for that fifth year (of a max contract)….Now let’s connect the dots, you want to get more money via your endorsements, because you understand you may lose a bit of your money on your contract initially. Just putting that out there.”

Essentially, Rose is insinuating that Leonard’s recent breakdown in talks regarding a new shoe deal with the Jordan Brand could be a prelude to accepting a deal elsewhere that would offer him less money than he could earn with the Spurs. As Rose stated additionally the following day on NBA Countdown:

“Well get an answer [if Leonard remains a Spur] this summer because the San Antonio Spurs can give him five-year, $200 million extension. If he chooses not to sign, then that’s the answer.”

While it may seem like an incidental factor, nothing can be counted out when it comes to the modern-day NBA.

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