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The 2 words missing in Gregg Popovich’s critique of Kawhi Leonard

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NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Gregg Popovich isn’t shy about critiquing his players when warranted, though he has worn proverbial kid gloves when discussing Kawhi Leonard, the biggest star who ever jilted Pop’s Spurs program. Leonard doesn’t have a single real beef to his name, at least that we’ve heard about. So a tiny, little exchange over leadership over the past week, as explained in detail by Matt Ellentuck, is worth exploring.

The upshot is that Pop said Kawhi wasn’t a leader on the Spurs, while Kawhi says he led by example, so when he was absent in 2017-18, Pop must have forgot. Absent in this discussion is the specter of the ur Spur, Tim Duncan. If Pop can claim Kawhi was no leader, what does that say about the greatest Spur ever? After all, wasn’t Kawhi molded to be a modern Duncan in every way including temperament and leadership style?

Will Pop now claim that Manu and, I don’t know, Bruce Bowen were the real leaders of the 2000s Spurs? Of course not. Duncan was the stoic core of the team. His earnest hard work, seriousness, and willingness to be coached despite being a top-5 all-time player gave the Spurs their identity. He was obviously the team’s leader. But when you are a stoic leader as opposed to a vocal leader, presence is required and excellence is preferred. Kawhi was neither present or excellent last season. Hence, a leadership vacuum that Pop references.

The real issue here is that Pop wanted so bad for Kawhi to be Duncan that when he fell short the whole essence of Kawhi’s value (and by extension that of the Duncan model) came into question. We know Pop after almost a quarter-century of coaching in the NBA. Kawhi was the perfect Popovich star until last year. That he dismisses Kawhi’s leadership qualities now says more about his specific disappointment with how Leonard left than it speaks to Kawhi’s style while in San Antonio.

That, or we’ve read entirely too much into a few comments from two men who rarely talk about such matters and we should all move on. [shrug]


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