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When Kawhi Leonard went to China in August of 2017 for a promotional tour, the San Antonio Spurs couldn’t get in contact with him and many in the organization believe that was the turning point in the relationship.
ESPN reporter Michael C. Wright, who covers the Spurs, outlined in detail on the Back To Back Podcast how Leonard and the Spurs’ relationship became strained over the past year to the point where the star forward has requested a trade.
“The Spurs were in the dark for most of the season,” Wright said. “Like some of the things that were happening were crazy. I probably shouldn’t say this, but I’m going to say it because Kawhi is about to be out of there I think. There was a point during his rehab process in New York that some of the Spurs brass went out to see him. As soon as those guys arrived to the building, Kawhi’s people grabbed him and sequestered him to another part of the building. And so the Spurs’ people couldn’t even see him. These are the types of things that are going on that people don’t know about.”
Leonard only played in nine games this past season due to a lingering quad injury. Toward the end of the season, Leonard was cleared by Spurs doctors to return to the court, but the two-time Defensive Player of the Year was never cleared by his own doctors to play.
Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili reportedly led a players-only meeting in which Spurs veterans asked Leonard whether he planned to return this season. Leonard was caught off guard by the meeting and left the team for New York to rehab his injury.
Parker’s comments about his quad injury being “a hundred times worse” than the ailment Leonard dealt with was the “last straw” for Leonard, according to ESPN reporter Adrian Wojnarowski.
Parker sustained a ruptured left quadriceps in May of 2017 and underwent surgery. The procedure was done by Spurs doctors and the future Hall-of-Famer was able to make his return to the court in November.
“When Kawhi went away to China, the Spurs couldn’t get him on the phone,” Wright said. “They could not get in touch with him. The thing is when the Spurs have something like that, a guy go on a league sanctioned trip abroad, they’re going to send their security people. They’re going to send their PR people to be with that player. They couldn’t even get in touch with him. If you talk to people within that organization, they’ll tell you that was the turning point in the relationship when he went off to China and they could not get in touch with him. Everything changed after that.”
San Antonio was hoping coach Gregg Popovich could convince Leonard to change his mind, but Leonard told Popovich during their meeting in San Diego that he wants out as soon as possible.