The last time the Spurs won less than 50 games, Robert Parish and Scott Skiles were still in the league. Of course, this incredible streak of fifty-win seasons coincided with the careers of future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan and perennial Coach of the Year candidate, Gregg Popovich. The end of the streak marks the end of an era.
The absence of superstar Kawhi Leonard has been a major contributor to the drop-off but the time he has missed has been due to more than an injury. Kawhi went down with a quadricep injury in January of this year and has since been cleared by team doctors, but still hasn’t seen any time on the court. Kawhi has stated that he just doesn’t feel right coming back, which is completely fair. A person knows how their body should feel, and his just isn’t where it should be.
LaMarcus Aldridge wanted to be traded last off-season after feeling unwanted and citing a lack of confidence. Coach Popovich was able to sit down and discuss the issues with Aldridge which, ultimately, was fruitful. LaMarcus and Pop came to some sort of agreement and he played much better this year.
The same cannot be said for Kawhi, who was the subject of many closed-door “players only” meetings. Some Spurs players deny the existence of any such meetings, and others have given specific details about the meetings. This type of inconsistency is foreign to the usually professional and well-groomed Spurs franchise.
So what’s the difference here? I only see one… Tim’s gone. It turns out, Tim Duncan was the glue holding this entire franchise together, not Pop. That’s not to take anything away from Popovich, who coached the Spurs to 46 wins and the 6th seed in the West (at time of publication) despite missing his MVP-caliber small forward.
The worst part of the situation is that rumors have arisen that Leonard doesn’t want to stay in San Antonio after the season is over. He must have a good reason for wanting out of the Alamo City because staying would mean a huge payday. A payday he won’t be eligible for if he signs with anyone else. If Kawhi decides he’d like to leave town, it would start a bidding war for the ages.
Is this the first step in the crumbling of the NBA’s best franchise? Or is letting Kawhi move on to perceived greener pastures the way to revamp the reloading Spurs?