Kawhi Leonard, Gregg Popovich escalate their war of words

Ross Houston
November 28, 2018

Just because he played for an established winning organization didn't mean that was going to make his time there much easier. He will go head-to-head with Popovic's men for the first time on January 3.

Whether it was the season-long drama, being forced to trade Leonard, the fact that he started dominating nearly immediately in Toronto, or some combination of the three, it certainly seems that Popovich's view of the two-time Defensive Player of the Year has changed.

Before Saturday's game at Milwaukee, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was asked about the importance of point guard Patty Mills' leadership in the wake of Manu Ginobili's retirement and Kawhi Leonard's trade to Toronto, and he provided a blunt assessment of Leonard.

Leonard appears to be back in top form as one of the NBA's elite two-way stars. Leonard called Pop's comments "funny" and said the coach may have been talking about last season, when Leonard only played in nine games.

It's worth noting that Popovich had previously praised Leonard's leadership, saying he was a quiet presence who led by example. "He does it quietly, but they're leadership things to me".

"Well, Kawhi was a great player, but he wasn't a leader or anything", he told reporters.

But after Leonard suffered an ankle injury in Game 1 of the 2017 Western Conference finals that forced him to miss that entire series, the team revealed just before training camp that he was dealing with the quadriceps issue. If Leonard was, in fact, not a leader with the Spurs, nobody could be all that surprised. I don't know if he's talking about a year ago or not. "I've seen some great leadership traits from him". But other than that, it doesn't matter.

And Raptors expert Eric Smith has sided with Leonard by claiming he has a positive influence on his new franchise. I'm focused on the season and not what's going on the other side. He successfully booked his ticket out of San Antonio and is thriving in Toronto thus far, leading the first-place Raptors in points, rebounds and steals.

"I'm just trying to lift people's spirits up, that's about it".

"It was just kinda getting out of hand with some of the calls out there", Leonard said after scoring 29 points in a 125-115 win.

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