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Raptors’ Kawhi Leonard ‘unafraid of being told no’

Kawhi Leonard

Many expect the Toronto Raptors to walk on eggshells around Kawhi Leonard this season for fear of losing him in free agency. Some believe the organization will cater to Kawhi and do everything in their power to keep him in Toronto long term.

But according to The Athletic’s Eric Koreen, Leonard’s past coaches don’t think catering to his every whim is necessary. Leonard’s college coach at San Diego State, Steve Fisher, said this to Koreen about Leonard:

“He’s as good as there is, whether you’re immensely talented or a fringe D-1 player. He’s as good as there is. He’s unafraid to be told no. He doesn’t resent it. You say, ‘Kawhi, you can’t do that.’ You don’t have to mince words with him. He will accept constructive criticism delivered the right way.”

From Fisher’s experience, it sounds like Kawhi doesn’t want to be coddled. He just wants his coaches to be honest and upfront with him. Even if that means he needs to be told no from time to time.

San Diego State assistant coach Justin Hutson reiterated this sentiment:

“I’m very upfront, and he’s very honest. I’d ask for a response and acknowledgment that he agreed. Or else we’d have a conversation. He was very easy to coach. Yeah, he’s quiet, so he didn’t have a lot of chatter that was unnecessary. He was about business.”

This doesn’t sound like a player who will tune out the coaching staff when he’s critiqued. Of course, Leonard’s demeanor and openness to constructive criticism may have evolved over the years, but it sounds like he’s willing to work with coaches he respects and believes in.

That’s why the end to his story in San Antonio is so strange. Gregg Popovich is largely regarded as one of the best coaches in professional sports. Fisher and Hutson speak very highly of Leonard, no doubt, but his rocky ending in San Antonio still raises a red flag.