When Kawhi Leonard won the 2014 Finals MVP award, many believed the small forward would spend his entire career with the San Antonio Spurs and become the next Tim Duncan of the franchise. The California native helped the Spurs defeat LeBron James and the Miami Heat in the 2014 Finals and was on the cusp of stardom in the NBA.
However, things can quickly change in the business of the NBA. Not only did Leonard request a trade from the Spurs in the summer of 2018, but his relationship got so bad with the franchise that he hid from Spurs staffers at one point.
Kawhi Leonard only played in nine games for the Spurs in 2017-18
The 2017-18 season was a disaster for Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs. The All-NBA forward only played in nine games due to a lingering quad injury. That ailment caused beef between Leonard, his teammates, and the Spurs organization.
San Antonio legend Tony Parker suffered a similar quad injury as Leonard did in May of 2017. The point guard returned to the court in November of 2017, so everyone wondered why Leonard couldn’t come back toward the end of the 2017-18 season after being cleared to play by Spurs doctors.
During a media session with reporters, Parker said his quad ailment was “a hundred times worse” than the injury Leonard dealt with. Leonard and his camp heard the comments and didn’t enjoy them.
Parker and Manu Ginobili also led a players-only meeting during which Spurs players asked Leonard whether he planned to return to the lineup. Leonard not only was caught off guard by the meeting, but he left the team for New York to rehab his injury alone.
What happened next is a scene straight from a spy movie, as Kawhi Leonard channeled his inner Ethan Hunt from Mission Impossible.
Kawhi Leonard hid from Spurs staffers in New York
Members of the Spurs organization visited Kawhi Leonard in New York to see how his rehab was going. However, the two-time Defensive Player of the Year was reportedly kept away from the staff members by his close associates.
Leonard didn’t trust the Spurs medical team anymore and planned to request a trade once the 2018 offseason period began. Trust is everything in the NBA, and once it’s broken, it’s hard to gain it back. Leonard became a superstar with the Spurs, but he no longer had faith in the medical team or front office.
Once Kawhi Leonard’s trade request became official, the Spurs sent head coach Gregg Popovich to San Diego to convince Leonard to change his mind. However, Leonard told Popovich there was nothing he could do to sway his decision.
The Spurs watched The Claw win a title with the Raptors
The Spurs traded Kawhi Leonard to the Toronto Raptors. Not only did San Antonio lose an all-time great, but the franchise watched Leonard win the 2019 championship with Toronto.
After winning his second title and second Finals MVP with the Raptors, Leonard signed with the LA Clippers in 2019. San Antonio may never recover from messing up its relationship with one of the best two-way players in NBA history.