Kawhi Leonard looks like he's leaving San Antonio, but there's still time to fix it. (Eric Gay / AP, file)
OAKLAND, California – For a 69-year-old man who has almost certainly never signed up to Twitter, Gregg Popovich has certainly mastered the art of the slot machine.
How could it be otherwise someone takes his answer to a harmless question about LaMarcus Aldridge after the game of San Antonio Spurs & # 39; Game 2 vs. the Golden State Warriors
"LaMarcus was a monster all year long" said Popovich. "He led our team at both ends of the floor, he does not complain about a damn thing on the court, he just plays it all out.
" I can not imagine being more proud of a player when it comes to it is going to withstand adversity and be there for his teammates night after night. He was fantastic.
This reaction was well-deserved praise for Aldridge, who held the Spurs 34 points on Monday with 12 rebounds in 37 minutes, but Popovich spoke in front of an audience of one: Kawhi Leonard, the league's best two-way player Well, that's not entirely correct – Popovich was not just talking to Leonard, though he'd doubtless hoped his All-Star would look somewhere in New York City where he stayed He also spoke to Leonard's "group," as he repeatedly called it, trying to get over the ever-widening gulf that threatened to break up Leonard and the Spurs forever.
It was referred to this week as news that Leonard will not return in these playoffs, but ask the Spurs private and they will ihne n tell that nothing has changed for weeks. Leonard has not worked in the team for some time, and even if he decides to come back tomorrow, he will not only be thrown back on the field in mid-January in a playoff series without play.
Manu Ginóbili said that this was "absolutely" the strangest season in his 16-year career, adding: "In every way since becoming a pro I have always been part of a very stable, reliable and consistent team. In those years we had so many rotations, so complicated.
"[But] it belongs to the past. The regular season is over. We must confront the warriors as hard as we can with what we have. "
But it does not belong to the past, not yet, the Spurs will give everything in San Antonio to get out of a 0-2 hole, but this season ended when it became clear that Leonard was not on that team The Spurs are perhaps the best organization in sports, but organizations do not win – talent does it too, and without Leonard, the Spurs are just not good enough.
The question now is whether the Spurs will arrive before July 1st Leonard will be able to patch up enough to offer him a Supermax upgrade that would keep him in San Antonio for years, and even after all, the Spurs will do their best to make that possible.
Leonard is one of only a handful of players These people do not grow on trees.
But is reconciliation even possible? The relationship between Popovich and Leonard, say several sources, remains strong. The fact that Aldridge is at all a spur remains – after being upset enough to ask for a trade last summer – lends credibility to the argument that it's always too early to judge these things.
However, there is a significant difference between the situation where Aldridge was last year and the one in which Leonard is now. In a league overcrowded by big men, San Antonio had a limited market for Aldridge's services. The Spurs had little choice but to work with Aldridge or repay an all-star player a few dollars in dollars.
Leonard sees things differently. Yes, he had one of the strangest seasons in the recent past and played only nine games. Yes, if a team wanted to acquire it, they would first have to clear it up for medical attention.
But even with all the luggage, 29 teams would ask about Leonard's status. Remember: The Oklahoma City Thunder was not expected to trade for Paul George, then gave up two quality young players in Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to do so. George had another year left for his deal, and he's not as good as Leonard.
The main difference, however, is that Popovich met Aldridge and was able to chop up everything last summer, laying the foundation for a bounceback all-star season for the player. There is a reason why Popovich has repeatedly called Leonard "Leonard and his group" throughout this ordeal, a group now led by Agent Mitch Frankel and Leonard's uncle, Dennis Robertson, after Leonard has moved away from longtime agent Brian Elfus is.
It is unclear whether Leonard and Popovich can ever have this kind of meeting, or whether things between Leonard's camp and the Spurs have become so disgusting that it goes beyond this point. Even if Leonard and Popovich could have such a meeting, could it achieve the same result?
Without this happening, it seems impossible to think that this will end differently than with Leonard, which will be traded this summer. Just like Jimmy Butler and DeMarcus cousins in front of him, the Supermax has become a zero-sum game for teams.
When they are ready to offer it to a player, they do it and the player signs it (see: James Harden and John Wall). If not, then not, and the player is traded (see: Butler and cousins).
At this point, it's hard to see that the Spurs feel comfortable with Leonard to offer him $ 200 million. If this is not the case, it would most likely be traded on the draft night in June – just like Butler a year ago.
So, where could he go? As Southern Californians, both teams are expected to get involved in Los Angeles, as they have a great chance to sign him up again. The Clippers have the 12th and 13th selections in this year's NBA Draft, plus any combination of their players who would like to have San Antonio, and the Lakers have a list full of young players (Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma, most notably ) as a bait to land a superstar talent that would make it much easier for free agents like George and LeBron James to look different when playing for the Lakers.
The Philadelphia 76ers are perhaps the most intriguing potential Leonard goal. With Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid establishing themselves as cornerstones of the franchise, could a package around Markelle Fultz and Philadelphia's two first-round picks in this year's draft tempt the Spurs? The Boston Celtics are overcrowded with young players and picks and have made a big move for Kyrie Irving last year.
Then there's the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have the unprotected first-rounder of the Brooklyn Nets at their disposal. If this selection is enough to persuade the Spurs to move Leonard – let's say he jumps into the top three this year – could his arrival be enough to keep James in Cleveland?
There are half a dozen other teams in the game as well, just as the thunder came out of nowhere to get George.
That's why Popovich's Leonard entry was the most important thing that happened Monday night – far more than anything that happened in San Antonio's loss. The biggest game in Spurs' season is that between the team and Leonard, whether he will stay in San Antonio.
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