Kawhi Leonard Trade And Return Game Aside, It's Time To Move On

Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard (2) drives with the ball against the San Antonio Spurs during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019, in San Antonio. 
“Hard feelings” is a kind way to put how the San Antonio Spurs fans reacted to Kawhi Leonard’s return on Jan. 4. Months in the making, it brought back the former face of the franchise for the first time since last summer’s trade, sending him to the Toronto Raptors.
There was no ill will for Danny Green, a fan favorite in the Alamo City who received an overwhelmingly positive response from a tribute video played at the AT&T Center. He became a salary casualty of this transaction.
The Leonard saga was exhausted in 2018. He rarely spoke, never revealed the events that led to requesting a trade out of San Antonio and kept a quadriceps injury a mystery. It alienated himself from the Spurs fans, culminating with blaming the media for the negative reactions.
Even so, after all these events, with the return game put aside, it is time to move on from the story that consumed the NBA for nine months.
Leonard was not the first superstar to leave the first NBA team he called home. LeBron James and Kevin Durant, of course, come to mind. These two were viewed as villains upon departure from their respective teams; maybe Durant still holds some of that in 2018-19.
The anger for running away from the organization always lingers for a little while. Just look at how Durant was treated upon return to Oklahoma City. James walked into Quicken Loans Arena as a member of the Heat like a pro-wrestling villain.
Time heals all wounds, though, and, over time, the jeers for these former, beloved superstars disappears. That happened as James returned to Cleveland, winning a title and even leaving just two years later, to which no raucous crowd reaction existed. Durant’s not there yet, but the days of portrayal as a villain to Russell Westbrook’s hero are long gone.
For Leonard, that first return game happened, and it was as negative as anyone expected. He left behind an organization that pegged him the player to take over for Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. A five-year maximum contract for over $200 million could have been his, too.

Money, obviously, did not talk in this case, which went against the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement’s push to have franchise players stay with their respective teams long term. With each season and each trade request, that has not worked, as the best players gain leverage.
Leonard took advantage of that. Maybe not to his ideal destination, but a change from San Antonio, for whatever the reason was, which may never become public.
The former NBA Defensive Player of the Year used his power to leave a situation he did not like. That’s understandable, and if there was more clarity provided, the reaction would not be as intense. Fans, obviously, did not appreciate this and voiced their disdain.
It’s over, though. The return happened. The trade was almost six months ago. These wounds heal over time, and the Spurs have a playoff-caliber team that sits fifth in the Western Conference standings without Leonard and with DeMar DeRozan in a wide-open race. LaMarcus Aldridge looks like himself, as well.
The Spurs do not have Toronto’s record, but they are fine without Leonard, just as he’s fine without the Spurs. Plus, if head coach Gregg Popovich can embrace Leonard after the game and move on, that should signify it as much as anything.


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