Gregg Popovich admits to be ‘scared to death’ before George Hill-Kawhi Leonard draft night trade
Before Kawhi Leonard became the NBA superstar that he is today, Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs faced a huge decision before securing his services back in 2011. With George Hill emerging as a solid point guard, the team were torn in giving him up for the former San Diego State Aztec.
The veteran head coach admitted how difficult it was to part ways with Hill, as he was one of his favorite players, but had to do so as the team needed more size to bolster their frontcourt. Popovich also added, via Jonathan Abrams of Bleacher Report, that it was the toughest choice he had to make in his professional career.
“One of the organization’s greatest challenges occurred long before Leonard materialized into an MVP candidate. The Spurs had to decide whether to trade George Hill, an established guard who the franchise had groomed, for the chance to get Leonard in 2011. The Indiana Pacers drafted Leonard 15th overall and traded him to the Spurs on draft night for Hill.”
“The toughest in whatever, 20, whatever years I’ve been coaching here as a head coach. It’s not even close. We were scared to death sitting in the room. I think it was the 15th pick, if I remember, and when we got to 11, 12, 13. Danny Ferry, our CEO, and I were looking at each other saying, ‘Are we really going to do this?’
“[Hill] was one of my favorite players. He was important to us, but we needed to get bigger. … So in the end, we said we’re going to roll the bones and we’re going to do it, but I can’t tell that at that point we knew that Kawhi was going to be what he is today. That would be an exaggeration.”
Although he wasn’t the top prospect in the 2011 draft, the Spurs went all out in bringing him to their team as they saw a lot of potential in his game. They knew the deal was the high risk, high reward type, and took their chances on Leonard, hoping that he could become the player they wanted him to be.
As it turned out, Popovich certainly made the right decision as The Klaw has established himself as a legitimate superstar. He has been named the Defensive Player of the Year in each of the past two seasons and is widely considered the best two-way player in the league today. Leonard is having a career year this season with averages of 25.7 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.8 steals per game, which has made him an MVP candidate as well. If he had the opportunity to do it over again, one thing that’s certain is the five-time champion coach wouldn’t want it any other way, and will deal for him in a heartbeat.