The San Antonio Spurs are seen by most as the standard by which all other NBA teams should be judged. Until, you know, they don’t have the benefit of one of the least selfish superstars in the history of the sport dominating both on and off the court. Since Tim Duncan’s departure, things haven’t been particularly Spursian, and there is no greater example of this than the bickering between the former champions and their latest homegrown star, Kawhi Leonard.
Ever since Leonard first voiced his displeasure with the status quo in San Antonio, current and former Spurs — and even coach Gregg Popovich — started firing their shots. You know, like all classy organizations’ members would in the face of adversity for the first time in 20 years.
Let’s go back to March.
Parker, who reportedly had just led a team meeting with Leonard, offered up the following gem, via Michael Singer of USA Today.
“I’ve been through it,” Parker, who reportedly spearheaded the meeting, told reporters Friday. “It was a rehab for me for eight months. Same kind of injury (as Leonard’s), but mine was a hundred times worse, but the same kind of injury. You just try to stay positive.”
If there’s one thing that symbolizes organization strength and solidarity, it’s throwing teammates under the bus because you once might’ve had the same injury. Criticizing another player in the press for how quickly they’re coming back from their injury is also generally a line that remains uncrossed among professional athletes.
Speaking of solidarity, Manu Ginobili didn’t want Parker to have all the fun. When asked about Leonard’s lengthy absence, he acknowledged how hard injuries can be on a player, but went on to say that despite that awkwardness, Leonard owes something to his teammates when really, he doesn’t (via Tom Orsborn of MySanAntonio.com):
“It’s hard when you don’t practice with the team,” Ginobili said. “The bulk of the camaraderie is pregame postgame and halftimes, when you are going through some adversity or trouble, and he is not with us most of the time. It’s hard, and I have been in that situation. Not (as long as he has), but for a month, month and a half, and it’s hard. Sometimes you feel like an alien to the core group and you have to fight through it. You have to make an effort to still be around and be part of the everyday topics and the good things and the bad things. You have to make an effort.”
At least that time, Ginobili seemed somewhat empathetic compared to Parker running over Leonard with a bus and then backing up over him again.
The same can’t quite be said about Bruce Bowen, who is continuing what he was best at (cheap shots) well after his jersey went up in the rafters of the AT&T Center. (Via ESPN/Sirius XM):
“First, it was, ‘Well I was misdiagnosed.’ Look here: You got $18 million this year, and you think that they’re trying to rush you? You didn’t play for the most part a full season this year. And you’re the go-to guy, you’re the franchise, and you want to say that they didn’t have your best interest at heart? Are you kidding me?”
“I think he’s getting bad advice,” Bowen said. “I think what you’re starting to see now is an individual given a certain amount of advice, and it’s not the right advice. Here it is: You were protected in San Antonio. You were able to come up during a time where you still could lean on Tim [Duncan] Tony [Parker] and Manu [Ginobili].”
Ah yes, Leonard, who won those two and Duncan a championship, probably loves to hear what he owes Duncan, Parker and Ginobili. Please, Bruce, continue.
“As a player, if I’m a leader of a team, my team goes on the road in the playoffs, I’m with my guys,” he said. “Because that’s what it’s all about. It’s about camaraderie. It’s about fellowship. It’s a brotherhood. When that didn’t happen, it’s all kinds of sirens and alarm signals that says to me, ‘Is this person fully vested?’ ... I don’t want to take on a player who’s not willing to support his guys during the course of their time needing him.”
Now, Bowen is no longer with the Spurs and is currently the color commentator for the Los Angeles Clippers, who I’m sure are thrilled to hear him rip a potential franchise player they’re by several accounts interested in acquiring. Still, the implication here is that Bowen wouldn’t want Leonard around because of a lack of loyalty, a lovely sentiment while Bowen is publicly not having Leonard’s back as a member of the Spurs fraternity.
At least these kinds of message end with the players, right? There’s just no way a coach and leader of men as respected as Gregg Popovich would throw a superstar under the bus, is there?
Narrator: Yes, a a coach and leader of men as respected as Gregg Popovich would throw a superstar under the bus.
“He doesn’t complain about a darn thing. … He plays through everything. I can’t imagine being more proud of a player as far as playing through adversity and being there for his teammates night after night after night.”
A verbal subtweet if I’ve ever seen one, and just one more example of organizational strength at its best.
San Antonio has been portrayed as this victim of a loud uncle running rampant while a superstar sits back and does nothing, but just read those quotes back. Can you blame Leonard for wanting out of a franchise that so obviously and publicly doesn’t have his back?
Leonard obviously could have handled this entire situation better (by saying literally anything, for example), but the Spurs should also be held accountable for these petty statements about a legitimate superstar who helped the organization recover after Duncan without missing a step.
One thing’s for sure: The Los Angeles Lakers, who currently aren’t making any progress in trade talks per multiple reports, have probably thoroughly enjoyed this drama, as it might lead to their landing a superstar to team up with the couple others they have their eyes on this summer.
Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka can’t tamper while Leonard is a member of another organization, so it must be nice to have Leonard’s organization do their work for them.