Rumor: Kawhi Leonard lost the locker room as Spurs teammates became ‘fed up’ with timetable to return
Kawhi Leonard’s desynchronization with the San Antonio Spurs might have started with the front office, but it surely ended with him losing the locker room, as his teammates started to drift away from him due to the constant incertitude surrounding his mysterious quad injury.
Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News joined Chris Mannix’s Yahoo Sports NBA podcast to recapitulate the chain of events that led to an ugly divorce between the Spurs and their star player.
Mannix: “Did he lose the locker room? Did his teammates’ perception of him change last season?”
McDonald: “I think that’s absolutely fair to say… ’cause at that point in time — it was in March — yeah, they were getting a little fed up with what was going on. There were a couple of times in March where [Leonard’s] ‘group,’ as Pop calls them, would come to Pop and say, ‘Okay, we’re looking at this game, this is the game Kawhi’s gonna come back, we have this targeted’ in March, and then it’d be like the morning of — and they’d call and say, ‘Wait, no, not this one.’ There would be another one a week or two down the line, it’d happen two or three times and the players would hear about it and be excited like, ‘We’re getting Kawhi back, we’re getting ready to make our big playoff push.’ And then it wouldn’t happen.
“I think that was sort of the impetus behind the infamous team meeting that Tony Parker spearheaded.
“They got everybody in the locker room and basically said, ‘Kawhi, what’s the deal?’ There’s two ways of looking at that. Maybe Kawhi thought they were coming at him, while others said, ‘Well, we’re just asking the question. What’s the deal? Are you gonna play? Are you not gonna play? What’s going on?'”
The Spurs did not get a “satisfying answer” from that meeting. Two weeks later, Parker had the infamous quote that spelled the proverbial end to his tenure as a Spur, saying his injury was “a hundred times worse” — something that spurred quite the ugly reaction from Leonard’s camp, which only fanned the rumors of a potential breakup.
Players were utterly frustrated by the constant indecision, especially considering that he had been cleared by the Spurs medical staff (much like Parker was upon recovering from a full quad tear), causing plenty of exasperation as Leonard’s teammates wanted to know who they could count on for the rest of the season.
The Spurs would go on to cling to the seventh seed in the West before a quick 4-1 elimination in the first round at the hands of the Golden State Warriors.