While there has been tension between the Spurs and Kawhi Leonard‘s camp this season, the relationship between the two sides used to be strong. According to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne and Michael C. Wright, Spurs sources point to the departure of agent Brian Elfus in 2016 as a turning point in the relationship between the two sides.
As Shelburne and Wright detail, Elfus co-represented Leonard along with Mitch Frankel up until 2016. Since then, Frankel and Leonard’s uncle Dennis Robertson have handled matters, and the relationship hasn’t been nearly as healthy, Spurs sources tell ESPN.
According to Shelburne and Wright, the Spurs have become worried that Leonard’s group has an ulterior motive to fray the relationship between the player and team, perhaps pushing the star forward to a larger market such as Los Angeles, New York, or Philadelphia. L.A. is Leonard’s hometown, while Robertson lives in New Jersey.
ESPN’s in-depth look into the Leonard situation in San Antonio includes several more interesting details, and should be read in full. However, here are a few highlights from the piece, via Shelburne and Wright:
- As Shelburne and Wright note, one root issue of the tension between the Spurs and Leonard’s camp is their disagreement over the nature of his quadriceps injury. Leonard’s group believes the issue is “an ossification or hardening in the area” where he has endured multiple quad bruises, which in turn has affected the tendons connecting the muscle to the knee. The Spurs have referred to the injury as quadriceps tendinopathy, a disease of the tendon that has a degenerative effect on the muscle. The two diagnoses call for different treatments.
- When Leonard returned for nine games in the middle of the season, he was only shut down again after seeing Dr. Jonathan Glashow, a New York-based orthopedic surgeon. Frankel and Robertson arranged that consultation, and Glashow’s team has guided Leonard’s rehab ever since, leaving the Spurs frustrated at having lost control of the forward’s medical care. “It’s out of our hands,” one Spurs staffer told ESPN.
- Leonard’s advisors – who felt that the Spurs resisted considering outside opinions – have also been frustrated by their belief that Gregg Popovich has public questioned their handling of the situation. “They’re alienating him,” one Leonard confident told ESPN. “They’re making him look bad. You have this seamless transition from the [Tim] Duncan era to the new era, this homegrown superstar. Like why would you alienate him?”
- A source close to R.C. Buford told ESPN that the Spurs’ GM is “losing sleep” over how and why the team’s relationship with Leonard has frayed.
- Although the Spurs remain internally optimistic that Popovich and Leonard can work things out during the offseason, Shelburne and Wright suggest it remains unclear whether team ownership would approve a super-max contract offer, given how things played out in 2017/18. There’s also no clear answer yet on if Leonard would accept such an offer.
- Following the death of Erin Popovich, Leonard was ready to leave New York and attend a Spurs game to support Gregg Popovich if the head coach had returned to the team’s bench. However, when Popovich didn’t return, Leonard ultimately stayed in New York to continue his rehab.