As the Final Four and all the associated stuff left the city, every sports person turned their attention to the Spurs’ Kawhi situation. There are only a handful of games left, and it does not look like he will play in any of them, which means that he likely will not play in the postseason, which puts everything into question.
Kawhi has not said much beyond the expected aphorisms. Instead we have guys like Nate Robinson “reporting” that he hears Kawhi “wants to be closer to home“. We have Brian Windhorst saying that “GMs are going to call and ask about him”. The local talking heads are grumbling about Kawhi being a crybaby and fans are taking sides.
It doesn’t look good. The Spurs were a 60-win team with Kawhi and LaMarcus on the court. They are a 45-win team (as of today). Few thought the Spurs had a chance to beat Golden State or Houston as currently constructed, but when the Spurs blow leads to the Clippers, there is no reason to think there is even a chance to get one game.
Is He Injured?
The Spurs say ‘no’. The Kawhi doctors say ‘he’s not 100%’. There can be earnest, respectful disagreement here. There can be frustration. Even if Kawhi wanted to leave San Antonio, he can’t want to not play the game he loves if he can do it. Therefore he must not really believe he is ready.
Does He Want Out?
San Antonio is not as great of a city as Los Angeles. Sure, it is more affordable, sure you met your wife or husband here, sure you can save a little money etc. Southern California is not only a really attractive place to live, but it is also home.
The Spurs have long had a couple of things on their side: Tim Duncan and Gregg Poppovich. That has turned into Gregg Poppovich and a little mystique. Even this year without a whole lot of luck, the Spurs have 45 wins and still can make the playoffs in a competitive league.
But Pop cannot coach forever and seeing some uncertainty on the wall does not make a guy want to sighn on for long term. It would be nice if there were some other assurances — a coach, another top-10 player or something?
Will He Sign?
This is predicated on the above. If he does not sign the Spurs will look at options. The return will not be 100% value for him, but it will be better than letting him walk. RC Buford and the rest of the Spurs front office has been great for a long time but — just like with Pop — they will not be around forever. All things being equal — and that is what happens when Manu and Tony retire, the prospect of building something at home vs building something in San Antonio looks more appealing.
That said, the Spurs organization is good and he has seen it firsthand. If the concern is about doctors or diagnosis, that can be addressed in contract talks.
Will He Play This Season?
It does not look like it. The Spurs have a protocol for returning. Based on the various hints from various reporters talking with their insidery friends, the Spurs need to see Kawhi in five straight 5-on-5 practices and look good doing it. Time is running out on the perfect stretch to get him right for the playoffs. I cannot imagine that there will be time or mental energy to try to put him in the postseason.
Leonard’s trip to New York might even be based on conversations they had with Pop about his chances of playing.
How Should We Feel?
Kawhi is a great player. If he feels like his career would be better served in Los Angeles, then so be it. If he feels like he needs to get his body right to play at a high level, then we should let him be.
Basketball is such a mental game that if Kawhi doesn’t think he feels right — no matter what the doctors say — he is not going to play right.
This entire ordeal is built on the frustration over the disagreement of the state of the injury and the ticking clock. For Manu and Tony, the clock is of even more importance. Manu came back for one more run. Tony fought back to get back to where he was before the leg injury.
It is okay to feel bad for Manu and Tony, but this rollercoaster of emotion and drama is part of sports. This is why we love basketball so much. If we had not seen the LaMarcus Aldridge drama last offseason, I would not be as chill as I am now. Pop and LaMarcus turned an ugly situation into a man-management example for every franchise with a disgruntled star.
I am sure there is a way to do something similar in this scenario.
Other Kawhi Thoughts
His “group” means his uncle/business manager according to various sources. There is nothing wrong with having someone looking out for your best interests independent of what a team organization is setting up. Kawhi has much more leverage as a player than he did in 2011, and there is nothign wrong with him using that to get what is in his best interest. The question, of course, is what is in the best interest?
Apparently Kawhi’s representation feels like he should be getting more shine in his endorsement deals. If they think the only way to do that is to move to LA, then that idea is from 1998 and not 2018. LeBron James is an superstar in part because of his ability to market himself and not because he lives in New York or something.
Being a star means acting like a star. That means doing some more things beyond HEB commercials. It does not take a home in LA to make that happen.