Pop on end of Kawhi saga: 'Time to move on'
After saying “attempts were made to see what would be best” with Kawhi Leonard this offseason, Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs are ready to move forward after trading Leonard for DeMar DeRozan on Wednesday.
“We talked often over the summer, about a lot of different things both on and off the court,” Popovich said to reporters in San Antonio. “So attempts were made to see what would be best and in the end, this trade appeared and we felt that this was the way to go.”
After Leonard’s side made it clear this offseason that he wanted to play in Los Angeles, preferably for the Lakers, the Spurs and Popovich tried to see how they could salvage the relationship with their former NBA Finals MVP and two-time Defensive Player of the Year.
Popovich tried to turn the page from the Leonard saga that dominated much of the NBA offseason news cycle.
“At this point, my main interest is definitely not to look back,” the Spurs coach said. “It doesn’t do us any good whatsoever. I am thrilled to have DeMar and Jakob join us. From that point on, that is where my focus will be. I am not too interested in talking about the past.
“I don’t even want to talk about Tim Duncan,” he deadpanned.
Popovich said Leonard was not concerned about monetary issues. Leonard was eligible starting Monday to sign a five-year, $221 million super-maximum contract extension with the Spurs prior to the trade.
Toronto can offer Leonard a five-year, $190 million contract to re-sign with the Raptors next summer. If Leonard leaves, he can sign a four-year, $141 million deal with a team with cap space.
The Spurs head coach said he is looking forward to the opportunity to coach Leonard again as the USA national basketball coach. Popovich will run the team’s minicamp next week in Las Vegas. Leonard is seriously considering participating in the minicamp, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne.
“Kawhi conducted himself wonderfully while he was here,” Popovich said. “He helped us win a fifth championship. He was a hard worker, all the time. We wish him well but at this point it is time to move on. I am concerned about Jakob and DeMar and our basketball team and putting that together.”
While Leonard’s preference may still be to play in Los Angeles when he becomes a free agent next summer, DeRozan now has to play in a new city for the first time after nine seasons with the Raptors. DeRozan spurned a chance to play in his hometown of Los Angeles as a free agent in 2016.
Sources close to DeRozan told ESPN’s Chris Haynes that DeRozan met with Toronto officials in Las Vegas during summer league and was led to believe that he would not be traded.
In a story DeRozan posted on his Instagram page Wednesday morning, the All-Star wrote, “Be told one thing & the outcome another. Can’t trust em. Ain’t no loyalty in this game. Sell you out quick for a little bit of nothing… Soon you’ll understand… Don’t disturb…”
Popovich said his email has been inundated with messages from people who have said nothing but positive things about DeRozan.
“With DeMar coming to San Antonio, I couldn’t be happier,” Popovich said. “I think this trade will be good for both teams. DeMar is a four-time All-Star, an All-NBA player, great in the community there, team player, somebody I have respected and watched play for a while now and we are thrilled to have him here. Jakob is a young talent and has a great opportunity to develop into a very good NBA player. We are very anxious to get them involved in the program.”
Popovich did defend Leonard against any insinuation that he was not a good teammate as he missed all but nine games last season with a season-ending quadriceps injury.
“That is all ridiculous,” Popovich said. “Kawhi was a great teammate the whole way through. He did his work and he was no problem for anybody. Talking heads out there have to have a story. If I was a talking head, maybe I am, I would have stories, too. All the stories that denigrated him in that regard, that was unfortunate and inaccurate.”
Talking to reporters for the first time since the coach left the team during its first-round series against Golden State following the death of his wife Erin, Popovich was asked how he feels entering this season after enduring so much this offseason.
“When you say that we have endured… this is basketball,” Popovich said. “Enduring is pretty much a misnomer. Playing a child’s game and getting paid for it… enduring, just look at the TV and look at what is going on in the world. There are billions of people enduring. We are not enduring anything.”
The Spurs have made some significant changes this offseason, losing longtime Spur Tony Parker and versatile piece Kyle Anderson in free agency to the Charlotte Hornets and Memphis Grizzlies, respectively, in addition to Leonard via trade.
“That was real tough,” Popovich said of Parker’s signing with the Hornets for two years and $10 million. “But he is good. He will be in San Antonio forever. He will come back after he is done playing in Charlotte and we will still drink wine together and go to dinner and watch the kids grow. But there is a season and time and place for everything.”
And Popovich is ready to coach his new roster and move on from talking about what went wrong with Leonard.
“We got a lot of young kids and it is exciting,” Popovich said. “In no way shape or form does it do any good to go back in time and talk about A, B or C. It is time to move on.”